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Kiruv industry used Malaysia flight in marketing campaign

kiruv marketingIf you read kiruv books you will notice some reoccurring themes. The most famous have to do with the complexity of citrus and how it couldn’t have been made by anyone but God, and those folks who missed their flights and were saved from the plane crash. The second is a better marketing tactic and it takes on numerous forms. The newly minted BT missed his flight because he was still in that faze where he doesn’t know how to wrap tefillin so the shel yad doesn’t keep slipping, or he was busy saying asher yatzer while they boarded the flight, or the Jewish travel agent miraculously refused the sell a ticket to a Jew for a flight that landed on shabbos.

Dans Deals started a genius chabad marketing campaign yesterday that showed a supposed email exchange between a Jewish travel agent and a guy who was supposed to be on that Malaysia flight that disappeared. Although sources tell me that Chabad of Beijing is well endowed, I’m not sure that they or chabad headquarters paid for the campaign. In fact, it doesn’t really matter who paid for it because it’s brilliant. It takes the classic “frum guy misses his flight for some frum reason and plane crashes, baruch Hashem everyone did but him” and makes into a personalized tale that sounds true.

Heck, it may actually be true, but it’s been used so many times that I’m liable to compare it to those shidduch stories about miserable old men who wouldn’t give girls a second chance and now all of those girls are happy and the guys are miserable alcoholics who went off the derech and died lonely broken men.

The problem with the plane crash kiruv stories are that it makes everyone who died in a fiery crash look like evil idol worshipers. It reminds me of the cringing that I undoubtedly go through whenever a major disaster strikes and the Jews all say “no Jews died, who cares”. Still, it’s a darned good story and I don’t mean to reign on Big Kiruvs marketing tactics, but I felt it my duty to shed light on the potential harm that stories like this can do.

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{ 57 comments… add one }
  • telz angel March 12, 2014, 12:08 PM

    Apparently there was a Russian jewish guy on the flight. So I have to assume that God killed him and all the others for not putting money in the pushka that morning. The God of those kiruv stories, the God who behaves the way those stories portray him to be, that God is a real asshole. Of course, he is just a reflection of the people who perpetuate these stories — assholes. He is not the God that I worship.

    • Heshy Fried March 12, 2014, 12:21 PM

      I take you aren’t a fan of Avigdor Miller…

      • Shragi March 12, 2014, 2:26 PM

        Avigdor Miller saw God in an apple seed, I’d be wary of him.

  • Alvy Singer March 12, 2014, 12:34 PM

    Oh, I like him. His cheese is tremendous!

  • Ari March 12, 2014, 1:25 PM

    I think that all of these kind of stories are cool and nice to read but in no way should ever be taken to say that everyone who died did something bad.
    It reminds of the countless stories after the 9/11 attacks- this guy was saying slichos or went to get his teffilin so he was saved, but what about the hundreds of good jewish men and women that did get to work on time? were they “deserving” of death??? no one would say oh he left shul during ashrei uva letzion so Gd killed him, because thats a disgusting thing to say and not true.
    the point is we can NEVER know why someone dies or why he was saved, and anyone who needs stories like these to validate their keeping shabbos is doing religion wrong and should just go OTD.

    • The real ms March 13, 2014, 1:49 AM

      I left shul this morning during ashrei / uva letzion. Should i be extra careful for the rest of the day?

      • Abe March 13, 2014, 1:52 AM

        Be very careful. You’re up against God. And he’s livid.

  • Joe Q. March 12, 2014, 5:14 PM

    It’s a slippery slope, because all you have to do is find an example of a frum ehrliche Yid who died in a plane crash r’l and the whole strategy falls apart.

    • 4r3 March 12, 2014, 8:44 PM

      Why? That was a kappora for the dor.

      • Abe March 13, 2014, 12:50 AM

        That would be a screwed up God. Taking a human sacrifice to atone for another persons sins.

        • 4r3 March 13, 2014, 9:56 PM

          Who are you with your limited human capacity to judge on what’s screwed up for God and what’s not? Remember that ‘God works in mysterious ways’ and his ways are always righteous..

          BTW, I’m not saying that God does this ‘kappora for the dor’ thing, that was mostly a joke, my point however is that we can’t understand, therefore can’t judge.

          • Abe March 14, 2014, 12:41 AM

            Indeed! And who are you with your limited human capacity. Infact who is anybody? We’re all human including rabbis (shock! horror!). This is why nobody has monopoly on religion, nor what God said or wants. Not me, not you, not the rabbis – No-one. Infact this negates the whole story. However I can judge a religion who says that God takes people as a sacrifice.

            • Anonymous March 19, 2014, 11:58 AM

              lol shabam

    • A. Nuran March 14, 2014, 12:04 PM

      No problem. Then you just say that God works in mysterious ways, and who are you to question him, aporikos! Or you say it was because someone in Israel didn’t have the mezuzahs on straight. Or you just lampshade it.

