Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Monsey Moment

This Shabbos I went up to the Ohr Somayach yeshiva in Monsey, NY, to visit a friend (the one I refer to as "my progressively-more-Yeshivish friend") who's studying there for the year. And I was very impressed. Ohr Somayach saved the reputation of the whole Qeiruv ("Kiruv") movement in my eyes.

In high school, I tried going to NCSY for a while, since they're the "Orthodox Youth Group" and I was an Orthodox Youth. I found them silly and a bit useless, though, and eventually realized that they didn't really care about me — they were only interested in kiruvafying the kids from public school. And the chapter advisor seemed a bit too hhareidi (not that there's anything wrong with that).

During my time in Israel, I had a friend who was taking a year off from college to learn in yeshiva. He started off in one place, and then switched to Aish Hatorah. I went with him to a Friday Night dinner there (after davening at the Kotel omg as i write this the sun is rising over har habayit!), and I was very disappointed. First of all, one guy there asked me for my name, and when I told him, he was like "No, what's your real name?" I understood what he meant — I had given him my English name, and he wanted to know only my Hebrew name — so I told him it (and, like most people, it was too complicated for him; hence why I went by my easier-for-Israelis English name). Afterwards, though, I thought up some good responses I should have used, like Hey buddy, that is my real name. Just because it lacks religio-ritual significance doesn't make it any less a part of my identity. Don't make me go all Diqduq Geek on your butt with my mad cunning Linguistics skillz!

There was also a rabbi from the yeshiva there, who was running the meal. He gave a fluffy, contentless devar Tora, which I had no problems with, since after all this was a kiruv yeshiva, which needed to inspire students with little background. What I didn't accept, though, was the needless slandering of other Jewish and Semi-Jewish groups. He would just throw in nasty comments about Karaites and Reconstructionists at random times. That was so uncalled for. They should be inspiring newly-observant Jews with messages of "isn't Torah great?!" not with messages of "those heretical people suck!" Sigh. And while I am neither a Karaite or a Reconstructionist, I felt very uncomfortable sitting through his speech. I was nervous, as if I was worried he would take out a verbal stick and beat Modern Orthodoxy with it too!

And I won't even mention here my experiences with Chabad...

Ohr Somayach, on the other hand, was pretty cool.

This was neither an "in" nor an "out" Shabbos — the students davened in the yeshiva, and had kiddush and shaleshudes there, but ate outside, either with Ohr Somayach rabbis or with members of the Greater Jewish Monsey (as in parallel to "Greater Jewish Flatbush") community.

My Progressively-More-Yeshivish Friend (henceforth: MPMYF) had warned me about the weirdness of the yeshiva mínyan, but it really struck me when I was there — they had a really confusing way of singing. Instead of singing the words of prayers, for example Lekha Đoði, they would sing the tune niggun-style, without words — and then mumble the words to themselves. And the hhazan was singing the words, or something, and pausing, and I was very confused. Can anyone explain this minhag to me? Rav Bechhofer?
Speaking of which... CHECKLIST!
Friday Night, me and MPMYF ate by one of his teachers. The meal was really great, and we all (us, the teacher, and his family) discussed the parasha and played word games. In the morning, shul was once again *wierd, and there was a nice small kiddush for the students in MPMYF's program. Then me and him went to eat by some community members, who were also really nice and made really good food (bison cholent!). After the meal, we went back to the yeshiva and took Shabbos naps.

I woke up with about an hour to spare before Minhha, and MPMYF and his roommate were still asleep, so I decided to do a little exploring. A few weeks ago, when first talking about this visit, I had plugged the address of the yeshiva into one of those internet mapping programs, and found out that it's only about a mile away from where I used to live in one of the neighboring towns when I was little. So I went on a little walk. I found the street, and I found the house, but while I was standing out in front second-guessing myself as to whether I remembered the number of the house correctly, an obviously observant Jewish guy came out of the house and greeted me. So I said gutshabbos, and introduced myself, and told him that I wasn't sure which of these two houses I had lived in, but I think it was his. And guess what? It was the same guy who had bought the house from my parents all those years ago, and he recognized my name and invited me in! So I got to meet him and his family, and see what they've done with the place. And then when it was time to leave for Minhha, I found out that he was going the same place I was (back to the yeshiva) — because he teaches there, and was going to give a shaleshudes speech to the bokhrim in MPMYF's program! So we walked back together, and talked more about how his family is doing, and how my family is doing, and how Monsey has swallowed up all the neighboring villages like a giant Jewwy blob.

