Why I Don’t Do Kiruv

I wish you would stop apologizing when you peek at your phone to check the time, as though I’m unfamiliar with this exact temptation, as though I don’t do the same thing constantly, minus these twenty-five hours.

“You do you!” I assure you, awkwardly, but sincerely. Most of the time, I don’t know how exactly to “do me”, but I’m trying. But I have so damn much to learn.

My friends know my motto, “no pressure-but I’m a good sharer,” when it comes to my overzealous offers of my Shabbat leftovers, drinks, clothes, et cetera. I want you to feel comfortable partaking in whatever you want, no more, no less.

And I would just looove if what you want is to sing Baruch Kel Elyon with me, while I pick at my potatoes and bang on the table, and the melody winds from funeral dirge to lively rhythm. If you wanted to bear with me, and sway to the vacillating tune, humoring me, I wouldn’t complain.

See, I want you to understand my Aramaic-Yiddish-Yeshivish esoteric slang, so that I don’t have to pause my tangential story to translate. And I want you to know the pleasure of pushing through the frustration long enough to “crack” a Talmudic debate. But look, are these wishes for your sake or mine?

Yes, of course there is a part of me that shares in that altruistic sentiment that just wants Jews to experience the beauty and wonder of yiddishkeit. But I can’t help but wonder if I just want my friends to be more like me, if I just want to be more comfortable.

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I came home from college today, having just finished my junior year. I reacted to my mom not knowing who Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, as though she did not know the answer to 2+2. Was this coming from an intense, wholehearted love of this feminist voice (when I still have not read Americanah, embarrassingly)? Or was it an elitist moment, when I wanted someone to connect with me on an academic level, for my own sake?

What I mean is that I don’t trust my intentions. I do believe in the tremendous power of any and every mitzvah in impacting the world in real ways. I do believe the world needs more light from flickering Shabbos candles, and more strength from tefillin-girded arms. Still, I’m not a salesperson making commission off changing the universe.

And while I’m tempted to verge on utilitarian and argue against myself that intentions only matter so much, I still believe intentions matter so much. I do believe that intentions come through. And besides, I don’t see outreach like a parallel case to a firefighter saving someone from a burning house, as someone proposed in a comment the other day; in an emergency as that, of course it would be an act of violence to sit and contemplate one’s motives before moving as quickly as possible to just get. the. person. the. hell. out. of. the. house. But this is different. People are not fires to be extinguished or items to be crossed off a list. There is no singular “ends”, only means. There is no single derech (path) on which to remain, or from which to veer.

I want you to try your best to “keep it real,” to continue “doing you”. But I know as much as you do what’s best. We’re all just figuring it out. On my birthday, my Bubbie tells me she wishes for me what I wish for myself. I buy into this wholeheartedly, the best blessing I could give to any friend. Who am I to tell you what to dream or how to manifest it tangibly?

I want Jews to learn Torah. I want Jews to love other Jews. I want Jews to invite Jews to their Shabbat tables, literally just because. Because when is the last time someone left “the fold” because she felt “too welcomed” at too many Shabbat tables or conversations over beers?

I want Jews to know opportunity, and to be treated with a love that trusts them to make the decisions that are healthiest for them as Jews and as people. If kiruv literally means “closeness,” how can we get closer to our sisters and brothers, without just trying to bring them closer to the image we may have of them, resembling ourselves? It might help to look them in the eyes first.