  • ZZ March 12, 2014, 5:35 PM

    Did you read the update that Dan made?


    • telz angel March 12, 2014, 7:06 PM

      It would be awesome to get hold of the guy who did not take the flight and interview him for the blog. Get your people on it.
      Wait, do you have people?

  • Anonymous March 12, 2014, 10:17 PM

    Maybe the OTD community can start putting out competing kiruv stories, like a guy that decided to stop and eat some treif in the airport, missed the plane, and did not die in a crash.

    Alternatively they could make up a story (these are all made up right?) that a guy was walking down the street, stopped to gawk at some hoochie and missed getting hit by a bus. Do you think people will dig it?

  • Talia bat Pessi March 12, 2014, 10:36 PM

    I’m FFB and I remember when I first heard these types of stories as a kid, they were so cool to me. Then I started hearing them over. and over. and over again. They’ve since lost their awe-inspiring ability.

  • Abe March 13, 2014, 1:05 AM

    Anyone can be “wise” after the fact.

    Some frum Jew missed the flight because he stopped to put on his tefillin then everyone says that God intervened and saved him… That’s like saying you know what God is thinking. So are you telling me that you knew the plane was going to crash? Can you tell me what God is thinking right now? If you can get in God’s head can you tell me something useful before the fact like the lottery numbers?

    It’s like the dinosaur bones. Up until somebody discovered them the Rabbis did not know of the existence of dinosaurs. Then they are discovered and this seems to contradict the Torah then all of a sudden the Rabbis know that they were put there as bones. It’s all in the Torah right!? Yet they couldn’t have told us this before the dinosuars were discovered. Then what happens is that they discover woolly mammoths with skin, furr, food in their stomachs and yet they predate the beginning of the world according to the Torah. Oh heck, what happend to the trickery of placing bones? Didn’t see that one coming yet it’s all supposed to be in the Torah.

    I remember being taught (ok going off on a tangent now but kinda connected) that you can find everything in the Torah even PI (wipppeee). Then they point out pi to you in the Gemara “you see we thought of it first it’s in the Torah”. I still don’t know what they are trying to prove. Are they saying we are better then them or more advanced? As a child you accept it and go away a bit more brainwashed. However you’ll learn as you get older that pi predates the Gemara by thousands of years and even the Ancient Egyptians had a conecpt of pi. By the time we reach the Gemara period pi is old news.

    My point is, if everything is in the Torah and you know exactly what God is thinking then tell us something useful before the fact.

    • A. Nuran March 14, 2014, 12:06 PM

      Hush, you. If you keep making noise I can’t hear the sound of furious scribbling as thousands of rabbis backdate their predictions and issue fatwas against you.

  • Alayza March 13, 2014, 4:39 AM

    I find it appalling how you and others have such a hatred of life, that you put down a story of a man living. You claim to be caring for the missing passengers, but within your argument is it’s weakness. You emulate the problems you complain about.

    You say that it shows others deserve to die, while no one said that. Not sure if you ever went to a kiruv class, but they aren’t mussar based. Your problem is with mussar, who says if you sin you will die.

    This is kiruv saying a person did the right thing and he lived. How you can have such a hatred for life is beyond me.

    (The arguments go around and round, but I think Mendy Pellin’s FB status said the lesson well, “Many people are talking about this story. Amazed by this miracle of a man NOT going on the vanished plane because the travel agent didn’t want to book another Jew on a Shabbos flight.
    My amazement is not at the divine providence (Gd does miracles every day, it’s just hard for us to connect the dots.) My amazement is at the man who wouldn’t book a flight for another Jew on Shabbos.
    We’ve all seen the stereotype of the Jew trying to suck out money from whomever and whenever possible. We’ve all seen the stereotype of Jews picking and choosing what laws they will be strict with to accommodate what benefits them best. This story knocks both those stereotypes down. This travel agent is the real deal. He didn’t impose his beliefs on others. He just kept true to himself. And by being true to himself, it rubbed off on his client (who could have booked his own flight).
    The B&H guys have always inspired me. I’m sure they could have found 1000 loopholes to keep their website open on Shabbos and fill the millions of dollars worth of orders after shabbos. But they stay true to their beliefs. That’s probably why they are so successful. They are the real deal.
    The best way to inspire others is to just be a better Jew to yourself. Imposing your beliefs won’t inspire. Living your beliefs. Now, I’m inspired.”)

    • Anon March 14, 2014, 7:00 AM

      I think not.

  • Moshe March 13, 2014, 6:20 AM

    One of my fathers friends was supposed to get on a flight in Israel, which would land in the US on second day of Yom Tov. He went to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, who told him not to go, and to push of his flight one day. After he would have taken the flight but before his rescheduled flight, the airline went bankrupt and he was out his money and flight.

