Her experience "breaking bread" with the Ginsburghs revealed a family that not only does not represent
a norm even among the most insular in our community, but worse, was only capable of portraying what
they don't have—completely neglecting to focus on the vibrancy and active pride inherent in
most Chasidic, and certainly Chabad, families.
OPRAH AND US: A LOST OPPORTUNITY
By Mimi Hecht
I myself was glad that her producers had specifically contacted Chabad, for whom meddling with the media is nothing new. Surely, we would get this right. Finally, the world would see the brighter, deeper, more worldly side of Chassidic life.
But having now seen footage of the episode, I, like many of my peers, am still cringing. Instead of my Jewish brothers and sisters effectively communicating anything positive and relevant about Judaism, they completely, and rather inarticulately, verified and cemented every stereotype the public has already accepted about observant Jews.
Oprah's questions about love and marriage were answered with insecure and scripted phrases on the Jewish view. Her genuine interest in the Mikvah experience was met with the completely misguided words such as "cleanse." Her experience "breaking bread" with the Ginsburghs revealed a family that not only does not represent a norm even among the most insular in our community, but worse, was only capable of portraying what they don't have—completely neglecting to focus on the vibrancy and active pride inherent in most Chasidic, and certainly Chabad, families.
Had someone just cruised the internet for some basic information on Chassidic way of life, completely devoid of any inner meaning and modern relevence, they wouldn't need to watch Oprah. Which is a crime, being that Oprah is celebrated as a human explorer with an uncanny ability to reveal the truth behind...well, everything. Apparently, we lost the opportunity to show the world what's truly meaningful about the way we live—why it's healthy, why it matters, why you should care.
I feel embarrassed. The entire world is talking about Orthodox Jews these days. And not in praise. How is it that, amidst that, Oprah—OPRAH!—contacted Chabad and we allowed Chassidic Judaism to be portrayed as an archaic, out of touch and blind-eyed community? Were Shluchim not contacted? What about the Chassidic role models in our community? Everyone knows that Oprah reached out to Chabad.org to aid in the episode. Perhaps had they expired every option to give Oprah educated and articulate women (of which we have a plethora!), Oprah would know why Jewish intimacy is a model for the world, instead of a whacky unexplainable custom. Perhaps she would have been moved by Judaism's compassionate view on homosexuals in our community, instead of seeing the clear denial of Jewish mothers (my response to Oprah coming soon). Perhaps she would have gleened insight into why and how women are the true champions, instead of catch-phrases that are easily mocked and taken apart. Had Oprah's visit been viewed as a tremendous once-in-a-lifetime chance to share our beautful truths, perhaps she would have walked away compltely floored at how the Chassidic mission of living and teaching a life where everything is infused with the divine can offer something for every human-being today.
We are not the no-phones, no-dating, no-television Jews. We are not the "no" Chassidim. We are the "Yes!" Jews, saying yes to technology, yes to passion, yes to the divine world that G-d created just for us. And you know what, Oprah? What's so unique and unknown about us is that we embrace it all in a healthy, wholesome and utterly divine way that is—guess what!— one hundred percent relevent to every human being today.
Had Oprah interviewed a strictly Mormon family, she would have walked away with the same impression: beautiful emphasis on family, living with G-d, no reliance on technology...and, oh, the values! Oprah walked away with a "realization" that the world over already knows we've spearheaded—Jews are values. She certainly already learned that much from her many interviews with Shmuely Boteach. Nothing new here.
If Oprah was looking to uncover a mysterious and insular sec of Judaism, Chabad.org should have opted out. Period. And how awful that some amongst us agreed to give her access but couldn't uphold a respectable representation.
How sad that Oprah encountered a Jewish community that has everything relevent to share with people of the world, and, for some reason, they couldn't give her the gift of truth, inspiration and meaning she has dedicated her life to pursue. We're sorry, Oprah. You looked in the right direction, but apparently we were too busy not looking at our phones and not touching our spouses to truly give a hoot.