The Time I Got Mad at the Guest Speaker

I think we had this speaker too. Sadly, at the time I was more in the category of the Mishmeres student. Anyway, this is from Penina, who managed to not have her internal compass muddled by a Bais Yaakov education. 

I was in eleventh grade, and we were told that we were going to be hearing an emunah lecture from a very well-known lecturer on the topic who makes the round of schools.

I was skeptical, but I’d heard the speaker was good and I figured I’d give it a try and, worst case scenario, just take a really long restroom break in the middle.

Fine.

The guy got up and started talking. He asked all of us why we believed in God. Every single person who raised her hand was greeted with him repeating back her question in a high, stupid-sounding voice sarcastically, as though it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard, along with some kind of rejoinder explaining how it wasn’t valid, some of which didn’t make particular sense.

When, shockingly enough, people stopped raising their hands, he started in on a whole shpiel about how sometimes, people call him with their confidential questions about emunah — at which point he PICKS UP HIS PHONE AND STARTS READING TEXTS OFF THE SCREEN in silly voices, like “Rabbi! I’m not sure why I should believe in God!” or “Rabbi! Something bad just happened to me and I don’t understand why God could have caused it!”

Previously I’d been angry (particularly because one of the people who’d had her answer blown off was one of my friends) — now I was steaming. He kept on reading these serious questions in silly voices, making fun of all of those mentally delinquent people who might be misguided enough to ask questions on faith, and I just had enough.

He asked if there were any questions before he began, and I raised my hand. I basically told him, very respectfully and calmly, “the way in which you’re speaking and the way that you’re treating people with these questions might feel a bit offensive to them and may prevent people who actually have these questions from feeling comfortable.”

He was flabbergasted and said that he had no idea what I meant. He went on speaking, and the next time he used a silly voice (about 3.6 seconds later) I stormed out of the room and into my principal’s office, where I started yelling at her for bringing such a jerk in to talk to us. She was kind of shocked, a bit apologetic, and told me that he probably didn’t realize that what he was doing was offensive and that she would talk to him and that if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to go to the Part Two speech the next week, at which point I flipped my lid. (Part Two of this guy? SERIOUSLY?!)

She later told me that she’d in fact spoken to him (which raised my opinion of her a bit) and that he’d had no idea what the problem was; he was just trying to be entertaining, and he would try to improve. I did not, in fact, go to the Part Two speech.

Later that day, a girl stopped me in the hall and asked me why I’d left. I was a bit incredulous but explained that I wasn’t able to sit there while he was being so nasty to people. She told me that I’d missed out and that he’d said a lot of inspirational things and that even if he wasn’t so nice, he still had important things to say.

I conceded her point, but said that I couldn’t be like R’ Meir and Acher, where R’ Meir ate the fruit and threw away the peel. While admittedly I need to work on being able to do that more often, in this case I had absolutely no compunctions about not bothering.

The other girl who came up to speak to me about my walkout was my friend who had been mocked for answering “the wrong answer” to his question, who thanked me for standing up to the jerk.

I told her any time.

Note: I obviously don’t blame the girls who stayed, listened, and hopefully learned something helpful. I don’t really blame my principal, who was shocked to hear what I was saying and followed up. But I blame the speaker, and the kinds of people who foster the idea that it’s okay for people who are representing our religion to vulnerable teenagers to be obnoxious and rude all in the name of humor.

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The Time I Got Mad at the Guest Speaker

6 thoughts on “The Time I Got Mad at the Guest Speaker

  1. I wish this kind of thing was done only in the name of humor. The standard assumption in the frum world is that someone who questions basic tenets of faith has something wrong with them. They’ve been abused, or they’re emotionally or mentally unstable, or they’re incapable of understanding “higher” truth (whatever that is), or, most often of all, they’re hedonistic cretins who can’t control their taivos and are looking for excuses to throw off the ol hatorah and wallow in materialistic pleasures.

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  2. Maara says:

    This is what I hate about the speakers most schools bring in. They are extremely insensitive to the plight of others. I’ve noticed that High School is when most students have an emotional dilemma in regards to why they believe. Some manage to solve the question and continue living their life(often without anyone knowing the emotional struggle they went through) while others go through that same struggle and come to the conclusion that they don’t have a reason to believe and to continue. The problem with those speakers is that they make the person asking questions or listening to the speech believe that they are wrong and are being a bad Jew which is more likely to lead a person to coming to the conclusion that they don’t believe than if the question were answered properly/they believe that they have a valid question. Schools often bring in speakers on the account that they are “inspirational” and not thinking about the entire demographic so the speaker only reaches one or two students while there are 10 more being even more doubtful of their religion.
    As such, Instead of motivating the students to be more religious, they are guiding them in the opposite direction without realizing it.

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  3. Montmarayroyal says:

    Unfortunately I had the same speaker at my non-Baida Yaakov school. One of friends, a major history buff challenged one of his assertions (I think it was that any event that was made up would not be that widely believed). My friend said that actually there was a large part of Chinese history that was completely made up, and still taught to this day. They argued about it for a bit(he told her scathingly to actually do some research she said that she had), at which point my friend was instructed by our mechanechet to stop arguing and leave the room. She did and I followed soon after.

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  4. Dina says:

    I had him too, he was revolting, I was appalled that he’s considered a great speaker and that we (not a bais Yaakov school although with some yeshivish teachers) were “required” to attend his lectures.

    For part two, I, a goody two shoes, was spared having to skip it by being in Israel at the time.

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