Posts Tagged ‘Lubavitch’

Identity and Irony: Oprah’s Review of Hasidic Jews

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Oprah’s visit to Hasidic Brooklyn aired on Feb 12, 2012 from 9-10 pm and on Feb 13, 2012 from 10-11 pm on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network. 

As an insider when it comes to Orthodox Judaism (though not the Hasidic brand), I eagerly anticipated Oprah’s two-part series. How would “we” be represented?

I had seen Oprah’s after-taping interview with Chabad.org (a MUST-WATCH) and saw how positively she felt about the spiritual teachings she gleaned from her visit. I was very excited for Oprah to have such a positive view of Judaism.

As it turns out, however, the narrator began by reminding us that the show was only about Hasidic Jews. I was not going to be represented. “Ok,” I thought as I settled down to watch, “if it’s embarrassing, at least she isn’t talking about me!”

But the irony was that she WAS talking about me.

I’m not Lubavitch, I’m not even Hasidic, but I knew everything Oprah learned. I felt everything she learned. I felt it as an insider, and I especially identified with the sheitel-wearing ladies in Part II.

Oprah was smart to invite the ladies to a candid chat. As she says at the end of the episode, she got exactly what she came for. She connected with the women, she understood them, and she felt a common bond.

As an insider, it was pretty powerful. I’ve always liked Oprah and admired her success, but now I understand why she’s so successful. She’s open, warm, inquisitive, and blunt (all at the same time) and this is what makes her so likeable. She did an amazing job in Part II, helping the women feel at ease, respecting them, asking good questions, and listening to them.

There was one middle-aged lady sitting to Oprah’s left, next to Shternie Ginsburg. I don’t know her name (I think she was Chaya), but in my mind, she represented the rebbitzens of the world. She was smart, articulate, she exuded leadership, and her tone was very spiritual. She was truly a beautiful person.

Oprah was a complete outsider, but she managed to tell a tale of friendly Jewish women who value community, raise their kids in a wholesome way, and love their husbands. She is a genius.

I know that the vast majority of Oprah’s viewers may never know that the people she met were Lubavitchers, and that Lubavitch is just one type of Hasidim. And they may never know that there are non-Hasidic types of Orthodox Jews.

But Oprah’s brief glimpse into these people’s lives showed religious Jewish women with values, personality, confidence and a lot of love. Whether a person is an insider or an outsider, the show was both meaningful and inspiring.

I have to admit that in the beginning of the first episode, I wondered why there was no reference to the 18th century or the Holocaust. And I didn’t understand why she focused so much on marriage, Taharat Hamishpacha, and TV. I felt like there was so much more of our identity that she was missing. I worried that she was ignoring the forest for the trees. But by the time I finished watching the second episode, I understood that through this tiny slice-of-life lens and the perspective of Lubavitch, she was able to weave a beautiful story in which we—all Jewish women—had a starring role.

And so I thank Oprah for NOT focusing on the bigger picture. I thank her profusely for not mentioning the debate within Lubavitch about the Rebbe’s potential messianic status. I thank her for NOT mentioning the differences between Lubavitch, Belz, Bobov, Satmar, and Ger. And I thank her for NOT reminding us of painful periods in Jewish history.

Instead, she met with families, chatted with women, and showed short vignettes of life around town. We saw a wedding, a kosher restaurant, a wig store, a Judaica store, and even the Mikvah. Through this lens, she captured a vibrant culture with positive goals and much to look forward to.

And all Jewish women can thank Oprah for that.

There’s more on Oprah’s visit to Hasidic Brooklyn, including exclusive “webisodes” on OWN’s Website.

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