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Ami Receives Feedback and Responds
Previously, I discussed the appalling article in Ami magazine entitled "The Imposters Among Us." Many others (including some of the people "quoted" in the article) joined in the chorus of condemnation for this hateful, divisive, and wildly inaccurate piece of writing. In fact I didn't hear of anyone who had a good thing to say about it. Here is one letter that someone sent in (he forwarded it to me with permission to post it):
I would first like to thank you for your superb magazine. Since the first issue, I have bought and read through every article (and I mean EVERY article, in all three sections!), and I can truly say that I have never so continuously enjoyed a Jewish publication.
But... I was deeply dismayed reading the article “The Imposters among Us,” by Mr. Rafael Borges. My dismay was not for the reasons you might think – that I was shocked that this phenomenon exists, rather, I was disturbed by the shallow portrayal of our so-called “Orthoprax” brethren, and the writer’s admittedly biased opinions and worldview that prevent him from giving the readers the full scope of the issue.
The writing style that Mr. Borges employed is self-serving, trying to convince the readers of his own piousness and faith-superiority. If the whole article was not clear enough, the last two paragraphs of the article highlight that Mr. Borges was definitely not the right candidate to write this article. To quote: “When I visited Aaron in his house, the conversation gradually came to an uncomfortable halt. After all, I did not have much in common with one who has lost his last vestige of spirituality and G-dliness.” This paragraph says more than I need to say; a person tries to write a cover story on a segment of klal yisroel whose rank-joining numbers has unfortunately exploded lately, but he is not able to have a straight, open conversation, to really understand what goes on in their minds, so we should truly be able to tackle this growing problem.
The writer obviously does not have the journalistic skills to be able to have conversations with people who have other worldviews than his own, therefore, what remains in order to “diagnose” the problem, is to label these so-called Orthoprax Jews as sufferers from “a sickness,” and are therefore “treacherous frauds” and “Infiltrators.” In order to give the readers a clear picture of the case, and to do a real service to our community, Ami should have appointed a writer who is unprejudiced, and has the distinct talent of engaging in discussion and really trying to understand those who stray from the norm. As a community, we will never be able to combat this problem if we will continue sweeping everything under the rug, without acknowledging that certain behavior-patterns of our community may be direct initiators of the prevailing problems.
As a chasidisher yungerman from a rebbishe family living in chasidic Boro Park, I have had the opportunity to speak many times to friends of mine who unfortunately became Orthoprax. I can tell you that at least in the case of the people I know, they are highly intelligent, with absolutely no history of illness, and have all really worked hard to find a way to synthesize what they perceive as sensible convictions - with Judaism. they have read the wide gamut of kiruv-books, they have spoken to countless so-called kiruv experts, who one by one disappointed them with “proofs” that were shown numerous times as blatantly false (such as Torah Codes, autistic facilitated communication, scientific facts that Chazal “knew” before everyone, etc. etc.).
As an individual who understands the orthopraxy mindset but who is nevertheless deeply faithful and religious, I can assure you that if we would have been more tolerant to different legitimate Jewish perspectives, we would have been able to keep most of these Orthoprax Jews in our ranks. The ridicule of everything “different”; the mockery of every stream in Judaism that is not “ours”; the condemnation of everything that promiscuous-thinking “askonim” disapprove of, have driven away countless of our finest yungeleit. I can attest that the ugly power-battles among rebbes, the use of Torah to undermine rivals (such as the eiruv controversy and the current controversy regarding wheat from Arizona for matzos), mindboggling hypocrisy among rabbonim, official denial of anything and everything negative about our community, have done so much harm to the faith of our fellow Jews that it defies statistical analysis.
Dear Ami, in the short period of time that you have been providing us with a magazine of such high caliber, you have courageously tackled many issues. Please… please do not let this problem go by without providing the readers with substantial thoughts to ponder that may potentially contribute to some positive outcomes.
Well, the next issue of Ami is now out. It did not print this letter, nor any other letter critical of the article. Instead, there is an editorial in which we find the following:
Ironically, people who have abandoned the Jewish heritage are offended when they are told that their un-observant lifestyle is considered indefensible by the religious community. The letters we have been receiving at Ami corroborate this. We just read in the Haggadah: "The wicked one, what does he say? 'What is this service to you?!' He says to you,' but not to him! By thus excluding himself from the community he has denied that which is fundamental. You, therefore, should blunt his teeth and say to him: `it is because of this that G-d did for me when I left Egypt'; 'for me'—but not for him! Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed!" The wicked son has already excluded himself from the eternal Jewish calling. Why are his teeth blunted when we repeat to him that he is indeed excluded from Jewish history and destiny? Evidently, the wicked son enjoys declaring that he is not part of the Jewish nation; but he is terribly hurt when someone dares to confirm it. But there is more here. Those who have tried to cast away their Jewish identity want to believe that they are still somehow members in good standing of the redeemed and chosen nation. What they fail to understand is that being chosen means acting chosen. Service and redemption are indivisible.
Now, I don't know if this editorial is addressing the letters regarding the Orthopraxy article. But if it is, then it is extremely bizarre; the whole point is that these people are not abandoning either the community or mitzvah observance!
The other item of interest in the new issue is the following bizarre note:
Correction: Due to a technical error in the editing process, a piece of text was accidentally placed in a quote in the article “The Impostors Among Us” attributed to Isaac Schonfeld. The sentence which read, "They dress in veiser zocken [white socks] and are passionate about disputes between chassidic rebbes, but they are nothing more than self-centered phonies," should have correctly read, "They dress in veiser zocken [white socks] and are passionate about disputes between chassidic rebbes, but they do not believe." We apologize for the error.
A "technical error in the editing process"?! What, someone accidentally pressed the wrong button, which automatically created the text "they are nothing more than self-centered phonies"?! Ami should face up to the fact that this editor is not only full of ignorant and inappropriate hate, but also entirely lacks professionalism.