Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is this what liberal kiruv looks like?

I finally got my parents to shul! It was quite an accomplishment. They came for a Kabbalat Shabbat service where I was leading and though it wasn't exactly their cup of tea (they wouldn't even go inside the place until we got there, even though we were a little late), it was nice that they made the effort, and also that they commented on how happy and proud they were that we had found a community.

In related news, I have been asked by a very good old friend to officiate his wedding, on the grounds that they want "some Jewish content" and that "you're funny." Though they're in a very different place than me and Mrs. Yid in terms of practice and spirituality (the bride is not Jewish and though my friend went to Hebrew school and was bar mitzahed, the most religious thing they do these days is come to our seders), I decided to accept. I basically see it as an opportunity to put a bit of a Jewish stamp on it from a cultural perspective, even if it's not a halachic wedding (after all, neither was ours).

Most recently, Mrs. Yid and I volunteered at the giant Pride parade manning a booth for Beth Elderly along with another member of the young guard who I'll call Leib. Leib is our resident gay black Jew (welcome to San Francisco!), and as such, tends to have some useful perspectives when it comes to growing the congregation and keeping it welcoming to all potential members. So we stood at the booth with brochures and shema bracelets. At one point the rabbi's 3 year old started just handing them to people. Then he started putting them on people without waiting for them to take them.

... Then he started slipping them in their pockets. The best point came when he wiggled one onto an old Chinese man's cane without him noticing.

"He could be a Chabadnik!" we said.

We got some sign-ups for the shul mailing list, but mostly we just had conversations. Some were very interesting, like the secular-ish Muslim woman who wanted to compare notes on how open Judaism was to gays vs. Christianity or Islam, or the man raised Orthodox who had been "spoiled" by his parents and who was now a Buddhist, or the guy who had been accepted into Harvard Divinity School who wanted to know the difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. (Answer: here, ask the Reconstructionist rabbi of our Conservative shul! Who went to Yale Div School!)

Some conversations were a little weirder, like the drunk topless man who wanted sympathy for a bad experience with some Israeli Haredim he had in 1992 ("Do you understand my point? Do you?" "Yes, yes I do. Have a pen."), or the drunk topless woman who chatted with Mrs. Yid for half an hour about being a recovering Baptist and whose best friend (Jewish) loved to tell the story of the oven of Akhnai as a proof-text of how much Jews love arguing.

By the end of the day, we were just handing out shema bracelets to anyone who wanted them (note: next year, get English translations!) Some folks really liked the message of unity (Muslims, Mormons, Catholics), others seemed to find it too sectarian (the ex-frummie said it had too much baggage, one kid wearing a rainbow raccoon tail didn't want it because he couldn't read Hebrew). One lady grabbed one, turned it over, squinted at it, said, "That's interesting!" and stomped off. The rabbi said maybe next year we'll modify the bracelets so they don't actually have the name of God on them. Another alternative might be to make some with the theme of B'tselem Elohim (or Elokim.)

Even though at the beginning of the day I was a little weirded out at the thought of pseudo-proselytizing, by the end it was ok. It wasn't specifically about trying to turn anyone Jewish, just letting people know that we were around, that we were accepting, and that people were welcome, even if they were just curious. Though I've seen more bad outfits (or lack thereof) than I need for quite a while, it was still a fun experience.


Antigonos said...

I am reminded again of how far US non-orthodox Judaism is from mainstream Israeli Judaism...or just Judaism...

Friar Yid said...

Oh be nice...

Besides, in my next post I'll talk about my first visit to an Orthodox shul. I'm sure you're curious!

Ida said...