Defending your gimmick

The NYT is reporting that Jewish synagogues are enticing new members with yoga. They’re mimicking the recruiting techniques of evangelical megachurches, even though some evangelicals have later disavowed yoga as heathen and tried to Christianize it.

A group of New York-area congregations… refashion their synagogues into religious multiplexes on the Sabbath, featuring programs like “Shabbat yoga” and comedy alongside traditional worship… a… synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan… has organized Sabbath programs around tai chi and nature walks. Others have tried yoga classes and stand-up comedy as a means of Sabbath observance. [Link]

Comedy in a synagogue? What, they’re showing Seinfeld? I say, get your own damn gimmick. You don’t see Hindus serving matzoh ball soup (mmm, matzoh ball soup). You don’t see Muslims serving wine with a wink-wink, ‘It’s sangre, not sangría.’ Red dearth and pour in vain.

And what’s this about Shabbat yoga? Aren’t you supposed to avoid work on Shabbat? I guess that rules out Bikram yoga. Besides, you’re nicking the wrong gimmick. Want to rip a desi religion? A friendly suggestion: serve Sikh-style langar (mmm, langar). Treble attendance, guaranteed ;)

Although Abhi apparently needs a hug, my favorite recruiting technique is the one practiced by a very, very dangerous cult I walk past every morning on the Bandra promenade by the Arabian Sea. It’s called the Laughter Club of Joggers’ Park, and it’s 50 uncles and aunties laughing in unison, ‘Ho-ho, ha-ha-ha,’ like deranged, elderly cheerleaders. Every morning I watch apple-cheeked grannies and patka-clad uncles bending side to side expelling belly laughs. One morning a beggar missing a couple of his toes sat on the ground chortling along with them.These deviants practice their dark arts in a triangular park called Laughter Heaven. The park’s wrought-iron fence weaves in red, blue and yellow smiley faces and the magic incantations ‘Ha’ and ‘Ho.’ They’re aggressive recruiters, catching young adults watching and beckoning to join in their sick activities.

And it is absolutely irresistible. You see 50 senior citizens, Hindu-Parsi-Muslim-Christian-Sikh, laughing their butts off every morning, and they’re just having a ball.

If I’m not back online in 24 hours, call in the deprogrammers. Ho-ho, ha-ha-ha!

Related posts: Possessed by yoga, Kosher yoga, Yoga fusion run riot, I need a hug today, Templezilla vs. Megachurch, ‘Laughing Yoga’ video clip, Clowning around with the victims of tragedy

39 thoughts on “Defending your gimmick

  1. Several synagogues on Long Island — as well as in Seattle, Tucson and elsewhere — station volunteers in supermarket aisles as part of a national program that started several years ago to reach out to Jews who are buying matzos for Passover but do not belong to a house of worship. [from the NYT article]

    And in the next aisle two Hare Krishnas guard the spice rack, waiting to pounce on anyone who they suspect might be buying ingredients for a Desi dish…

    If they’re trying to attract Yuppies, yoga is clearly the right way to go (though they might also do well to throw in a little “Zen meditation” as well); don’t worry Manish, I’m sure some rabbi somewhere will proclaim that they’re using something originating from a heathen religion (just like with the wigs) and the yoga will be stopped.

  2. well-timed post, considering that SoHo just got its very own synagogue, replete with well-stocked bar, lounge, and martini glasses, in a bid to appeal to those in the younger generation who had totally renounced judaism…NYT did a special video story on this, hope the link works, if not, it should still be on the main page.

    amazing what you’ll read at 4:24 am being sleepless on the west coast….adjusts toothpicks between eyelids

  3. And then again laughing your head off could get you into trouble, (From Ananova) A German has been ordered to stop laughing out loud in the woods after joggers complained he was disturbing the peace.

    Accountant Joachim Bahrenfeld, 54, from Datteln said he goes to the woods after work and at weekends to have a good belly laugh.

    “It’s part of living for me, like eating, drinking and breathing. I feel much better when I laugh, it’s freeing and healthy,” he said.

    But he now faces a £4,000 fine or six months jail if he laughs out loud again after a jogger successfully took him to court saying he was disturbing the peace.

    German laugh expert Susanne Maier, who founded the German Laughter Academy which aims to teach serious minded Germans to lighten up, said: “Mr Bahrenfeld has been doing what we advise our students to do and that is to find a place they like to have a good old giggle.

    “It would do the person who made the complaint and the judge good to come along to our school and learn for themselves the benefits of letting it all go.”

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  5. You see fifty senior citizens, Hindu-Parsi-Muslim-Christian-Sikh, laughing their butts off every morning, and theyÂ’re just having a ball.

    Thats really heartwarming Manish. Thanx for sharing. Interestingly this is pretty common in India. I never understood the difference in people till I actually came to America. Isn’t that funny.

  6. Comedy in a synagogue? What, theyÂ’re showing Seinfeld? I say, get your own damn gimmick.

    Comedy is the Jews’ own damn gimmick.

