Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why NCYI is broken, and how it can be fixed

A few years back, one of the Junior Shtrimeled Members of the congregation and I were walking home together. He was agitated about some of the tunes our cantor had employed:

JSM: We're not a Young Israel. Those songs were all wrong. Wrong mood, wrong atmosphere, wrong everything.

DB: What do you mean we're not a Young Israel? We go to movies, they go to movies. We talk in shul, they talk in shul. We have a kiddush club, they have a kiddush club. So exactly how are we unlike a Young Israel?

Come on. It's not even worth arguing about. You know the answer to that question.

Well sure, I do, but my answer isn't the answer he expected. The reason he (and the SSM from yesterday) wish to distance themselves from Young Israel is because the pendulum has swung. 100 years ago NCYI was on the rise. The first Young Israel shuls injected some life, some energy into an American Judaism that seemed to be disintegrating. Now, Young Israel is like hava nagila: kitchy, and uncool. Even worse, haredi propagandists have attached the kiss of death to the Young Israel movement. They call it MODERN, and as any cell-phone toting, car driving haredi Jew will tell you MODERN is the very opposite of everything holy, pure, excellent, and worth preserving. And, unfortunately for NCYI, once the official haredi thought police label something MODERN there's no appealing the decree, and no insecurely Orthodox Jew is going to touch something with the MODERN albatross hanging around its neck. That's just how it goes.

[Aside: Like most of what Haredi propagandists say, the idea that Young Israels are "modern" is half-true. Many of the elements they haymish crowd most disdains (ie: the pews, the singing of Yigdal and Adon Olam ) are, in fact, very old, and in some cases, older than some of their own cherished customs. But so what? Since when does the truth matter, if there are agendas to pursue?]

So what can be done? How can NCYI be fixed? Two suggestions:

1 - Shut down. Sell your headquarters, fire the staff, and go gently into that good night. Your moment has passed. Your time is up. And no one will miss you.

2 - Merge with the OU. The OU is basically what NCYI would be, if NCYI was wealthy and successful. There really isn't any need for both organizations, and because the OU is larger, stronger, and better, it makes sense for them to absorb their failed competitor. (Though the OU is every bit as modern as NCYI (which is to say, almost not at all) they've escaped becoming a synonym for modern, perhaps because they don't emblazon the name of their organization across the facade of their shuls, or maybe its because Brooklyn isn't thick with OU affiliated shuls) Merging with the OU might also be a better end for NCYI. The staff can be absorbed and the higher ups can be given a gentle landing, too

No comments: