Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

I was just forwarded a link to an Aish HaTorah website. Aish HaTorah is a group focused on aggressive ultra-orthodoxx outreach which uses less extreme hues to better reach secular Jews without overwhleming them. Like other similar organizations, Aish uses escalating commitments to maintain participation.

The link i was sent (thanks BPT) pointed to "". Not sure if it is a direct ripoff or an accident. Jews in the Woods, but at this point we have been covered in The Forward, Moment, New Voices, as well as the newsletters of Elat Chayyim, The Jewish Life Network, and the BYFI. We also have been covered on wikipedia. Given this breadth of coverage, and the website it is hard to imagine anyone was confused as to how the name is used, by whom, and how most folks who have heard it before associate it. I imagine it was borrowed, which is to say, on the one hand, it is nice to be getting wider exposure and on the other hand, aish is in many ways antithetical to what we do and rabbi-oriented, non-pluralistic to name a few.
i wonder what ChorusofApes' theory of viral change says about this. perhaps ze will tell us in a comment.

jon astutely pointed out that perhaps the woods is not the best place for Aish (fire).

Only you can prevent Aish in the Woods.


At 1/25/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not an accident. You are too kind.

At 1/25/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely not an accident. In fact, if you have any kind of organizational structure you probably have a good shot at a lawsuit. I'm sure you've got an alumn somewhere who's graduated law school and can help you out with some pro-bono work from him or his firm.

At 1/25/2007 , Blogger Chorus of Apes said...

Hmm, the trouble is, we don’t have an organizational structure to speak of, just an email list, a commitment to holding Jewy events in forested places, and a set of roles we have identified as essential for every gathering to happen (thought folks inhabit those roles on an ad hoc basis only).

As for the ZT's question about viral change. 1st, an explanation. I first spoke about this idea while assessing the impact of the havurah movement. Because the havurah movement had not developed institutional structures to rival the major Jewish denominations, one might say it has not succeeded. An other perspective, however, would look at the impact of havurah members and leaders on organized Jewry. The egalitarianism (including in governance), the informed collective, and the smaller more intimate communities promoted by the havurah movement have all strongly impacted Jewish life. Many large Conservative synagogues now have havurot, smaller affinity groups, as part of their structure. The political action promoted by members of Jews for Urban Justice, a forrunner to Fabrengin in DC, has been substantially watered down, though now Tikkun Olam is practically the cardinal faith of the Reform movement. RRC has also been strongly influence by the havurah movement, as have more contemporary indy minyanim. In this frame, we might see the havurah movement as a smashing success. It did not build its own institutions, it actually changed a large swath of the more mainstream Jewish community.

Put another way we could say that we have succeeded in generating the desired change not when we can claim to have built a set of large institutions, but when others begin to independently implement oour ideas. Once an idea is no longer associated with a particular tiny subset of Jews, but becomes identified with Judaism as such, it gains incredible normative power. The biggest examples of this in modern Jewish history are Zionism, Feminism, and Tikkun Olam/Social Action. Once the province of fringe reformers, they have now become central to American Judaism.

So, how do we evaluate the aish site? Turns out if we go to the site, that while the name is similar, it is clear the idea is not. They are not even going into the woods. It is just the name of an aish group in Huntington Woods, Detriot. If they were taking folks into the woods for a powerful shabbat experience, but were neither pluralistic nor radically democratic, I would be pissed, because it would seem as though they repurposed Jews in the Woods for their own nefarious outreach efforts. However, as it stands this is only a trademark issue, possibly generating some brand confusion, but nothing more. If all Jewish programs become “in the woods” as all copiers became Xerox or all tissues Kleenex for our grandparents generation, then we would know we’ve lots all control of that branding. Because, as indicated above, it is not the brand that is important, but the ideas, I'm not sure this coincidence is worth addressing at all.

As for the name "Jews in the Woods" itself. Turns out, purely by accident, that we succeeded in changing the top google entries for that phrase from stories of nazi mass murder of jews in the forests of Europe to references to a wonderful-rich-pluralistic-radically democratic-meaningful-spiritual Jewish community. And that is better than any of the continuity/Jewish babies programs that the Jewish community has developed in its scarred post-traumatic state after the holocaust. It is excited to see that we can finally be the generation that has transcended that scar to focus on Jewish meaning, rather than Jews. If that idea were to spread from JITW and other similar communities into the mainstream communities (even aish) that would be a success to be excited about.

At 1/25/2007 , Blogger Jon said...

I think there's some poetic justice here... sure its got a warm fuzzy ring to it, but when you get right down to it, their name is "Fire in the Woods"! If somebody invited me to an event called fire in the woods, I'd politely decline.

At 1/26/2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

is it really that big of a deal?

At 1/30/2007 , Blogger Aharon said...

I do think our JitW identity is still a relevant response to the narrative of Jews in hiding in the forests of Europe during the holocaust (and earlier pogroms).


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