After Minhha, Rabbi Bechhofer complimented me on my blog receiving a haskama from the Godol Hador, and I told one of MPMYF's friends about RYGB's amazing monster chart of the philosophies of four modern (sic) Orthodox movements.

Then there was Ma‘ariv, and Havdala, and another friend who was visiting someone else there was nice enough to give me a ride back to NYC.

Oh, and contrary to MPMYF's dire predictions, nobody tried to stone me for teaching in a Conservative yeshiva high school. So there.


Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

For the Karaites, you should give the link

I have heard of that practice of singing a wordless niggun, then mumbling the words. (I thought that it was associated with certain Chasidic groups.) However, I'm not sure that I have ever heard it associated specifically with Lähäkho Dohodi.

Glad to hear that you had a good Schorbess.

9/25/2005 12:54 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I couldn't decide between those guys and the Karaite Jews of America, so i decided to give 'both' by means of the Google search.

9/25/2005 1:05 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Interesting story.

9/25/2005 1:26 PM  
Blogger YGB said...

Happy to have met you personally.

Your MPMYF is very thoughtful, and I think you should assure your readership that any progressive frumkeit inclinations probably result only after careful deliberation.

As to Lecha Dodi, this kind of mumble-then-sing pattern is of Chassidic origin. Most Chassidim believe that the words detract from the emotional power of a nigun, as the intellectual content of the message narrows the focus and inhibits transcendant dveykus that defies verbalization.

But one must set a tone for the mood to follow.

Hence, the setting of the tone by the mumbled words, followed by the expression of dveykus in the niggun.

9/25/2005 3:11 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


thanks! it was certainly interesting to be in it!


It was great meeting you too, even if it was only for a few minutes.

You said it better than i could, about the "MPMYF" designation. Although it's meant also somewhat jokingly, in response to his jokes about one of the positive side-benefits of becoming more stringent in practice being "scaring" friends who think he's "flipped out". ;-)

Thanks for the explanation of the mumble/sing/niggun! I've never been able to "get into" niggunim, since my psyche is too tied into words and verbal processing, and it's the words that have given me whatever hint of dveykus i've ever been able to get (i've been told that the disparity between my verbal and nonverbal processing abilities is tantamount to a nonverbal learning disorder). So for me, having the tune right there, and yet purposefully disconnecting it from the words was like adding insult to injury :-P .

9/26/2005 2:31 AM  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

I hope NCSY takes on "silly and a bit useless" for their new ad campaign. Much better than their current "building a better Jewish tomorrow." Seriously.

That whole mumbling after niggun style of davening is one of my least favorite.

Great story about you and the guy in your old house.

Sorry you did not get the stoning you were hoping for. Perhaps if you said you taught in a Karaite school?

9/26/2005 2:36 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


I think the problem was that MPMYF forgot to pick up the torches and pitchforks on Friday morning.

9/26/2005 10:28 AM  
Anonymous big brother said...

When you hunt down the old house on a Shabbos afternoon you get to meet the people who live there. Though I definitely had more fun when I tracked it down (with no directions or maps!) at 2:30 am that night all those summers ago! (the night that Carpathian Lawyer and I kidnapped Video Game Trekkie from Brooklyn)

9/26/2005 10:41 AM  
Anonymous alan scott said...

Negative people (like the speaker at Aish) really piss me off. If your Love of self/faith/family is only based on Hatred of the Other, it's time to rethink whether your commitment is really to your self/faith/family or just to your own addiction to 'superiority' or selfrighteousness.

"Ahavah HaBa beSin'ah: Just Don't Do It"

9/26/2005 10:44 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I told them about that time. I hope it didn't make them paranoid about people driving past their/our house in the middle of the night!

9/26/2005 10:57 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...


"Ohr Somayach"? Does that mean "pray with joy"? I guess it must be a Carlebachian yeshivo....


9/26/2005 7:24 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Heh, only if Lipman says it! ;-)
And i probably would've been able to stand the davening better if it were Carlebachian — Carlebachians actually sing words, and not just niggunim!

9/26/2005 8:23 PM  
Blogger Lipman said...

I wonder how Carlebach ored in his native Ashkenez.

9/27/2005 10:06 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Carlebachians actually sing words, and not just niggunim!