  • Shragi March 13, 2014, 6:34 AM

    I was once on my way to daven in shul when I got stuck behind an accident, it was mamish hashgoche protis because I was going to do a mitzvah and hashem spared me from having to do it.

    • Abe March 13, 2014, 6:45 AM

      I know someone who was knocked over on his way to shul.

      • Shragi March 13, 2014, 6:50 AM

        Really? This confirms it then, I’m throwing off my yarmulke immediately.

        • Abe March 13, 2014, 7:47 AM

          My point being that everything they tell you is not gospel. By all means wear a kippah and keep shabbos but do so because you’ve come to the decisin, not anybody else. This idea of mitzvot protect is just not true. It is a means to keep you in line. Two people are frum and keep everything yet they will be completely different. One gains my respect and the other not. The one on auto pilot won’t and the one who does things with knowledge will.

          • 4r3 March 13, 2014, 10:05 PM

            Indeed. BTW, even the Talmud itself comes to the conclusion that you can’t always rely on ‘shelichie mitzvos enon nizokin’

  • Izzy March 13, 2014, 10:15 AM

    In my opinion, it’s just BS. In reality, it could have gone either way. If the earlier plane vanished on Friday, the claim would be that the person who died was an honorable Jew because he did not want to travel on Shabbat.

    • ZZ March 13, 2014, 1:50 PM

      Well ya, and now you are getting to the crux of the issue.

      If you believe in hashkacha pratis it is a beautiful story, if not it means nothing.

      Your problem isn’t with the story it is with the religions hashkafa. And that is a much older debate than just this story.

      • Abe March 13, 2014, 1:54 PM

        If the whole world was atheist and they were correct that God did not exist then there would still be stories of some making the flight and some missing the flight. Those who missed it would begin to imagine someone was looking after them and God would be born.

        Look for hashkacha pratis and you will find.

        • 4r3 March 13, 2014, 10:01 PM

          And that’s indeed something that God built into us in order to make it easy for people to turn to Him -according to me anyway.

          • Abe March 14, 2014, 12:43 AM

            May I remind you of your comment above! How would you know? You claim to understand God now?

  • David March 13, 2014, 4:31 PM

    I figure its best to let God be the first to judge.

    After all, my title isn’t dyan haemet.

    Better if we all teach ourselves to say “I don’t know.”

    You know, like Pirkei Avot suggests.

    • Anon March 14, 2014, 6:36 AM

      God judges when your life is over. Fellow humans judge you in the present.

      • Izzy March 14, 2014, 11:35 AM

        I contend that if Hashem is all-powerful, he also created randomness….and although we all try to assign immense significance to each worldly event and lesser significance for every breath we take, sometimes we just have to acknowledge that more often than not, “Sh-t happens.” Hashem clearly wanted it that way. It gives me comfort in knowing that and accepting it. To think otherwise to me is foolish.

  • Dan March 13, 2014, 8:49 PM

    I told this story to my catholic colleague with the introduction that I was going to tell her a “sunday school story.” I then asked her if she was aware other religions also have sunday school stories.

    I completely agree that stories like this should not be the basis for your beliefs. They should not change your beliefs at all.

    But, once I do already believe that G-d runs the world on a minute level, and rewards people for doing His will, it is inspirational for me to see situations where it is clearer than usual how He is doing so.

    So no, I don’t claim to understand every piece of the world, and not even why the other people on the flight died. I certainly don’t think it was because they flew on shabbos. But I also don’t think that detracts from the inspiration I get from the little piece of understanding that I do have.

    • Anonymous March 14, 2014, 6:18 AM

      Here’s the difference between Judaism and (most) Christianity — Christianity believes that God rewards people for doing his will in the afterlife, since it is manifestly clear that he does not do so in this world, or at least that the rewards in this life are spiritual and not material. Babies died in the Holocaust, Stalin died in his bed. Only some groups of Orthodox Jews and some extreme Calvinist type Christians attempt to puzzle out some divine justice in this. The rest of us believe that God never wills evil nor is good health, long life, or material goods a sign of God’s favor.

      • A. Nuran March 14, 2014, 12:11 PM

        Mmm, well, not exactly. Christianity has an enormous tradition of praying for miracles right here and now. And it’s got plenty of “Sunday school stories” about how following Christian superstitions brings you protection and goodies. So do Muslim taboos. And whatever weird stuff those idolatrous Hindoos do.

        But it’s not at all like what we do because our Torah is true and our infallible gedolim are so much cooler than their heathen witch doctors.

        • A. Nuran March 14, 2014, 12:12 PM

          Everyone does this stuff. And everyone’s magic protection is just as ridiculous and full of every error under the Sun from confirmation bias to special pleading.

