Saturday, August 17, 2013

Shedding Light on Meor

This post is dedicated to my good friend, A.C.

      In researching campus kiruv/outreach a while back, I stumbled upon this letter on a site named "Parents of Meor Kids" and realized that I needed to look more into Meor.
Parents of Meor Kids. https://sites.google.com/site/parentsofmeorkids/ (click to enlarge)
Meor is one of many Jewish campus outreach organizations. They run the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program, in addition to sponsoring highly subsidized trips abroad to destinations in both Europe and Israel. According to one of their many websites, Meor was "founded in the late-1990s at the University of Michigan [and] the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship has since spread to 35 campuses throughout North America and Israel. The program, spanning a college semester, engages students with the texts and concepts of their Jewish heritage in a mature and sophisticated manner."1

Trips and retreats are a premier attraction for many of the mitnagdic outreach groups. That’s how the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program got started. The MLF is an offshoot of the University Heritage Society, which runs “Heritage Retreats” of a week or longer at California ranches.
The MLF also invites student applicants to participate in a semester-long program of Orthodox education and immersion, with a cash stipend as incentive. Students meet every week for classes in Jewish leadership and literacy, and for breakout discussion groups focusing on such issues as “dealing with relationships with family, with girlfriends,” according to the program’s founder, Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg. The students also spend weekends in Orthodox communities as part of the program.
The MLF’s Web site, where students can apply, shows no indications of the program’s Orthodox foundation. Indeed, it serves a population that is almost entirely non-Orthodox on entrance. But that isn’t to say that these students aren’t Orthodox when they leave the program. The MLF maintains statistics based on student surveys, in which 77.4% of last year’s graduates said they have taken or have plans to take “steps to increase your personal observance,” and 38% “attended programs in Israel or the United States that allowed them to further explore their Judaism,” such as those provided by Aish HaTorah.2
(Aish HaTorah is one of the largest outreach/kiruv centers currently in existence. Not only do their programs turn out ba'al teshuvas (newly religious people,) they also turn out kiruv rabbis--rabbis specially trained to recruit people into an orthodox lifestyle. Aish HaTorah's Beis Medrash Program's webpage proclaims that "our programs have produced hundreds of dedicated, qualified leaders, serving in positions throughout the world in kiruv, rabbinics, and other important Jewish leadership roles, as well as proud "rank and file" Jews to whom commitment to Jews and Judaism is uppermost in their lives."3)
     Meor's websites are beautifully made and filled with information, even going as far as to create several in-depth FAQ pages. So prepared is Meor for the inevitable questions from parents that they even provide a FAQ page specifically made in order to allay parents' concerns. Strangely, one of the questions they answer is this:

Does MEOR pressure students to become more observant?

No.  MEOR’s approach is to explain the “why” of Jewish traditions and practices, encouraging students to ask questions and think for themselves.  For example, students interested in social justice discover the foundational concepts in Jewish philosophy, ethics, Torah and tradition that are relevant to tikkun olam. Students who want to learn more about why someone might choose to keep kosher have the opportunity to explore the meaning of kashrut and issues relevant to contemporary life.4

Apparently, this must be a concern of parents if the organization feels the need to put it on their FAQ page. But what really makes me uncomfortable is this ad.

Ad for Maimonides Leaders Fellowship from the Meor at Emory site.
(click to enlarge)


Additional Requirement for Meor's Maimonides Fellowship.
(click to enlarge)

Meor offers students the opportunity to get paid to take their course OR to put their $300 towards an already subsidized Meor trip to Israel. They mention this on their Parent FAQ page as well: 

Why do the students receive a stipend? Are they being “paid” to study?

In today’s world of escalating college costs and financial pressures on families, MEOR recognizes that the time students are committing to the program is significant, valuable and not eligible for academic credit.  Thanks to the support of generous donors, we provide a small stipend to students who complete the Maimonides program.  Some students apply this stipend toward a MEOR-sponsored trip to Israel.5
How can they guarantee that there will be "an observant Jewish wedding" for their participants to attend?
(click to enlarge)

