Tuesday, October 01, 2013

What can the OTD sector do to bolster its ranks and promote its cause?

What can the OTD sector do to bolster its ranks and promote its cause?

The OTD sector is burgeoning. In the last ten years it has grown from a no-name isolated and anomalous condition to a widespread and well-known and documented phenomenon. Young people, having been born and raised is a resurgent Ultra-orthodoxy of the 80’s and 90’s are discovering that they’ve been duped and they’re leaving in massive numbers. This doesn’t just reflect the growing numbers of Haredi ranks due to high birth control. Rather, it’s a movement. Like other social and religious movements such as Jewish Reform, Protestantism and the labor movement of the interwar era, the OTD movement is triggered by socio-religious events and conditions within the microcosm of haredi Jewry and the host culture it resides in.

The following is a subjective treatise. It assumes that this movement is good, not just for its adherents but for the Haredi sector from which it derives its numbers, that is to say: it is good for SOME folks within the haredi, whose ranks are bound to swell in the years to come.

So, back to the question: what can be done to further the cause?

a) Education (primary and secondary).

In my opinion, by far the most significant and effective way to go about “proselytizing” is by simply promoting a better all-around education for haredi youth. Haredi culture thrives in darkness. It is a virtual continuation of Dark Age mentality of the Middle Ages: a theistic mindset, emphasis and dogma and deeds, dismissal of science and secular pursuits, xenophobia, superstition, etc… Education opens up eyes. Not everyone will ask the same sort of questions. Some will not ask questions at all; they will merely study to pass exams. But there will be some critical thinkers asking obvious questions about the inconsistencies and fundamentalism of their communities. Many of them will ultimately decide that the haredi lifestyle is ill-suited for themselves and will quit.

I’m not talking about religious education. Yes, of course the haredi youth get a religious education and a very good one at that. But that’s ALL they get. It’s like a biologist who decides to study ONLY the mitochondria of cells, not the ribosomes or the nucleus or the membrane, let alone any other branch of biology. The haredi focus on Torah study is likewise zeroing in on a very particular subgenre of law/legal history: that of the ancient Semites and their pharisaic and rabbinic successors. The tunnel-vision therein is absurd in the extreme.

Needless to say, it isn’t just the OTD movement that benefits from the “enlightened” individuals who choose to leave Ultra-orthodoxy. The departees themselves will benefit. By living a wholesome, normal life, by enabling a tertiary education and a professional and fulfilling career path, the departees render themselves more adaptive individuals, fitter and more likely to pass on their genes, as well as just enjoying life more.

b) better organization.

“Organization” stems from the word organ. An organ is a complex entity that has many components, all of which work in concert to achieve a common goal. As it stands now, the OTD sector is extremely fragmented and disorganized. Not only is there no central body to even attempt to represent their social and religious interests, but there is no way to easy way for one to benefit from shared insight and wisdom –from economies of scale. Individuals who leave often are so disgusted with their radical past that they refuse to look back, even to possibly help another fellow out who is in the same boat with them –the boat that’s sinking. Little do they consider that there is advantage in numbers.

To further illustrate what I mean by lack of organization, there are presently about half dozen social entities founded by or promoting OTD individuals or interests, including Yafed, Unchained at Last, Gotta Givem Hope, Unpious, HasidicNews.com (myself, currently suspended), Failed Messiah, and more. None of those entities coordinate activities with each other even though this should be as common sensible as sliced bread. After all, can an organization helping women who are seeking divorce not find insight by working with an organization helping to promote education or more critical news reporting or gay rights?

Another civic realm where greater coordination would be most desirable and probably effective is politics. The Haredim were very keen to exploit Johnson’s Great Society gravy train for their purposes, channeling millions of Federal dollars in financial aid to their communities in the name of civil rights, equal opportunity and the correction of historical wrongs against a group which suddenly secured for itself the designation “underprivileged class” (as if it’s merely a random, unjustified misfortune that Hasidim can’t get good jobs and are struggling economically).

We, the OTD sector, are the true underprivileged class. We did NOT choose to be born and raised in extremist loony communities who do not harbor any semblance of civic duty and participation in the larger affairs of its nation and humanity at large. We ought to be asking for our civil rights, our rights for equal opportunity, our rights not be penalized in college application procedures just because out parents and communities chose not to send us to High School. Hell, we demand affirmative action. We ask for remedial action to be taken. We want a head start so that we can effectively compete in college and beyond against those who grew up normal.

c) Ideology.

