Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The secret of his success

Amnon Yitzhak Posted by Hello

An article in NRG, based on someone's doctoral thesis, tries to get to the bottom of Amnon Yitzhak's reputation as one of the leading, if not the leading 'baal tshuva rabbis' in Israel.
The article and readers' comments basically summarize all the usual explanations: the fact that he's so funny; his charisma; that his entire operation, from the way he runs his shows to the technology he uses, is so slick; that he gives people a framework of meaning and is a source of authority; that people recognize 'the truth' when they hear it; that most of the people who come to see him are spiritually-inclined anyway, and he confirms that their way of life is right.
I've actually been to one of Amnon Yitzhak's shows, and have an additional two explanations (there is some truth to all of them).
1. Like many successful sephardi politicians in Israel today, he sends a strong anti-establishment, anti-Ashkenazi, and in his case, anti-Zionist message. He's telling people that their troubles are not their fault -- a message that has always worked.
2. Most of the people who stood up and asked him questions struck me as incredibly needy. It's not just that, as the article basically points out, they were all in the midst of some real crisis such as a death or illness in the family, infertility, poverty etc. When they were talking to him, from their tone of voice, they seemed really desperate for someone to both take charge, and show them some love. Yitzhak encouraged them to pour their hearts out to him, which often involved revealing some incriminating or embarrasing details to an entire hall of people. He made them even more vulnerable in public, and was, to them, the father confessor you become attached to because they know your deepest, darkest secrets. The way he addressed them in response was kind, but also business-like -- getting straight to the point. He was part shrink, part father figure showing tough love, and I'm sure it was the same mixture which appealed to the rest of his audience as well. In short, the secret of his success is not religion, logic, humor or slick videos, but paternalism.

(Incidentally, I'd like to see some real backup to the oft-repeated claim that Amnon Yitzhak is Israel's best 'machzir BeTshuva.' Yes, there are some people who turn from secular to religious lifestyles because of him; but are those who claim that he's so successful including all the instances of people putting on a kippa at one of his shows or vowing to take on an hour of learning each day? While this looks impressive on stage, who knows how many of these people keep that kippa on 6 months down the line, or take on any additional religious roles as a result.)

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