While it sounds very nice that they're looking out for finances, knowing that Meor is a kiruv organization makes this seem less than an innocent stipend. College kids are always looking for extra cash and this is a huge draw. One night a week for two hours (on top of a full course load, possibly a part-time job, certainly some sort of a social life...) should be fine, right? Two community shabbatons? Sure, great deal! A wedding? A cool dinner? Free food? Awesome! Meor at George Washington University in DC also gives some information about their program's requirements, and puts pressure on students to show up to all that is listed, otherwise they don't receive the full stipend. However, I have some questions.
  1.  If Meor didn't offer a stipend, would they have trouble drawing an audience for their program? And if that's so, then why not better the program so that it can stand on its own, rather than attracting people with promises of cash? A truly outstanding program should be able to attract people on its own merit and not need cash incentives, right?
  2. If these Meor programs are being billed as, for example "Meor at Emory," and their websites show the University name, then why are these universities not giving course credit? Or is Meor not really affiliated with any of these schools, and just happens to be on or near these campuses? By using the names of the universities on their websites, are they just really trying to earn your trust? Hey, if it has my school's name, it can't be bad, right? But is Meor really endorsed by any of these schools? (I'll give you a hint: I called U. Penn to ask about Meor this past spring semester and the best they could do was direct me to Hillel, because they knew Hillel was also a Jewish organization. Otherwise, the Registrar knew nothing about the Maimonides Program, and nothing about Meor. Meanwhile, I was sure, based on their website, that Meor was affiliated or endorsed by the university.)
  3. Who are these generous donors who are giving money to Meor? And why are they doing so? What is their goal?
  4. Based on Meor at GW University's statement, I'd like to know how Meor can guarantee that there will be an "observant Jewish wedding" for the students to attend. Is this program arranging weddings of former participants in order to facilitate this requirement? Are they working with kosher catering halls?
  5. Let's say a student really wants that $300 stipend. Maybe they want the cash. Or maybe they want to use the money to go on a Meor trip. If a student starts to do poorly in his/her university courses, but is spending a lot of time with Meor, how does the Meor staff handle this? Do they discourage the student from staying with Meor? Do they have a minimum GPA that must be maintained in order to remain part of Meor? Or is it a matter of once you're in, you're in, and you won't be turned away?
  6. Two hours a week isn't too bad. But what additional time constraints are really being put on students? How much time is actually being spent at Meor? Or is it two hours and that's it, they toss you out until the following week? For some reason, I don't think that two hours covers any more than the actual course time.

     I've had the honor of attending speeches given by President Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama.  I've sat through many classes given by prominent and not-so-prominent rabbis. And I've completed both a BFA and an MA, and had professors and advisors who were really fabulous. All of these people--teachers, religious leaders, political leaders--were intriguing. Their words made me think. And as a teacher, I know that a good discussion makes students think, question, and want to learn more. So, when I read this quote, supposedly from a student, on the Meor at Washington D.C.'s website, I was a bit concerned: 
There are few times in my life where I’ve been so enthralled in someone speaking that I literally feel paralyzed in both thought and motion.” SS GWU ’13"6 
See, because as a parent and an educator, when a student is enthralled to the point of physical and mental paralysis, I have to wonder. Does this mean that this student was so fascinated that his/her mind just stopped ... working critically? The use of the word "literally" makes me wonder if this is a cry for help. ("Help! I cannot move or think--literally--really--you've got to help!") Yes, I'm being a stickler for word choice here, and I'd do the same to my students or my own children if they wrote this line. And it makes me wonder if Meor thought about this statement before putting it on their site, and it makes me wonder about what was really going on in that student's subconscious when choosing those words.  
     While Meor's numerous sites give a lot of positive information on the work they do, it is necessary to look critically at Meor and all campus kiruv organizations and not allow our own critical thinking skills to become "paralyzed" in the face of ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach. 




1. Meor @ Emory University http://emory.meor.org/maimo accessed August 8, 2013.
2. Weiss, Steven I., Orthodox Rethinking Campus Outreach. The Jewish Daily Forward. January 20, 2006. Issue of Jan. 20, 2006.  http://forward.com/articles/1518/orthodox-rethinking-campus-outreach/
3. Aish HaTorah. Aish International. Aish.com accessed August 17, 2013. http://www.aish.com/ai/ip/Beis_Medrash_Program.html
4. Parent FAQ page. Meor. www.meor.org accessed August 17, 2013.
5. Ibid.
6.  S.S. George Washington University. Meor Washington DC. accessed August 17, 2013. http://dc.meor.org/maimo

47 comments:

  1. It seems that they are a partner with Bronfman Center for Jewish Life! Wow, that is awful!

    http://www.meornyu.com/

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    1. It says that they are a partner with Bronfman Center, whoa. But here's my thought. Meor, if I recall correctly, has said that they "partner" with Hillel. But when I spoke with folks at Hillel at U. Penn, the Hillel representative said that they have used their facility for a room to hold an event or classes. Here I'd be curious to research what is meant by "partner" in this case. Based on my conversation, this may just be a buzzword for "we both send people to the same Israel program and promote it together." Those, of course, are my words, but I would be wary of certain terms like "partner" since it seems to change meaning depending on how they'd like it to appear.