  7. Of please,Jane off all – really? you didn’t notice the difference in desh? did you notice the delhi riots of 84, or the gujarat massacre or the bombay riots or even kashmir? did you live in your “own world” when you were in india?

  8. A German has been ordered to stop laughing out loud in the woods after joggers complained he was disturbing the peace.

    I wonder if I can take the bunch of jokers who do the same in the park next to my apartment, in New Delhi to court as well. Off late, its gotten to the point that I don’t need an alarm clock anymore. Add to the mix, a bunch of kids who practice some lame ass calisthenics masquerading as ‘Judo Practice’ and the cacophony is unbearable. But I have a feeling that the judge would just laugh me out of the court.

  9. And in the next aisle two Hare Krishnas guard the spice rack, waiting to pounce on anyone who they suspect might be buying ingredients for a Desi dish…

    As a Hare Krishna Desi, I must object to this accusation. We do NOT guard the spice rack. We do however often stake out Subzi Mundi parking lots in search of gora men wearing yoga pants and women with “spiritual mehandi tattoos.” Hey, with Jewish yoga/comedy groups and diabolical laughing cults to compete with, we need all the edge we can get.

    :-) chant and be happy, Desi Dasa

  10. When I lived in (unnamed country in Africa) I was often awoken in the middle of the night by a Christian group that would gather to speak in tongues and cast out demons. It was very creepy sounding, and would steal into your dreams and wake you up in a cold sweat. I would get up, go to the balcony, and throw eggs at them, but it was dark and they were too far away to be able to aim well. My local friends both admired me and feared for my safety – they thought my actions were ill advised. People were generally scared of the evangelicals.

  11. what a shock. white people co-opting indian culture and then using it for their own purposes.

    somehow we are more surprised when white “ethnics” do it.

  12. what a shock. white people co-opting indian culture and then using it for their own purposes.

    The “laugh track”, or “canned laughter” aka laughter-on-command, is an AMERIKAN invention. Now those gol-durned Injuns are STEALING AMERICAN CULTURE and using it for their own nefarious purposes! Trying to hide their UNMITIGATED CULTURAL THEFT under the guise of “spirituality.” HA! Don’t think that whole “ethnic” schtick indemnifies ‘em, nuh-uh. “Laughter Clubs” belong in AMERIKKAN TV sitcom studios ONLY, practiced exclusively by puffy white suburban AMERICKANS like God and Kulture the little red “laugh” light intended!!!1!!

  13. I think there’s a subtle distinction here. The fact is that yoga has been appropriated for a good long time now, and this appropriated form has taken on a life of its own. These synagogues are trying to bolster their membership by appealing to a particular group of people (those not necessarily obsessed with India, but those who would be interested in this established, already-appropriated form of yoga-for-health).

    I don’t know what the significance of this difference is, or that it matters, since they’re both forms of appropriation. Hell, I’m still up in the air about appropriation anyway. The “I’m Not Afraid of Elvis” thread seems to suggest that I’m not the only one…

    The fact is that learning about one aspect of a culture (language, food, dance, etc.) doesn’t mean that one fully understands or can adequately represent that culture. It also doesn’t mean that the bit one has learned is the “pure” or “real” thing (to the extent that the pure or real thing actually exists anywhere anyway). If these folks are going to their synagogue and signing up for yoga class because they think it’s going to be just like they do it in India, and if they think that after having taken this class they’ll understand everything about yoga/India, I’d have a huge problem. But somehow I doubt that’s the case for any of the people who’re signing up.

  14. wuznt ranjit being tongue in cheek?

    I dunno. I certainly was. I even considered including “(sarcasm)” “(/sarcasm)” tags, but then I though, nah, no one could think I was serious…

  15. Now those gol-durned Injuns are STEALING AMERICAN CULTURE and using it for their own nefarious purposes!

    Actually, this isn’t far from the truth, considering all the South Asian people who managed to capitalize on Oriental exotica. Karma Cola anyone? It’s modernist fiction and it’s highly offensive to many parties, but it’s still reality-based so you get the point… and I still think it’s hillarious. If I had to hustle to their defense though, I’ll admit that these opportuinistic “gurus” were in a “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” situation in facing westernization and cosmopolitanism. But can these Abrahamic religious institutions in America legitimately have the same excuse?

  16. india’s sensitivity over yoga is that yoga has its roots in the sacred or spiritual or whatever you want to call it. already yoga has been successfully dissociated from these roots in classes such as “yoga booty” etc. while some westerners uncomfortable with yoga’s more sacred aspects have managed to find a successful “more secular” way of teaching yoga without being disrespectful to its origins and without obliterating its origins, others have not, and worse, as in christian yoga or praise moves or whatever they call it, have not only condemned it or banned it, but then proceeded to steal it and repackage it to suit their abrahamic teachings, many of which are in direct conflict with the essence of yoga.

