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
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")
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!
RYG"B — √*
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.