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  2. The double entendre in the post title is very cute.

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    1. Thanks! As a person with chronic title trouble, I appreciate the compliment.

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  3. Bec, I can see you have a lot of questions about the intentions of these Rabbis. Do you mind if I ask you what your own background was? Based on your writings, it appears that you started to become religious a few years ago, it was a slow process. (You were still driving a car on shabbos for a while) and it appears you were only fully religious for a very short period of time then you all moved to Israel, and then moved back to the US. When you came back, you experienced significant challenges, and at that time, when faced with difficulties, your observance level dropped, and now you are warning others of the pitfalls that you feel you were not made aware of? Is that a fair summary?

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    1. You're only partially correct. I dabbled in orthodoxy in college. Then became fully orthodox a few years later, then later left it. The time you're talking about is really the second time I became fully orthodox.
      As for "warning others about the pitfalls that [I] feel [I] was not made aware of," I'd have to disagree, as my personal experiences have little to do with campus kiruv or these organizations. My research and critique of these organizations and their methods came years after I left orthodoxy.

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  4. That was a good try at trying to discredit Bec though! It's really fun to watch kiruvnik's hunt for reasons they are right and everyone else is wrong. When they can't defend kiruv they attack the person criticizing it. How about just going with the truth that kiruv is deceptive! Let's, for argument's sake, go with the idea that Bec is a bitter ex-BT seeking revenge. How would that change the fact that Kiruv is deceptive?

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  5. Is your problem with these Keruv, that organizations are providing or encouraging people to become orthodox? or do you have a problem with people choosing to become more Jewish in any scenario because you now see/understand the fallacy of orthodoxy itself? I am bothered by any group that tries to get its participants to do any form of Jewish practice that they are not comfortable with, be it reform, conservative or orthodox. To me the only appropriate way to do things, is for someone to teach me information and for me to make my own decisions off of that information.

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    1. Based on your question, Anonymous 8/20/2013 at 1:16AM, I'm assuming that you're new to reading this blog. So thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. The issue that I'm covering in this post (and on this blog in general)is that there is such a thing as deceptive Jewish outreach, that often targets a specific audience and moves them towards orthodoxy in a less than sincere way, for example, with financial incentives, highly subsidized travel opportunities, sitting through "leadership" programs, all which are actually subtly and not-so-subtly pushing people into yeshiva programs ("wanna spend an extra two weeks in Israel for free? Sign here for This Yeshiva and just attend classes for 6 hours a day, but it's FREE!")and so on. These organizations spend a lot of money and time on marketing for a reason.
      I agree with you in that giving people information is the only way for them to make an informed decision. However, if the only information out there is one-sided, then making an educated choice is impossible, since half of the information is missing. People who find orthodoxy on their own and take it upon themselves to find a good rabbi to answer their questions (who doesn't have an ulterior motive, who is not looking to get notches on his kiruv belt, who is not looking to make a quota to justify a paycheck,) are fine. My goal here is not to rip apart orthodoxy, however, once again, people should learn more about the lifestyle before agreeing to commit to it. Even posts on Beyond BT (an orthodox site for ba'al teshuvas) talk about issues like not being able to afford yeshiva tuition for their children, how they feel alienated at times by non-orthodox family as well as sometimes by the orthodox community, and other problems that people didn't discover until becoming completely entrenched in an orthodox lifestyle and community.I've ended many a post on this blog simply saying that people need to really research the motives of the organizations with whom they're getting involved. Choosing to be an orthodox Jew should be one's personal choice, not something imposed on someone who may be in a position of vulnerability (like a college student away from home looking for a place to fit in, looking for some extra cash, a travel opportunity, etc.) The difference between ultra-orthodox outreach and the more liberal denominations is that Reform and Conservative organizations, to the best of my knowledge, don't engage in dishonest recruitment on college campuses (or in general, again, to the best of my knowledge.) I've also found that even during time spent in Conservative congregation, while, at the time, I may have disagreed with certain aspects of practice, I still did what was comfortable for me.

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  6. I don't know who your question is directed at, but I have an opinion. My problem with kiruv is the deception. They are not up front from the beginning that their goal is to make people ultra orthodox. In fact, groups such as Meor go out of their way to hide what their real goal is. They invite kids on practically free trips to Israel with camel rides, rafting, camping under the stars, swimming in the Mediterranean, museums, antiquities, exotic food and beautiful girls/boys. Oh, and learning about Jewish history is in there too. The fact is, kiruv trips to Israel are intended to lure kids away from their families long enough for kiruv workers to work their brainwashing magic on them. It's bait & switch. It's dishonest. It's a lie.