Um, what about on Hôsha‘no Rabbo, between the words of "HOYDU -- aye yaye yaye yaye yaye -- LADOYNOY -- aye yaye yaye yaye yaye -- KI -- aye aye aye yay yaey" etc.

I wonder how Carlebach ored in his native Ashkenez.

According to Rav Besser, who used to host Schlaumele when the latter was a teenager in the USA, Schlaumele had been ohring in chasizic shtieblach back in Ashkenaz.

9/27/2005 10:09 AM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

> Instead of singing the words of prayers, for example Lekha Đoði, they would sing the tune niggun-style, without words — and then mumble the words to themselves. And the hhazan was singing the words, or something, and pausing, and I was very confused. Can anyone explain this minhag to me?

Hasidic nussach sefard style.

9/27/2005 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Angel One said...

Interesting - my experiences with NCSY were almost the exact opposite (although I should mention that in all fairness I only went to a total of 2 events as a kid before I gave up).

NCSY was dominated by all the kids who went to the frum highschool, and as the token kid not in a Jewish school, I was the outsider. Far from being kiruved, I was pretty much ignored.

9/27/2005 12:21 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Angel One:

Very interesting! Maybe it depended on region and/or chapter.

9/27/2005 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Angel One said...

Agreed - I'm sure it varies largely by the people involved. Also as I mentioned my sample size of NCSY events was not large enough to claim any real statistical significance.

9/28/2005 10:08 AM  
Blogger Habib said...

Having gone to a public school (albeit in a far-off land with no Yeshiva high school), I felt that qiruv organisations that I encountered in Israel such as Aish, Habad etc were very interested. Later, when I had acquired a little more more knowledge, and could pass myself off as a dosi, they were less so.

I wanted to stay at Heritage House in Old City, and was told that I would have to remove my skullcap before entering, otherwise they might be reluctant to allow me to take advantage of their free accommodation in al Quds.

9/28/2005 12:32 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

I'm sure NCSY varies from atar to atar, just as Bnei Akiva does. In certain locations, Bnei Akiva is totally focussed on qiruv (for want of a better word, I realise the word is sullied), such as my own bailiwick, where there is no autochthonous dati community to speak of. Conversely, in other locations (such as some Australian snifim), it exists to serve the day school crowd, and can be rather exclusive of outsiders.

9/28/2005 12:41 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

qiruv (for want of a better word, I realise the word is sullied)

Looking for a better word than qiruv? How about qêruv?

9/28/2005 12:47 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

I prostrate myself before the master of the circumflex.

9/28/2005 12:49 PM  
Anonymous a.s. said...

I prostrate myself in the manner of a circumflex ^ before its master.

9/28/2005 12:58 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/28/2005 1:35 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/28/2005 1:36 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/28/2005 1:37 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Something's getting messed up here with the hyperlink. Perhaps this will work:

Alan Scott--

Mammish gevalt. How about posting some comments on the blog ( of the master of the mācron? He hasn't gotten any comments on his recent posts.

(Yes, I saw the "Maryland" thingy.)

9/28/2005 1:38 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

I dunno. Where I come from, inveterate use of the macron is associated with indigenous radicals:

So being a Master of Macrons would make one suspect.

9/28/2005 2:09 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

te Ḥabīb:

A friend of mine who spent time at Heritage House told me to go visit the place; I called them up, and they seemed confused and unsure what to make of me.

Macros are associated with Māori Radicals ? What convention do the non-radical Te Reo speakers use, then?

9/28/2005 4:18 PM  
Blogger Habib said...

Heritage House is full of surprises. I remember talking to one Californian surfy (and I'm guessing stoner). In 3 days he went from boasting about the girls he used to be bed to saying "it'd be cool if someone, like, took a bazook and blew up the Dome of the Rock".

Non-radical speakers tend not to bother too much with diqduq; the Māori cultural renaissance tended to be led by those with more radical political leanings, and it is generally they who push for "better" orthography. Less radical speakers of te reo often think that worrying too much about orthography is a touch ridiculous for a language that wasn't even written until the Brits came and colonised.

Reactionary colonial types actually take pleasure in mangling Māori pronunciation and spelling.

9/28/2005 4:32 PM  
Anonymous a little birdie said...


Check your e-mail.

9/28/2005 5:29 PM  
Blogger aLan said...

Nice story, thanks. If you're interested in visiting the southern hemisphere, please come join our Ohr Samayach (or Ohr Sameach) minyon in Cape Town.


11/17/2005 5:42 AM  
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