        • Anonymous March 15, 2014, 9:56 AM

          Praying for miracles is in a completely different category. That is a specific instance of God’s intercession in the universe for some specific reason. Even there, there is no teaching that God grants or withholds miracles because the person doesn’t deserve it. The specific teaching on this subject is “God answers all prayers. Sometimes the answer is no.”

          However, in the Gospels it is made abundantly clear (because Jesus is asked about it repeatedly) that no one is made sick, or poor, or dies because God is pissed at them and, vice versa, the healthy, popular, rich, and powerful are not so because they have God’s favor. In fact, the poor, the sick, the powerless and the oppressed are “blessed” (see the Beatitudes) because they will possess the Kingdom of Heaven. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” This message is repeated over and over again. “Every valley will be exalted and every hill and mountain laid low.” This is actually the radical break that Christianity makes with Judaism.

          It wasn’t until the Calvinists got around to driving their distorted philosophy to its ultimate reductio ad absurdum that the notion was popularized that good things happen to people on earth because they have God’s favor and bad things happen to people because they don’t. This is a little difficult to reconcile with the fact that Jesus and 11 of the 12 apostles were poor men who ended up executed. As did St. Paul.

          • Abe March 15, 2014, 10:01 AM

            Even with no God some people’s wishes will
            come true. How do you know that sometimes the answer is no? Do you hear a voice in your head? If not, then how do you tell the difference between ‘no’ and ‘no God’?

            • Right Abe March 15, 2014, 12:42 PM

              “I’ve begun worshipping the Sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the Sun. It’s there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There’s no mystery, no one asks for money, I don’t have to dress up, and there’s no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.”
              – George Carlin

              • Abe March 17, 2014, 12:52 AM

                Dear George,

                You have written more sense in one small paragraph then there is in the whole Torah and Gemara combined. And you made me smile too.


                – Abe.

              • Anonymous March 18, 2014, 8:04 AM


            • Anonymous March 15, 2014, 1:42 PM

              You don’t. I’m describing the theology. Religion is not imperical.

              • Anonymous March 15, 2014, 1:44 PM

                empirical — the hand hits submit faster than the eye notices what’s been typed.

          • A. Nuran March 15, 2014, 7:32 PM

            Oh, even before Jean Cauvin plucked his T.U.L.I.P. there was the idea that being favored by God meant favor on Earth. These days it’s mutated and bloated until you have really egregious stuff like Harvest/Prosperity Gospel churches.

          • A. Nuran March 15, 2014, 7:33 PM

            I think it was Charlie Stross (yet another Jewish SF writer 🙂 ) who said that Calvinism taken to its logical conclusion became indistinguishable from some sort of hideous Cthulhu cult.

            • Anonymous March 16, 2014, 8:31 AM

              Just as the mind cannot avoid the thought that “God must be looking out for me” when a traffic jam causes someone to miss a flight that crashes (or similar coincidence) the mind also cannot avoid the thought that “gee..I’m the King and I have unlimited power and riches and everyone kisses my butt. Somehow I must really deserve all this. Obviously God/the Universe is on my side.” Which is why these thoughts appear endlessly throughout history. However, that does not change the fact that Christianity, as clearly and repeatedly taught in the Gospels, teaches that, if God favors anybody, it’s the poor and dispossessed. And there are movement throughout Christian history that return and reinforce this message, such as the Franciscans. Francis himself died at 54, embracing “brother death.” Living to advanced old age has never been considered a sign of God’s favor in Christianity. In fact, the opposite, because it suggests you’ve spent too much of your time looking out for yourself.

              • A. Nuran March 17, 2014, 9:42 PM

                Point taken including camels and eyes of needles.

  • Dave March 14, 2014, 12:55 PM


  • Yochanan March 14, 2014, 3:15 PM

    And what about all the planes that take off, fly, and land on Shabbat with nothing more than turbulance?

  • Alter Cocker March 17, 2014, 8:03 PM

    Speaking of that flight, click my name.

  • Shmilfke March 20, 2014, 4:43 AM

    It’s very small minded to think that this story would only be incredible if everyone on the plane was evil and everyone who missed it was righteous.

    When these sorts of “coincidences” we can discern nothing about why God makes certain decisions, but we get a glimpse of the inner workings, the process.
    For some reason, God pulled this incredible stunt on this man. We don’t know why and who cares. If you believe an inkling that there is some higher power, you’ll see the workings of this power.

    • Abe March 20, 2014, 4:52 AM

      I think it’s incredibly small minded to swallow all this stuff “proving” God’s existence. Many many people miss flights everyday. There are thousands of flights around the world and hundreds of thousands of passengers every single day. It would be incredible if no-one missed their flights. With every plane that crashes the chances are very high someone has missed it, couldn’t get a ticket, got bumped off etc. To see God in this is just hysteria.

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