Monday, September 12, 2011

A Video I'm Having Trouble Understanding

I've recently come to realize just how old I truly am:
  1. I have a son in high school. Scary.
  2. Forty rapidly approaches. 
  3. A new cool internet Kiruv video makes absolutely no sense to me at all.
Someone on Facebook linked to a new Aish video called "Rosh Hashanah Rock Anthem" in which a clearly non-religious person complains that Rosh Hashanah is boring. "Jewish New Year? It's just going to be a bunch of guys praying, right? I mean, what's the fun in that?" To this, the frum person says, "It's the holiest time of the year. A time for introspection, appreciation..." At this point, the kiruv-candidate feigns snoring. So the frum guy says, "You know what, let me explain it to you a little bit differently."
At this point, a group of frum-dressed men begin dancing to what must be dance-party music. I must admit, the dancing - if that's what it is, is quite impressive. Something tells me that these guys didn't learn to dance this way at the recent Aish Melave Malka, if you know what I mean.
But I can't hear the words to the song at all, and if anything, the video seems to reinforce exactly what our not-yet-frum friend complained about: Rosh Hashanah really is boring, and it's much better to break dance on your head, jump around Jerusalem, and leap over people (during davening? I'd go to that shul!)
The video, while visually impressive and fun to watch, doesn't seem to have anything to do with Judaism, unless you count the miracle of keeping your kipah on while doing a triple-lutz while overlooking the Kotel.
Aish does incredible work, but I truly fail to see how this video has anything to do with Kiruv. It seems that in our bid to increase page views and attract eyeballs, we're now in a race to the bottom where anything remotely related to Judaism can somehow be considered kiruv.
The best proof? A comment on YouTube about the video:
WOW! This is coool! Especially that blond guy that balances/dances on one and both hands! I'm not Jewish, so whenever Rosh Hashana is, HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YA'LL! :->
Great. So now the non-Jewish world thinks that Rosh Hashanah is precisely like the American New Year. Parties. Dancing. Music.
How again is this supposed to be kiruv?

I just got the video sent to me as a link with this email:
I wanted to share with you an amazing Rosh Hashanah video featuring one of Israel's top break dance teams.  We hope that you can post this video on your site, blog, Facebook or twitter accounts and hopefully we will get the entire Jewish nation excited about the upcoming Jewish New Year.
Wishing you a happy and healthy new year,
Ben Feferman
Executive Producer
Forbidden Fruit Media

Again - I have nothing against the break dancing per se. But what connection does it have to Aish HaTorah?


  1. I am glad you posted this. I didn't really "get it" either.

  2. I agree that this video has little, or nothing, to do with Judaism and Rosh Hashana. As you say, one is left with the conclusion that davening is dull; but, break dancing is a blast. Furthermore, the format is totally inappropriate and trivializes the Yom HaDin. Also, I was skeptical that these dancers are real yeshiva buchrim -- the dancing is far too skilled and the shuckling while davening looks unpracticed. The credits at the end of the video show that this was a professional dance troupe. The apparent take away message is that Aish outsourced the dancing (singing and lyrics too) because what real yeshiva buchrim do isn't that cool (or attractive to the not-yet-frum).

  3. Oy, party poopers.

    Look, I love Rosh haShana, and feel cheated when davening is too fast or when some of the beautiful, very arcane piyutim are left out (and yet, as a copngregational rabbi, I am often coresponsible for cutting those things out in certain minyanim - bear with me).

    But that kind of love of prayer takes practice, years of practice. It requires mastering arcane moves, a foreign language (at least reading it reasonably fast), and even Hebrew experts are sometimes at loss understanding poems that were difficult when they were first written, thirteen hundred ye4ars ago.

    Once you break through all those challenges, the beauty is breathtaking. And all along the way, there are many rewarding way stations, and the core parts of prayer make sense with even much less skill, but it still takes skill and practice.

    And so, many people can no longer imagine sitting for any meaningful stretch of time in shul, especially not for RH & YK services (which means they won't come during the year, either). Young people are particularly impatient.

    So Aish gets those pros to perform and project a message that Aish gets it, that Orthodox Jews get it, that fun is supposed to be part of life, too. And with that, those whose private lives revolve around that kind of fun, see that they are understood and can have a conversation.

    You and I may not succeed in following all those fast paced lyrics, but rap aficionados are used to it, and they hear a message. And even if that message is very far from RH, it is still light years ahead of the crude words sung in most popular fare.

    I guess it all boils down to what your audience is and what you want to achieve with them. Is that video proper RH preparation? No, of course not, it's just some neat dance video portraying some lovable characters.

    But is it a way to build bridges across cultural divides, in a fun way? Yes. And given the popular fare available today, is it a wholesome video, definitely.

    But if you teach in a yeshiva, and have fully committed students, no this is nothing more than entertainment. (in fact, for it remains mere entertainment for everybody else, too).

  4. Arie,

    Sorry, no. This is obvious pandering, and the target audience will see right through it. This is not the Maccabeats (a bunch of semi-pro YU guys, not pro ringers) using a pop song and remaking a music video. That was authentic - and so were the lyrics, which talked about the purpose of Chanukah ("a return to Torah learning"). Hiring a bunch of non-religious breakdancers to sing about how boring it is to daven on RH is EXACTLY that - a bunch of non-religious breakdancers singing about how boring it is to daven on RH. I'm fully immersed in contemporary popular culture and have no problem using it to promote our religious values provided that they actually promote our religious values. I'm even OK with trivializing Yom HaDin as long as some element of the purpose of the day - the promise of spirituality or connection - comes through to justify the tradeoff. This is actually counterproductive.

  5. Rabbi Spolter,

    It's not that you're getting old. It's that this video has no redeeming value (other than the fact that Israel has some pretty good breakdancers, which is not surprising, but still kind of cool).

  6. With all due respect, I think you totally miss the point. The Aish film has only one goal: To get people to click and visit the website, where there is tons of real Torah. It’s a simple one-step connection. That’s how the Internet works. Ergo, that’s how kiruv works today.

  7. Shraga,
    I agree with you that it's fine to put out crazy videos to get people to click back to the website - but only on the condition that the content int he crazy video doesn't contradict your overall message. Isn't Aish trying to convince people that wearing white shirts and long tzitzit and big black kippot isn't just a costume - but a way of life that they should want? Why then would they go and hire people who clearly put that type of clothing on as a costume, dressing up as someone they're not in a dance video? The whole thing might bring people to the site, but ideologically push them away at the same time. Is it worth the click throughs?


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