|(Photo Credit: Bentzi Sasson for Chabad.edu)|
The last weekend of this past June 2013, "more than 800 men, women and children gathered . . . at the Sheraton Hotel in Parsippany, N.J., for the Chabad on Campus International Shluchim Conference, an annual event for the families who run Chabad Houses on university and college campuses around the world." This event was set up in order to exchange ideas, knowledge, and provide support, structure, and programming for the Chabad Houses on college campuses. Currently, there are over 191 Chabad campus centers, and, according to Sara Esther Crispe's article, Chabad is preparing to increase their campus outreach by 20%, in order to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. In a country with thousands of colleges, (see recent statistics here) one might be inclined to think that 191 campuses worldwide shouldn't concern anyone. But if you consider that there are other Jewish outreach groups making their homes on and around college campuses, it's something to think about. And to bring it all home, Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Executive Vice President of Chabad on Campus "shared some astounding statistics highlighting the impact that Chabad has on campuses throughout the world. He explained that any given week there are 12,000 students learning Torah, 9,000 attending Friday night Shabbat dinners, and 81,000 active relationships currently being nurtured."
At this conference "participants were introduced to new initiatives and support in areas like Torah-study classes and event programming, in addition to marketing, branding and fundraising." Notice the use of the word "marketing." These are their words, not mine. While many in the orthodox world of kiruv may not want to admit that what they are doing is marketing Judaism, this article, written for a Chabad news organization by a well-known writer in the Chabad online community, implies that support in these areas (marketing, branding, and fundraising) are important in coordinating outreach efforts to college students on campuses. It is further stated that "immediately following the conference, Chabad on Campus International Foundation launched right into action holding two full day seminars dedicated to fundraising and marketing techniques with an expert in the field." While I understand that many regular readers of this blog will say "yes, we already know that marketing is taking place," I want to point out that when I use the word "marketing," it's not just me editorializing--it is readily admitted by some organizations, in this case, Chabad.
Whether or not this article was meant for my eyes, or the eyes of people possibly on the receiving end of Jewish outreach, it is important to note that the friendly Chabad family on campus is not just a random orthodox family who is nice enough to welcome you to their table for challah, songs, and gefilte fish. They have an agenda and are trained specifically to engage, to teach, to raise funds, and to turn you on to a specific branch of Judaism. They attend yearly conferences and courses, and maintain an extensive network with each other in order to offer support when needed. Campus kiruv is not just an innocent dinner invitation. As my local traffic and weather station often repeats, "know before you go."
All quotes taken from:
Crispe, Sara Esther. Chabad on Campus Poised for Expansion. Chabad.org. July 5, 2013.