Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Contemporary Hasidic audodidactism

This is an incredibly interesting and poignant audio piece by Frimet Goldberger about the thirst for education among Chasidim, and how they overcame - and are still overcoming - hurdles to get it. 

Great interview material, and all I can say is that I wish I could hear the uncut interviews with each subject. It's less than 20 minutes, and really left me wanting much more. A must listen. Really.

It is an audio piece, so be sure to listen and not just read the summary.

PS I was inspired by this - this was absolutely worth coming out of hibernation for. I will be back to regular posting. Really.


  1. Knowing one of the people in the story, I can say I was very much
    disinspired (that should be a word). OTD, and has dragged other people
    off in association with organizations such as Footsteps, an
    organization much more anti-religious than their brochures suggest. My
    heart pours out for them and even more for those who haven't left
    observance but "feel" stuck. However, it is hard for me to feel too much
    sympathy for those who replace blind faith in what their Rebbes teach
    them with blind faith in what college professors and Footsteps teaches

    The graduation story of one of the
    participants just brings this out. My wife and I are not sheltered at
    all, have both secular college graduates, not chareidi, and are just run
    of the mill FFB's . It still doesn't take us much to see how vain and
    empty college campuses and their ideologies are. College may have
    taught her some valuable things and helped her on the career Jumping out
    of the ultrasheltered Chassidic world and enthusiastically embracing
    the do as you please secular college environment as the be all and end
    all is just jumping from one bubble into another.

    is very ironic how one of the contributors pronounces Chassidish
    education as a "fraud", while strongly implying that a pure secular
    education not accompanied by Torah isn't a fraud? He probably doesn't
    even realize it, but attitudes like that just hurt his case when it
    comes to convincing people on the margin. The convincible, but not-yet
    convinced Jew is one already believes in the Torah and its value.
    Sending a messenger who doesn't see much value in Torah won't get you
    too far.

    Shmuel Klein

  2. To be clear, the sheltered Chassidic world is serving their customer a bunch of Kool-Aid, But college campuses do the same thing, and it pains me that the contributors (including the one I know) fail to be able to recognize this. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

    Shmuel Klein

  3. To posit an equivalence between university and chassidic yeshivas (as Shmuel Klein does below) as if it were an arbitrary choice between competing ideologies is completely disingenuous. Footsteps and college campuses base themselves upon and propagate an epistemology based on rational thought and empiricism, while chassidicism is based on blind obedience to authority. Universities encourage people to seek out information, while Yeshivas attempt (and all too often succeed) in obstructing access thereto. The stark contrast is apparent in the conduct of these institutions as well: I was taught by some very ideologically committed professors in Brooklyn College who only encouraged well reasoned and well argued dissent from their charges on the other ends of the ideological spectrum. In university, I was lauded for the very same contrarian streak that got me expelled from six Yeshivas. I disagreed with my professors constantly, and rather than shunning, shaming, silencing or expelling me, as my rebbeim did, they challenged and encouraged me to hone and polish my arguments against them.

  4. Of course an ideology based on a belief in divine revelation will have to have some point at which questioners are not encouraged to challenge those core beliefs. The difference simply lies in what the respective organizations' core beliefs are. From what I've heard from some ex-Footsteps people, Footsteps also isn't exactly too welcoming to those who challenge its core beliefs, and time and again you hear of similar stories on college campuses.

    What I find particularly disingenuous are publications, websites, and organizations running these stories that portray the victims as having escaped from some kind of trapped life out into a much better one that is so obviously so much better that it ought to be adopted by everyone. In many or most of the cases, the protagonists' leaving observance is majorly played down, no doubt because that fact is not considered important by the writer of the column. However, there are many downsides to that, much more than just the spiritual losses dismissed as non-existent by those who deny Divine Revelation to the Jewish People. Colleges may encourage more empirical research, but they also tend to envelope students into a bubble in which they irrationally dismiss the risks and downsides of the lifestyles most commonly found in that environment, as well as tend to grossly inflate what the college and its environs has to offer them.

    There isn't necessarily inherent conflict between rationalism, questioning, and the acceptance of principles requiring acceptance in order to be welcome. The difference lies in being upfront and honest about it. Footsteps and universities are much less open than they pretend to be.

