Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bad Writing, Randy, and Tikkun Olam

I find it fascinating that so few people can really write.

I don't consider myself to be a great writer. I consider myself to be a decently good writer. I think I'm generally a clear communicator, both verbally and on paper. The blog has been somewhat of a practice field, but not really, since this writing is very casual, very colloquial, and pretty much whatever the heck I want it to be. But I've written in other arenas as well.

Ok, now I feel really self-conscious about every word that I'm putting down. Gonna ignore that feeling.

I'm working on a grant-funded project for one of the Jewish organizations in my community. That project involves submitting a summary report to the grant powers-that-be at the end of the year. One of the requirements of the grant is that we hire a Jewish communal professional consultant and pay them $6,000 to evaluate the project and help with the reporting. I view this in the same way I would view taking a hundred dollar bill, setting it on fire, and using it as a shamash when I light Chanukah candles. A superb waste of money. But it's a grant and we are using other people's money for great things, and if they want me to throw away some of it on this, I will. They make the rules. So it goes with non-profits.

So my organization conducted a formal search for the top Jewish communal professionals in our midst, and after some whittling away of inappropriate people, we get to Randy. Randy is a colorful guy. He worked for many years for a Jewish cultural and educational organization that (IMHO) does nothing. He set out on his own now as a consultant. Randy is Reconstructionist/Reform, but incredibly respectful and knowledgeable about Modern Orthodoxy. I don't really get what he does, but I don't get what most Jewish communal professionals do. Frankly, I don't get much of the whole non-profit education and social advocacy world. I operate in tangibles. I get, for example, teaching. I get mentoring. I get rituals and rabbinics. I get social services. I get ladling soup in a food pantry. I get most advocacy, on some level (for tangible causes). These are good, good things. I get these things.

But I don't get what Randy does. I'm reading over his proposal to us, and he has hit all the important keywords like engage, navigate, organic, pluralistic, sensitivity, differentiated instruction, empower, shared. His sentences have subjects, verbs, and objects. But I'm reading it over and over again, and I have no clue what he is saying. His writing is bad, really bad. And this is the man who is going to be paid $150/hour for forty hours to help me write up a report. This is something I find astounding. Randy came highly recommended and is at the top of his field, whatever that field actually is or means. We practically had to beg him to take us on as a client because his dance card is pretty full right now.

His proposal is remarkably amateurish and juvenile. For starters, Randy got the name of his client wrong (mixed us up with another organization with a similar name). He also got the name of the program wrong. He pegged our population wrong. He calls our Rabbi, who is Rabbi Andrew Lastname "Reb Andy." He wrote almost the entire proposal in italics. And somehow he manages to charge $150/hour and get away with this.

I have never had a conversation about the Jewish-world-at-large with Randy without eventually hearing him talk about "tikkun olam." Tikkun Olam, for non-MOTs, literally means "fixing the world." It is the secular Jewish catchphrase of the 21st century. Tikkun Olam is used to justify every pee cee liberal social cause there is (even those that are halachically questionable). Support Gay marriage? Of course, Tikkun Olam. Going green? Yes, Tikkun Olam. In favor of government run health care? Certainly, Tikkun Olam. In the secular Jewish world, T. O. has basically replaced Torah and Halacha as the Jewish justification for doing good. Of course there are no real defining parameters to T.O.; it's just a "do what feels right" kinda thing. I bristle when I hear those highly overused words. Ich.

Randy is very into Tikkun Olam. When he starts talking that T.O. stuff, I just disengage. I've often told him that he should leave the whole T.O. talk in Temple, because religious Jews tend to gag on that rhetoric. He's thinks I'm cynical.

And while we're on the topic of rhetoric, oh, can he spin it. Pounds and pounds of it. He could give Barak Obama a run for his money in the rhetoric department; he is that good. At least when he speaks his rhetoric, he is understandable. When he writes his rhetoric, he is impossible.

But I digress.

Randy is actually a sweet, bright, well-meaning guy. I want so much to like him. But he makes it so difficult.


Abandoning Eden said...

sounds like this dude has created a career based on buzzwords. More power to him I guess. :)

My favorite buzz word is "Salient", in my field (sociology) it's one of the most popular buzz words right now, and it makes me laugh every time I see it.

AJ said...

He actually called him "Reb Andy"?? That's a mixture of funny and sad. (Or as they said on the Simpsons, that's funny, but not ha-ha funny.)

frum single female said...

i hear ya. im not especially a big fan of the whole reform judaism concept of tikkun olam. it kind of makes me want to gag because its taken out of context.

James said...

Thank you so much for speaking the truth about "Tikun Olam". In the mishna it means a set of incredibly bureaucratic devices like putting the date on documents so you know from when they are valid.

In Kabbala it means re-uniting Hashem and His shechina.

In "Aleynu" we say "l'taken olam b'malchut shakai" - to fix the world _in the Kingdom of G-d_.

Nowhere is there a classical Jewish source for it meaning "whatever political correctness tells us to do". Nowhere.

As you so rightly say, T.O. has been manufactured as a secular alternative to Torah and Halacha.

Of course, much of what comes under the T.O. banner is reflective of classical Jewish values and is indeed a "good thing". But it's a good thing because it's a mitzva, not because it's "Tikkun Olam".

It is frightening how much of the Jewish world, including much of the MO world, has swallowed this anti-halachic manufactured concept.

WebGirl said...


I've actually never heard the tikkun olam shpiel in any sort of Orthodox setting, Modern or not, probably because we don't need any excuse other than Torah and Halacha to do good things. I've mostly read it in other denominational literature or at Federation events.

I once got an earful from a Reform Rabbi who was at our Shabbat table about why no one from my synagogue was going to a Habitat for Humanity house building know blah blah blah tikkun olam this and tikkun olam that. My husband answered him that the reason WE wouldn't be there was because I would be at the kosher food bank that day delivering groceries, he would be putting up a sukkah for the shul, and then we both would be at fundraising meetings for the local mikvah and yeshiva. "You know why?" my husband said. "Not to fix the world, but because chessed and tzedakah is our world." My jaw dropped. Husband's got a way with words.

James said...

What a beautiful comment from your Husband (was that version 1.0 or version 2.0? - just be nosey, no need to answer).

Thank you for sharing that with us.

WebGirl said...

1.0 was a while ago. I had forgotten about that comment until you reminded me or I would have included it in the blog post.