There are many reasons people leave Haredi society and all of them are just. When someone dodges a car careening towards them thereby saving their life, there is no wrong motive. However, the fight against the oppression of the Haredi ghetto subculture is not just about physical conditions; it’s also about the spirit -- about ideology. Simply put, we need to engage in propaganda (without the loaded negative connotation it has assumed), a.k.a. “public relations”. We need to put our best foot forward with cogent arguments why haredi society is doomed to failure, why it’s maladaptive, why it ought to reform itself and be more tolerant even for those choosing to remain in its midst.

There are many levels to argue for the permissiveness of turning on a light switch on Shabbat. One could argue that it’s not “work”, electricity is not fire, rabbinic law is not binding, God’s law is subject to change, God’s law is not binding unless I choose to it to be (a.k.a. I’m not afraid of God). One could even assert that there is no God. All of these arguments have merit and are worth discussing. But when one has no argument at all, or when it appears that the reason one leaving haredi society is to participate in the rather draker sides of humanity such as drugs, promiscuous sex, excessive drinking and ostentatious display of wealth or “coolness”, then we are setting the wrong model for potential departees.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Here's another OIC (Only in China). Did you know that in Beijing adults must give up their seat to children. I'm not kidding, for real. I think it's because of the one-child policy. Children have become a rare breed (four grandparents and two parents care for one child only) and are thus prized accordingly as driven by capitalistic supply and demand forces.

Are doors required to follow rules in the Beijing subway system?

I noticed a sign in subway car exhorting the door not move when the light turns red. if the light is still yellow the door may open but when the light is red door is at fault (if an accident happens...)

wow, only in Beijing. I would have said that the door is never at fault, since there's always a human being programming or operating the door.

Shocking Discovery: Some Haredi Schools Have No Secular Curriculum At All

At a private conference on 8/17/2011 on the topic of inadequate secular education in haredi (Jewish Ultra-Orthodox) schools, some really shocking trends in haredi education were revealed by a group of graduates from such institutions.

The most appaling of all institutions truned out to be --somewhat surprisingly-- Chabad/Lubavitch. Graduates from Chabad schools testified that there was absoutely no secular education provided in their schools, not even elementary education, which is generally normative among haredi schools. It's interesting to note that Chabad pupils --unlike most other haredi counterparts-- speak English among themselves. This fact may explain somewhat the perceived lack of necessity to teach their pupils secular studies; administrators believe that chabad pupils recieve an adequate dosage of exposure to American ways by virtue of their native English speaking (as opposed to Yiddish -- normative at other haredi institutions).

Some other immensely disturbing conditions were revealed by other participants in the conference:

Most institutions offer only elementray secular education. After Bar Mitzvah, upon entering yeshiva qetanah, institutions such as Satmar, Krasna, Papa, Belz, Vizhnitz and other satellite community institutions offer no suclar education to its pupils. It is also worth noting that the religious topics curriculum fills significantly more than a typical public school schedule: 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. is quite common (which is partly why many Yeshiva's offer dormitories to save commuting time). Some yeshiva's provide an option to its pupils in the afternoon hours to either enroll in secular courses or to study a religious topic -- typically shulkhan arukh, a work by Rabbi Joseph Caro that is commonly considered the basis for modern Jewish law. The caveat about this "choice", however, is that that secular route is shunned by administrators and pupils alike. Those who do choose such route are often perceived as morally weak or of inferior relgious schlarship capacity. For others it is done out of "necessity", in order to be able to find employment at later stages in life or because parents are compelling them to.

I personally wonder whether administrators offer secular studies in high school merely to qualify for state and federal aid which is then collected on behalf of all pupils (including those that are not enrolled in sscular courses) and partially diverted toward religious studies budgets. Another practice discovered in the meeting was the collection of federal Pell grants by some institutions on behalf of their pupils, often unbeknownst to them. They sometimes only discover this much later when applying for college funding and being told that their government aid availability has alreayd been exhasted.

The Problem

Some people will invariably ask: okay, so what? if it works for them, let it be; why interfere with their autonomy if the haredi pupulation is okay with a nonexistent or inadequate secular education?

There are several problems with this phenomenon. Chief among them is related to another development in haredi life. In the last decade hundreds of youngsters have defected fron the grip of haredi communities, having chosen to pursue college and other employment unacceptable to haredim. They are often lured by the promise of a more libertarian lifestye, where they can think and express heretical ideas freely and abandon some or all religious practices in favor of a more adaptive 21st century lifestyle.