    Shmuel Klein

  5. What are you hocking a tchainik about?
    What is Footsteps' core ideology? Who from Footsteps is doing kiruv? Are they going to college campuses to recruit impressionable young kids to their way of life? Are they doing it at yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs?

    I suspect you know very little about Footsteps' actual work, which consists in large part of cleaning up the messes the frum community creates.

  6. Yitzy Schwartzedelman5:04 PM, August 30, 2013

    Shmuel, it's very smart of you to acknowledge that of course the Chasidim didn't do it right by denying their children knowledge of English - but it hardly ends there.

    What have you got to offer besides for casting aspersions on Foosteps, college and one person you claim to know (but not the others)? What is your economic plan for frum people who eschew secular studies, and even English?

    And if the fact that a Chossid or Chossidiste stops being religious when they want a secular education - then the Torah Umaddaniks got it right after all, didn't they? So instead of knocking Foosteps - when there is no frum organization that will give help and remedial education to a frum person, Chassidish or otherwise, who want to get an education and so on - do something. Give some kind of economic help and future to people who ken nisht redden Aynglish too goot and see something in their future besides shlepping heavy boxes all day for not a lot of money, while their fine brain atrophies, and they feel that all their hopes and dreams and curiosities will never be fulfilled, because that's what the Aybishter wants from.

    Before you think you get off because you also criticize the *too* ignorant approach, offer something better than Footsteps and college. Let's hear it, Shmuel.

  7. I actually know several people who were involved with Footsteps for a while, so much of my knowledge of the organization comes from boots on the ground as opposed to the very misleading and downright disingenuous PR they release. They don't go to Yeshivas or Beis Yaakovs to recruit, but indeed some chapters have done some recruiting of impressionable young adults on several college campuses, although I don't believe it's pursuant to an official policy.

    But recruiting is far from the point. Unfortunately they do much more than their official mission which is indeed largely to clean up messes the frum community creates. In the process of helping their community form a new life, they deliver a very clear message that there is little to nothing valuable about religion apart from whatever floats your boat or helps you stay connected with people from your former life you don't want to lose relationships with. That added baggage is very much "actual work" of theirs. Instead of the people left behind in the frum environment they grew up in receiving help, they are provided assistance with some of their short and medium term problems and given the terrible illusion that the path they are pursuing leads the way to a good life.

    But rebelling against Hashem cannot do that for anyone. A person obviously needs to help himself survive and thrive in the material world, but that is on top of Ahavas Hashem, obeying him, and even clinging to him (straight out of the parsha mind you). It would be one thing if Footsteps didn't take a position about the value of religion. But telling people that it is no more important than personal choice is very much taking a position, a message that not only harms the people already in the organization, but, more to the point, harms people who feel trapped with their current life in a religious community and, in many cases unsure about the connection between religion and the problems they have, get steered into deciding that religion is a predominant source of their problems. There are lot of problems that need fixing in many observant communities. Sadly the approach endorsed by a number of the contributors to this piece is like turning to communism to solve the problems of a pure laissez-faire economy.

    Shmuel Klein

  8. Oh, come on Yitzi. Your suggestion that Footsteps and college campuses can "get off" because they at least offer some solution is akin to, as I noted in my reply to Shragi, a communist organization escaping condemnation when they come in to solve the problems of an unmitigated laissez-faire economy. Even if I couldn't come up with another solution, I couldn't exactly feel inspired by all the destructive work being done in the name of education.

    But since you asked for solutions, I'll be glad to offer a few:

    1) Starting a new organization that does much of what Footsteps does while simultaneously fostering a positive religious message, perhaps somehwat along the lines of what Dov Lipman has proposed in Israel, though with different details.
    2) Gasp.. Footsteps acknowledges the harm they have caused, and reforms themselves to, at the very least, stop harboring anti-religious messages, and ideally provide a healthy environment where people can be helped succeed materially while also helping shed their negative image of religion.
    3) New colleges catered to people who grew up in frum communities with very little secular education. In addition to providing remedial training, students are put on a direct path and counseled as to the best way forward towards the careers they want to pursue. A couple of required, but pass/fail courses are thrown in as well that focus on common problems typically found in much greater numbers communities in secular society and how successful religious communities have managed to keep those problems to low levels without making many of their members feel trapped. And for good measure, one course debunking a lot of the myths newcomers to the not-insular world often believe, such as the one that doing well in college is typically enough to reasonably assure you a good job. Or that attending the most prestigious grad schools in their respective fields is the best choice for anyone who can get in. The student debt crisis should be discussed in great detail. Students who would like to send their kids to Yeshivas could be informed about the various school voucher programs available around the country, and the plusses and minusses of each one,

