Friday, July 29, 2011

Fairy Tale God אלוהים של אגדות

I can’t stop thinking about the following anecdote, told to me by the sibling of a Gan Israel (CHaBaD’s day camp network) camper, whose counselor told the campers:

“Gan Izzy saves lives. Ten years ago, a GI camper broke his arm while at camp. A few weeks later, his father took off work to take him to the doctor for a checkup. While they were at the doctor, some bad people flew planes into the building where the dad worked, but he wasn’t at work that day; he was with his son at the doctor. So Gan Izzy saved the father’s life.”

There are so many disturbing things about the above, I hardly know where to start. If any GI staff are reading this, let’s break it down: At any given workplace, on any given day, a certain percentage of the workers will be absent for any number of reasons. Every single individual who worked in the Twin Towers as of September 11, 2001 and who was absent from work that day has his or her own “Gan Izzy”: the traffic fine whose deadline for payment was that day, the tooth that broke while eating breakfast at a diner that morning, and any number of planned absences such as vacations, training, or family events (I can't even believe I'm explaining this elementary concept).

The leap from there to “Gan Izzy saved the dad’s life” is dangerously close to “…and therefore we should all send our kids to Gan Izzy, which is proven to be good insurance against being killed in a terror attack,” which in turn is dangerously cozy with “…affiliating with CHaBaD -- the operator of Gan Izzy -- is good insurance against any ill befalling you or your loved ones.” Moreoever, supposing one or more of the Twin Towers casualties did send their kids to Gan Izzy? How come it didn’t “work” for them?

Lubavitchers, believing that God [I refuse to call Her “haShem”] intervened for the outcome we all know to save those fortunate absent-from-work individuals is what we call “magical thinking”, which is not indulged in by rational, responsible adults. If you choose to indulge therein, it’s your right, but it is not your right to impart it to impressionable children.

As for the rest of us Jews: Perhaps this will give you pause next time you’re solicited by CHaBaD for a donation. Like all fundamentalist groups from evangelicals to the Islamic Movement (that’s right -- ask any mom in Um al-Fahm who runs the best daycare), the reason CHaBaD can offer quality, appealing programs is by keeping costs down, which they do via 1) donations and 2) low-cost labor, i.e., mobilizing their own young people. CHaBaD does not have the monopoly on Jewish continuity -- unless we choose to hand it to them on a silver platter. There are plenty of worthy Jewish causes that could use your donation that do not promote magical thinking. I encourage you to donate thereto.


  1. Mollie Saferstein NewmanJuly 29, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    Obvious answer: If Gan Izzy (or, just as improbably, God) had the power to save this one father's life, why was all that collective power not used to save ALL the lives lost in that terrorist attack? Does It pick and choose? And where is God's famous anger? Why didn't God strike dead the terrorist before he even boarded the plane? Oh, don't get me started on God having missed the chance to prove not only divinity but also benevolence. We're left to believe only in randomness and happenstance.

  2. Laurie Reiz AltmanJuly 31, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Hannah goes to Camp Gan Izzy, and she heard a version of that story a few years ago. In her version, a woman who worked in a sweatshop (Triangle Shirtwaist Factory?) refused to work on Shabbat. She was told she would be terminated if she didn't work on Saturday. The factory caught fire on Shabbat and many lives were lost. I was appalled by the story and provided Hannah with an explanation similar to yours. She loves Camp Gan Izzy and our Chabad rabbi, but she also understands that we do not share their beliefs on everything.