Those defectors find themselves in an immense quandary. They feel that the haredi community does not speak to them any longer; they are eager to assimilate into the mainstream American culture. However, no one in the outside world seems prepared or able to deal with their overwhelming handicapcy in education and culture. For those who seek to enter college, the question is posed: no high school diploma and no GED? what do you mean? we need a letter from the last school you attended before you "dropped out"? Of course, they never were in any real school in the first place and even if they were, they would likely find them uncooperative since college is unacceptable to the Ultra-Orthodox.

One of the revelations brough to light in the conference was that many former haredim who decide to pursue college, require intense remediate courses and private tutoring to even reach a minimum level of knowledge necessary for entraance into college. Those who manage without formal courses are either lucky enough to somehow have had some exposure to secular studies in their schools or elsewhere in their haredi upbringing or they have a tremendous drive and tenacity to overcome the obstacles and pursue self-study methods to bring themselves up to par with college entry requirements.

Moreover, even those who do not pursue the college route, face tremendous difficulties adjusting to a more mainstream lifestyle. Satmar-williamsuburg graduates can barely write English and their speaking proficiency is barebones, not sufficient for conversational English. Math proficiency is also so rudimentary as to likely interfere with even blue-collar careers. One participant recounted how he did not know what a fraction was when he first left the haredi community.

According to a lawyer familar with this problem and is considering tackling this in court, it's not abut attempting to enforce the state's or other people's standards on the haredi community. Clearly, the haredim are entitled to freedom of religion and --broadly speaking-- to customize the education of their children according to their religious mores and values, so that if a pupil is like most other pupils they would as adults be satisfied and appreciative with the haredi unique approach to education. The problem is that for those who decide to burst out of the restrictive haredi bubble, their education is so basic as to significantly impede their ability to make the chices they so desparatel want to make. Essentially, the haredim are erecting such huge barriers to the outside world that even those who are absolutely determined to make it out are incapacitated by their lack of a basic education.

One participant recounted how he had always wanted to be a mathematics professor. Upon entering high school, he was told after taking an admittance test that he lacks sufficient mastery of the subject to be admitted to the high school math course. When he went to his religious studies principle (knonwn in yiddish as the menahel) to discuss his dilemma his menahel reacted with glee: "ah, that's great; this way you won't ever become a professor" evidently treating his pupil's desire to become a math professor as an undesirable temptation; now that his proficiency is inadequate those il-conceived aspirations can be finally laid to rest. Of course -- the principle overplayed his hand. In response, the pupil decided to drop out of the Yeshiva altogether and pursue his own curriculum that initially included both traditional talmudic studies and math but he eventually left the folds of haredi life altogether.

Possible Remedial Action

What can be done to remedy this ill? Several possible solutions were raised and I shall throw my own ideas into the mix:

* Pressure government executive departments (such as the New York State Board of Educaion) to get off their butts and fulfill their obligations according to State law. State law requires a minimum of secular studies through 12th grade. Haredi institutions overwhelmingly do not meet those minimum criteria.
* Sue the state in federal court, perhaps claiming a violation of civil rights by not providing its citizens a basic "civil capacity" to function as an informed, educated citizen.
* Change the law to allow the haredim to develop secular courses that do not conflict with their creationist beliefes and their aversion to sex study before marriage.
* Raise awareness among political electees that this breach in execution of the law is happening before our eyes and is negatively impacting an increasingly larger slice of the haredi population. The goal should be to put an end to the cozy relationship between haredi institutions and their representative assemplymen and councilmen. If the assemblyman fears for his office in the upcoming election he may be more readily spurred into the otherwise uncomfortabe action against parts of his constituency.
Funny Chinglish Children's Toy Package
This "productin" (some sort of drug?) is "resistant" (to disease?); so "it is safe" as long as one has a durable will. you gotta be strong! it's all in your mind...

great news! ever promised your child a cash prize but there's a  deficit in your budget? no worries! you can buy this toy and pay the child in kind! oops, there's a problem. buying the toy will cost you cash. hmm...

4. "don't keep the toy in the mouth to prevent children" from playing with it. Rather "devour small parts in the toy" and thus the toy will be rendered nonfunctional and children prevented from playing with it... Is that what the rule 4 says? or am I misreading this? somebody please enlighten me.

What's the warning? I see a request to remove all packaging, to retain all packaging and a disclaimer. but what's the warning?