For those who don’t know, kiruv clowns are those proselytizers who do outreach for the orthodox (often chabad) community. They have a whole schema of devices with which they lure outsiders into their perfect, warm, perfect, spiritual world. The family that was featured on Oprah’s show that did not for-the-love-of-god have a clue what Mickey Mouse is, make for a good example of the frum kiruv clown.
There are the kiruv clowns for outsiders, and then there are the kiruv clowns for insiders – for those who were born and bred with the sweetness and know it all too well. When it comes to defection from the inside, the clown is more like the Batman’s Joker. They have a different face, a different trick, the same beard. I made the rounds to many of them, each coming highly recommended as “open-minded”, each promising to “know” and be a real “professional”. Each time I knocked on a new door I hoped that the rabbi on the other side will take me seriously, that he will understand my concerns, that he will take off that condescending clown smirk and protect me from the bullying of other rabbis and community leaders. Each time I hoped that I will hear that my desire to get an education and raise my children differently does not mean I’m a crazy woman who must lose custody over her child. “I only want to drive” I heard myself tell them, “nothing against halacha” and in my mind they’d understand and promise to help me. They didn’t. Each time I found myself sitting disappointed across from the rabbi thinking “this cannot be real, this cannot be happening to me.” The slippery slope, they’d say, or “your family is this way, you can’t be different”. One rabbi, with a beard as long as a conference table, assured me that he’s finally the right guy because he sees my troubles. “I will talk to your husband”, he said. “I’ll clarify everything to him. You need love… and… he’s just a yeshiva bochur, he didn’t realize!” Then my life will be fixed, my needs gone, he said. Love. Think! What a goyisha idea!
Another rabbi set out to debate atheism even when I couldn’t be less interested in the whole subject. I had come to ask support for basic human rights, what I got was a philosophical debate in epicureanism. When a rav told me with certainty I had multiple personality disorder (MPD is not even a confirmed mental illness, nevermind to make a diagnosis in one sitting!) I couldn’t say anything but stare back wide-eyed. Why thank you, what religious wisdom! Exactly how many of these multiple personalities did you find, and can one give love to the other — because that’s what I actually need? Could I have a moment to talk with my other personalities about how concerning your own is?
In the end they all said that no matter what was going on, it came down confusion. I was confused. And by the time I left their holy rooms with a headache and multiple personalities that was pretty true.