The books Dharma Punx and Hardcore Zen are real. I have seen them, flipped through both of them, and marveled at the way they were written. They are geared towards a specific demographic, those looking for something in Buddhism that fits into their lifestyle. Aside from reading Letters to a Buddhist Jew by Rabbi Akiva Tatz and David Gottleib, I don’t know much at all about Buddhism. I do know that these two authors and many within the non-Jewish religious publishing world realize that speaking a generation in their language is important when it comes to getting your message out there.
So, why aren’t books or e-books like these being written for the not-yet-observant Jewish Gen Xer and Millennials? There are, as I see it, two reasons.
- It’s exactly the same reason punk music isn’t popular in the Jewish music world. Any BT with a punk music background or FFB who is into punk would rather use their talent towards more “mainstream” music, rather than create any frum punk rock. Once you create something that sounds clearly like non-Jewish music, the odds are that those nice boys (and girls) who listen to it will want to check out the original sources of the music. So, in essence, the frum musician would be indirectly responsible for frum kids listening to non-Jewish music and no one wants to deal with that on Yom Kippur.
- They just haven’t been written, yet. They are probably in the hearts, minds and hard drives of slackers who “sold-out” in order to pay tuition for their kids to learn in yeshivos and day schools. When I use the term “sold-out”, what I mean is that they realized that they can be just as individualistic, independent, and iconoclastic without having to look that way externally. Many (and I’d like to include myself) haven’t given up any core values, they have just focused than punk energy into things like Torah, Avodah, G’milus Chassadim, family, work, and community.
Those involved in kiruv know that that Torah needs given over in a way that is customized for each generation. The success of both “campus kiruv” and Chabad on the university level is proof that you have to know how to market to your demographic. NCSY‘s initial success in the, in part, was due to their leadership realizing that teens had a tendency to rebel. They simply give teens the option of focusing their rebellion against the prevailing culture of the 1960 and towards Torah u’Mitzvos. Chabad‘s success, on a family level, is partially due to having excellent pre-school programs and providing amazing day camp experiences for both children and their parents. Ohr Someach and Aish HaTorah have capitalized on providing opportunities for college-aged young adults to get a “yeshiva experience” that give them a taste for more learning.
These alternative sub-culture styled religious books, tend to take punk ethos in one hand and religion in the other and attempt to make the two fit together. With Yiddishkeit, the two can fit, but you have to be willing to accept that the priority is Torah. The Torah is a constant. It was around before the world was created and will always be here. I think there’s a whole segment of Jews that we are not reaching. It’s not because their music is too loud, or their noise-reducing earbuds are to effective. It is because we have yet to figure out a way to successfully communicate the idea that being mevatar yourself (withdrawing from your ego) or demonstrating bittul (nullifying your will) is probably the most hardcore punk thing there is.