Thursday, February 08, 2018

Is Kiruv a lie? Does it drive people away from Judaism…? (Hint: No, it doesn’t.)


In an article at Pop Chassid, Elad Nehorai wrote – with a big headline – “Kiruv is a lie.”

Why?  Because it creates the illusion that Judaism is “fun” or “easy.” 

Because it lures people in with songs or cheap spirituality or tasty food and then – bait and switch!!! – it turns out Judaism is a hard life and so the Judaism you thought was all about fun fizzles and you drift away from Judaism.

And those who do stay religious, who move into religious communities like, I’m assuming Monsey or Lakewood or Boro Park or Jerusalem, suddenly discover that religious Jews are like anybody else, not all “souls on fire” but just regular people trying to make a living, playing loud music, behaving obnoxiously, speaking loshon hora, even stealing from each other in various horrible and petty ways.

Nehorai’s solution is a little fuzzy – he recommends “improving the qualitative state of our communities.”  By this I’m assuming he means make every Jewish person behave nicely instead of just a few kiruv rabbis.  As we say here in Israel, halevai – if only.  If only it were that easy.

I could be wrong about his message, and I hope somebody corrects me if I’ve misunderstood.  Whatever his goal is, it seems both vague and also almost certainly impossible.

There is no “Bad Kiruv”

Here’s my two cents:  There’s nothing wrong with kiruv, and I think kiruv professionals mostly have the right idea, even if they do sometimes paint an unrealistic picture of what Judaism looks like, and what the person being drawn in will look like in five, ten, or twenty years down the line.

I think that first of all, some of these tensions are created by

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Sydney Taylor Award 2018 BLOG TOUR: Drop by Drop, A Story of Rabbi Akiva, by Jacqueline Jules / Yevgenia Nayberg


Welcome to visitors here with the Sydney Taylor Award blog tour!  You can find a full list of hosts and featured books at the Association of Jewish Libraries site.  There are some amazing selections this year.  In fact, that’s what I’m going to be talking about – a wonderful new Jewish kids’ book.

If you’re not fascinated by Rabbi Akiva, it’s probably because you just don’t know enough about him.  Who wouldn’t be inspired by the tale of someone who comes to Torah learning late in life but persists until he becomes not just an expert, but one of the greatest heroes of the Jewish world.

The problem is, how do you turn a figure commonly thought of as being more like this…


Into someone warm and relatable, more like this…


so that kids can actually enjoy the story and start to understand its full meaning?

Well, that’s exactly what author Jacqueline Jules (left) and illustrator Yevgenia Nayberg (right) have done with Drop by Drop: A Story of Rabbi Akiva, which turns this classic and often-told tale into a kids’ story that will make a great addition to any family’s Jewish bookshelf. 

Along with Yaffa and Fatima, Shalom, Salaam, The Language of Angels and others, their book has now won the 2018 Association of Jewish Libraries’ Sydney Taylor Award for “outstanding books that portray the Jewish experience.”


I feel lucky to have had the chance to send Jacqueline and Yevgenia a quick Q&A, and I’m excited to share their responses with you here:

Tzivia (that’s me):  Jacqueline, why do you think Rabbi Akiva is an important figure for kids to learn about in the year 2018?

Jacqueline Jules:  Rabbi Akiva’s story of learning to read at age 40 is an amazing role model for children and people of any age. Akiva’s realization