    I'm sure you can think of more solutions too.
    BTW, I don't know what Torah Ummada, a philosophy I'm largely agnostic on, has anything to do with this.

    Ultimately, when it comes to education, there is no one-size fits all, something both the frum communities as well as the OTD founded organizations out to bring robust secular education into all frum schools need to acknowledge. No two kids are alike, no two people flourish from the same things, and every educational system needs to be open enough to accommodate a wide range of kids and their needs.

    Shmuel Klein

  9. As I feared, you don't seem to know anything about Footsteps, your protestations notwithstanding.
    1. They don't have any "chapters".

    2. They are not an Orthodox organization so how can they have any message other than that religion is a personal choice? They cannot, and never will (gasp!). Nobody other than religious folk believe that they have the moral authority to tell others what to do or how to live. (on matters of morality, of course)

    3. Footsteps has members that are still Orthodox and they cater to their needs just as well, and with just as much lack of judgment as they cater to their non-Orthodox members.

    As far as your comparing Footsteps to communism....whatever.

  10. You don't know your head from your ass, but that doesn't stop you from pontificating. You're making a great argument for yeshiva education. I hope you're proud.

  11. You're a liar. You know nothing about Footsteps. They don't have chapters, they don't do kiruv, and they don't have an opinion on religion at all. They help people who come to them with practical issues, they have no stance on metaphysical dealings. That's like saying "Microsoft is against religion." Every comment of yours shows your ignorance more and more.

  12. Those who seek out Footsteps' help do not want help from the Frum community, so your "solutions" are a waste of time.
    Once again, Footsteps does not have any sort of attitude for or against religion, they have people of all shades come through their doors. Educate yourself.

  13. Pray, tell me, someone who used to belong to Footsteps told me that for one of their big annual events if you want Kosher you have to ask for it way in advance, and stick out at the event like a sore thumb. Virtually every other non-denominational Jewish organization in the country at a minimum has a standard kosher option, and most of them that I know of actually just make their events kosher in order that everyone can feel comfortable. Why doesn't Footsteps do the same? As to your first two points:

    1) don't know the nomenclature they use, but when I say "chapters", I'm referring to the presences on various college campuses.

    2) הלואי Footsteps would merely be a non-Orthodox organization. My gripe is that instead of being neutral on matters of religion they very much do take a position. They can do the work they do without being hostile to religious doctrine.

  14. First of all, they provide a kosher option. How do you stick out like a sore thumb anymore there than you would at any other non-denominational Jewish organization where most of the participants aren't eating kosher and you are. You have to order it way in advance? Maybe. So?

    1. They don't have any presence on any college campuses.

    2. You go from saying that they're taking a position by virtue of the fact that they don't shove Judaism's supposed divinity down their members' throats, to saying they're hostile to religious doctrine.
    You've already admitted that they clean up some of the messes created by the Orthodox community, you've already stated loudly and clearly that in your opinion any solution to the messes must include a strong emphasis on Orthodox Judaism's Divine Correctness. Nu, now we know why you're a blathering idiot griping online while Footsteps is saving lives.

    Meanwhile, this piece by Frimet Goldberger has nothing to do with Footsteps, it's about one of the many messes created by the frum community and the incredible strength it takes for people to clean them up. And if some of those people choose to leave the community behind in the process? Who can blame them?

  15. There are plenty of people in college or otherwise who haven't yet cemented a decision to drop mitzvos. They turn to whatever organization is round to help them, and they end up where they do in large part because of the anti-religious nature of the organizations available. I would venture to guess that probably half the people who go OTD due to the horrible circumstances they undergo, of the type mentioned in the piece, would be much more religious if solutions 1 and 3 were adopted.