  17. Of please,Jane off all – really? you didn’t notice the difference in desh? did you notice the delhi riots of 84, or the gujarat massacre or the bombay riots or even kashmir? did you live in your “own world” when you were in india?

    NotPC…

    Yeah really. I lived in Mumbai till I was 14 and wasn’t really exposed to the “differences” between different Indians till I landed in NYC. And I consider myself luckly that my parents raised me that sheltered. I wasn’t around for the gujarat riots. I was young during the riots that followed after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and other then the fact that it was “happening out there” we never experienced anything on a personal level.

    Our neighborhood of Mahim had all kinds of people, hindus, christians and muslims who mixed and mingled freely and I never even in school encountered “differences”. It was never a big deal. I remember as a child going over to a family friends house for eid every year and many non hindu family friends (in hindsight) coming over for Diwali. Never experienced any strife. Our neighbors were gujju christians and we celebrated Christmas with them, hell I’ve been to mass more often then I’ve been to temples with them.

    Even today when I go back to Indian I experience the same sense of sheltered happiness. Do you live in Mumbai and have experienced hostility on a daily basis simply because you are a different religion? I’d be curious to know. My family lives in Bandra and again during a recent family wedding it was all a mix of all kinds of people.

    Let me be clear, I understood I was a hindu and they were a different religion but that was about where the “differences” ended. They never interfered in our interpersonal relationships or mutual admiration/respect on a day to day basis.

  18. Jane of all – You asked – “Do you live in Mumbai and have experienced hostility on a daily basis simply because you are a different religion? I’d be curious to know.”

    No, I have never been to Bombay. Since in your earlier post you confessed to never having noticed differences amongst creeds until you came to this cursed place – Do you live in [American city here] and have experienced hostility on a daily basis simply because you are a different religion? I’d be curious to know.? If yes, what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be running back to the utopia you abandoned?

    Any reasonable/fair person should take umbrage at your implication that Indians are more evolved than the Americans when it comes to cohabiting with different religions and creeds. Nothing could be farther from the truth.p.s.- On the Sepia political spectrum I would label myself as an Indian nationalist. Indeed, last election I voted for the BJP.

    Jane – Just because you were too young when the 84 riots occured,doesn’t mean you didn’t learn about them later in life. Did you must have witness the Bombay riots, when Muslims were being hunted like animals by Hindu mobs and security services alike. What effect did that have on your utopia?

  19. Did you must have witness the Bombay riots, when Muslims were being hunted like animals by Hindu mobs and security services alike.

    Not sure what you’re aiming for, and I’ll try my best not to bite too hard. But yeah, I was in Bombay during the 1993 bomb blasts and the riots and stuff. Yeah, such things happened. But the vast majority of people realize that these riots are mostly political.

    Having riots or curfews for about 30 days of my 21 years in Bombay does not obscure the fact that the rest of the time, Jane’s statement is absolutely true. Your ranting about riots and minority situation in India is not going to change either Jane’s personal experience or mine. I went to a catholic-church run school, with people speaking several languages, and of Hindu, Muslim, Catholic/Protestant creeds, different castes etc and it never seemed to be a problem.

    I don’t see how Jane’s celebrating diversity in India necessarily degrade that of the US. Both countries are extremely diverse, and have their own problems to deal with. However, the US has never had to handle the kind of religious diversity that India has, which makes India unique.

  20. A Bikram-yogic stretch to wangle a literary allusion in.

    Bad pun? Moi?

    Take some pictures of the laughing aunties and uncles for us :)

    You know the photos are coming…

  21. Gaurav & Technophobe -

    You seem to be missing the point. Jane of all stated – “Interestingly this is pretty common in India. I never understood the difference in people till I actually came to America. Isn’t that funny.”

    Note – she did not relegate herself to Mumbai or her “own private idaho”.

    Thus implying that India has/is doing a better job at bridging the differences between various sects, creeds living within her borders.

    Once again, Really?

    Seems she is not alone. This fantasmic malaise afflicts plenty of her compatriots. i.e., ooohh India is a wonderland where all live in harmony.

    Anyways, feel free to display your vaunted “Indian” tolerance by assigning me monikers.

  22. Bombay/Mumbai is one of the most cosmopolitan and (broadly-speaking) liberal cities in India and, in terms of culture and social attitudes, probably isn’t an accurate reflection of most of the rest of the country. No more than London and New York are accurate representations of the bulk of the UK and the United States, for example.

  23. This fantasmic malaise afflicts plenty of her compatriots. i.e., ooohh India is a wonderland where all live in harmony.

    Errrr…because it might be actually kinda true? New concept, sweetheart?

    If ‘plenty of compatriots’ i.e. Indians believe something about India, I guess that can’t be true but what you say is. Sure, I see it. How logical.

  24. Yay! It’s so encouraging to see desis protect our heritage from being stolen. Take back the yoga! (And the Bharata natyam and the bindis and the rest of it). :)