Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lunch & Lure

Yesterday I put up a post in which I mentioned in passing that there are orthodox groups who go after high school and college students in an effort to do kiruv/outreach. Today, while perusing the internet, I found a link to this news story, reported by CBS, in Great Neck, New York. (See video or click the link to see it on YouTube.) Apparently, Torah Ohr Hebrew Academy has been running a Lunch and Learn program for high school students, in which students are given a free lunch and lessons in orthodox Judaism from rabbis who lead this program. Great Neck North High School's policy of allowing its students to leave the school for lunch gives an opening for kiruv professionals to entice Jewish students with a free lunch. Unfortunately, kids don't always realize that there's really no such thing as a "free lunch." In this case, they were served a side of proselytizing with their pizza bagels. Read today's article from The Great Neck Record here. According to The Great Neck Record, a letter from the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League)

stated that they had been contacted by “concerned Great Neck community members” and the ADL believed that while the school permits an open campus during “free periods,” the school cannot treat Torah Ohr, or any religious institutions or practice, any differently than it treats other, non-religious places or activities.” The ADL said that placing restrictions on “or creating special requirements for the temple’s lunch and learn program is an infringement on a student’s right to association and free exercise of religion in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”1
When an institution as large and influential as the ADL can force a school principal to retract a parental notification letter regarding the safety of his students, there is something wrong. While I understand the importance of religious freedom and tolerance, I have a huge problem with outreach professionals luring impressionable high school students into religious programs with promises of free food and drink, so that they can preach their beliefs to them. High school students are at an age where they are still getting the tools they need to explore the world critically. Despite their desire for independence, middle adolescents (ages 15-18) are still developing. They are first beginning to figure out who they are and are first developing their own philosophies. They still need guidance when it comes to life planning.2 (Read more about teen development on a child development pdf put out by Iowa State University here.) The fact that Jewish outreach professionals are preying on high school students during the school day is abhorrent and deceptive.

1. accessed 2/17/2013 at 1:52pm
2. accessed 2/17/2013 at 2:07pm


  1. If the group that is offering them the lunch make themselves known that they are from Torah Ohr, I can hardly say they are "luring" them. These are high school students not elementary students. I remember being in high school. If we heard anything about religion, we knew to go the other way. So whether they have the critical skills or not, "luring" them implies some sneaky trick that the students are too stupid to comprehend.

  2. Holy Hyrax, thank you for your comment.
    It's not a secret that kiruv organizations frequently use free meals or, in the case of college students, free meals and, in some instances, alcohol, to entice students to show up. In this case, promising the kids free lunch is, even by definition, a lure. These groups know that if they just said "hey, come and spend your lunch period with us so we can attempt to get you interested in orthodoxy," nobody would show up. Kids are going there for the food. In the years that I taught at a public high school, I had a wide range of students. Some were more worldly than others. Some were much more gullible. A ninth grade student and a twelfth grade student are at very different levels of maturity. I'm not implying that "the students are too stupid to comprehend." The way I see it, this is clearly a case of a kiruv organization luring students in. Students even stated that they started going for the free food.
    I do wonder, though, why the rabbi, based on this story, seems reluctant to be in touch with the parents. If this is a program that not engaging in any questionable outreach tactics, why wouldn't he reach out to the parents?

  3. Holy Hyrax, are you suggesting that high school age means they are fair game? Would you let other groups set up camp near high schools too? In exchange for a free lunch high schooler's could have the opportunity to meet cheap Rolex watch salesmen, drug dealers, Army recruiters, Moonies & pharmaceutical companies in need of test subjects. I see four problems.

    1. In this case they're recruiting minors
    2. They are deceptive & do not reveal what they are really up to, which we all know is to make the kids ultra orthodox.
    3. It is NEVER alright to use deception on anyone, even adults.
    4. Society puts rabbis in a position of trust. It is especially heinous when deception is carried out by a person in a position of trust.

  4. Our Jewish communities face internal conflicts as we have for millennia. Many of these conflicts are not specific to our community, but to all humanity. Jews and gentiles need only to remind themselves of a few ideas that have been articulated in many ways, in all societies, and throughout time:

    1) Live and Let Live.
    2) Do Unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You.

    All humans are free to choose or reject personal relationships with other people. Humans can think and act for themselves and/or select predetermined thoughts and ways of life.

    If at some point, you reach the conclusion that there are irreconcilable differences between you and said group, you can debate with them all you like, choose another group of likeminded kindred spirits like yourself, or choose none.  You can select any group or cause you desire – any forms of activism, political, economic, environmental, humanitarian, humanist, religious, theist, atheist, agnostic, theologically indifferent, ancient or modern cult, ethnicity, racist, ethnocentric, support groups, altruism, civic, conservative, progressive, libertarian, athletic, philosophical, intellectual, national, governmental, professional, educated, uneducated, ignorant...or even some type of non-violent supremacism like the ones that "nativists" use to somehow claim an ancestry more "rooted" in their current location and thereby judge or impose their ways of life on others.

    A private group of people may wish to engage in religious activities of a certain nature, require codes of code conduct that appear unreasonable to others, treat genders differently, require separation of genders, require dress codes for a specific gender. Physical harm does not take place. Psychological harm is subjective and do not constitute legal damages. If people’s feelings are hurt they can complain publicly or privately, debate, or just leave and not return. People can voluntarily enter and agree to the predetermined criteria, voluntarily leave, or be asked to leave. This place does not conduct business nor governmental activities. Membership to this group is not a prerequisite for any human necessity.

    If you do not agree with their ideas or methods then the sensible thing to do would be to separate yourselves from them.
    Religion, nationalism, racism, nativism, economic ideologies (capitalism, communism, socialism, libertarianism...) are all ideologies that people can conform to in order to socialize, engage in community activities, preach, proselytize, rant, bring together, take apart, or influence outsiders.

    Pick whichever cause, group, religion, prejudice, or pursuit of happiness or unhappiness you seek.

    Pick your poison, circus, bread, belief, or mission in life as you please.  A worthy cause that has consistently brought happiness has been helping others – consider that.

  5. WTF? Anonymous, you're just rambling on without making a point. This sounds to me like fundamentalist BS.

    When a group deceptively recruits & indoctrinates people to join, the recruits don't have a choice to simply leave. It isn't a simple choice any more. They might be married off to another member of the group. They might have cut off ties to their families. They might have children that the group will keep if they leave. Those recruits are stuck.

    I'll bet you used to think clearly before you became involved with religion. You don't have to live this way. You can decide to take your life back. There is support out here.



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