    Footsteps PR is very careful to, for the most part, maintain no attitude towards religion, but the facts on the ground as I've heard form several people who used to be part are sadly very different. And there are people I know who went through their doors still somewhat religious, but, as a consequence of absorbing a whole new milieu in the Footsteps environment, had their relatively small gripes about Judaism and the Jewish community converted into various degrees of outright hostility and needless to say caused them to almost completely leave observance.

    Shmuel Klein

  16. Are you done? Are you blind deaf and dumb?
    I don't care how many boots you have on the ground; Footsteps still doesn't have any activities on college campuses.

  17. Repeating yourself won't make it true. There are plenty of ways for a Frum person to go to college, not to mention Frum schools themselves. People who approach Footsteps are not interested in those options. And forget Footsteps' PR, I am intimately familiar with them, I didn't hear about them in the mikvah, and every word you've said about them is false.

  18. Shmuel, are you sure you're not confusing Footsteps with Chabad? Because your description sounds a lot like my many experiences with campus Chabad, including the feigning open-mindedness while being very judgemental; and sticking out like a sore thumb because I don't have a crushed wide brim black hat and a Schneerson beard.

  19. I didn't hear about them in the mikva either. As I've said, I've heard about them from people who used to attend events. And every word I said is true. Apparently people like you feel the need to continue to spread their false PR in order to sugar coat the terribly destructive work that's going on. There are just too many souls destroyed in the process of helping people adjust to the non-insular world, for no good reason at all. And contrary to what you state, I have heard from more than one person who used to take part that they weren't looking to leave observance per se (which is consistent with what Shragi said that Footsteps has some members that are still Orthodox) but turned to Footsteps because they had nowhere else to turn. People like that would very much have benefited from my options.

    Shmuel Klein

  20. I don't have Mikva buddies. I don't use statistics. Everything I said I've heard from people who used to be part of Footsteps.

    Shmuel Klein

  21. Either they lied to you, or you're lying here. Not a single word you've said here is even remotely accurate. You yammer on about Footsteps' PR, but all you're doing is spreading the Frum false propaganda.

  22. LOL. I think we would both agree that Chabad is not a good solution for most of the kind of people described in this piece.

    Shmuel Klein

  23. They don't have a "presence" anywhere but the tiny staff in their one and only office in Manhattan.
    They aren't a Frum organization, but they still make sure to offer kosher food at all events, and there are indeed Frum Footsteps members.

  24. 1. Unlike Frum kiruv, people come to them, Footsteps doesn't approach anyone.
    2. They don't even talk about observance or religion, they don't care what you do or feel. If you want help, they will do what they can.
    3. Don't blame Footsteps for the failings of the Frum community, if you think there's a need for a Frum equivalent, go ahead and start one.

  25. Shmuel, if, as you say, every word you claim is true, please be so kind as to point out exactly what campus presence you are referring to. On what college(s) do they have a presence? Who are the people involved? What is their affiliation with Footsteps?

    I have been closely involved with Footsteps for over 5 years and have never heard of such a thing, ever.

  26. Shmuel Klein I would like to meet with you in person to set you straight about footsteps, you are so wrong you should be ashamed of yourself. You do realize all you are saying is loshen hareah

  27. Cyril Fotheringay-Phipps12:50 PM, September 03, 2013

    I think there may possibly be some confusion between members of Footsteps and staff of Footsteps. I don't know if the latter recruit, but the former definitely do. Which is of course the same of every organization, in which enthusiastic new members try to drag other people in. But it's an issue.
    There's no doubt that there's a hostility to religion - or at least the Orthodox version - in Footsteps, but again, I don't know if that's the organization or the membership. The membership is comprised by and large or OTD who blame the OJ establishment for their troubles in life, and who - as Shmuel Klein notes - are consequently overly enamored with the secular lifestyle, and you can imagine that their attitudes to OJ religion do not create a warm and fuzzy non-judgmental approach to OJ within the Footsteps milieu.
    Again, this does not necessarily relate to the official purpose of the organization or even to the intentions of its leaders (which I would imagine probably varies).



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