    If they want to be truthful they should start by admitting that their goal is to recruit kids into ultra orthodox judaism. Then, tell them what an ultra orthodox life means: no more frat parties, no girlie magazines, giving up the foods you love, the sports you love, wearing the black hat uniform or long skirt, going on a communication blackout every Friday night to Saturday night, probably changing your career goals to conform with religious calendars, missing family events such as weddings that don't meet ultra orthodox standards, and on and on. Let kids make an informed choice about whether to become religious based on facts, not on ridiculous fantasies about family heritage and tradition.

    When you accept a free dinner in exchange for listening to a presentation about vacation time share units you know what you're in for - an evening of intense sales pitches. When groups like Meor take college kids to Israel neither the kids or their parents have any idea that they're in for a week of intense sales pitches. This is dishonest. It's wrong. It's immoral. It's deceptive.

    The organized pursuit of college kids must stop. The predatory nature of kiruv and treating college students as fair game to be lured into an ultra orthodox life is shameful, embarrassing, disrespectful, and gives all Jews a bad name.

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    1. really, really well said!!!

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    2. I think that you've nailed it:
      "When you accept a free dinner in exchange for listening to a presentation about vacation time share units you know what you're in for - an evening of intense sales pitches."

      That's precisely my concern with all kiruv--not knowing what you may have signed up for, and precisely why I started this blog.

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    3. SOOOOOOO well said!!!!!!!!!!!!! BRAVO!!!!!!!!!!!

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  7. Anonymouses, it'd be great if you folks could maybe choose a name. It's hard to tell you folks apart. Thanks. :)

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  8. Hi,
    I have several friends who have done MEOR programs at some of the schools you mentioned and at other ones. They all had a great, no pressure experience. I was surprised to see that you said they have no affiliation with any schools, so I looked into online. It appears that every school I looked up (NYU, Northwestern, Emory) MEOR is listed as a valid student organization on campus. Maybe its different at UPenn? I also noticed on MEOR's website their board and advisory Board include a Hillel Director and Hillel Member of their International Board. Did you try to speak to any MEOR staff members, while writing this article? I think you may be jumping to inaccurate conclusions? Of all my friends that have done MEOR programs, none of become Orthodox and none felt pressured to do so.

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    1. Hi Anonymous.
      Thanks for your comment. I spoke with the Registrar's office at U. Penn and I also spoke with the Hillel staff there. While I could have called Meor for this, I figured that I had their info on their website. My point is really that people do need to make these calls and ask these questions before (or while) getting involved. I'm glad to hear that you know people who had positive Meor experiences. I'm sure that most do, and I sincerely think that's great, and I hope that others have similarly good (and non-pressured) experiences with Meor. My concern is that they do hide their orthodox affiliation, and that even if 34 out of 35 campuses have adequate information on Meor, that 35th campus needs to have that same information, and needs to be just as upfront. Campus staff needs to be aware of clubs and organizations that list their school's name on their sites and recruit (for lack of a better term) their students. My other concern is that Meor is a feeder organization to places like Aish. I personally know of a family who had a child that became orthodox through Meor, but I"m not going to say that everyone will have that experience. (After asking, I found out that that family is not linked to the first picture in my post.)
      Just out of curiosity, of the folks you know who did Meor, were they aware from the beginning that they were learning orthodox perspectives on Judaism?
      For everyone's sake, I hope that you're right, and that my conclusions are inaccurate. That clip from the article in The Forward unfortunately seems to show otherwise. A better statistic would really be from outreach yeshivas to find how much of their student body comes from which sources.
      I genuinely appreciate your criticism, because it means that I need to look closer at the information I have and the information I find. It also means that you are questioning closely, something I hope that all will do, not just here, but with every group offering their opinions. Thanks again.

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    2. You have used the phrase Orthodox Prospective a few times. Is that really such a thing? Meaning, wouldn't an Orthodox Jew, rightly point out that this was the only prospective until modern times (the last 150 years or so)
      Furthermore, wouldn't they point out that they are the only Jewish group that believes their prospective is not man-made but rather from God himself. Therefore, they are teaching not a prospective but God's words. So they can speak in absolutes, the way no other group can, because to them, it is an absolute.

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    3. Not true at all. What we know and recognize today as "orthodox" is a modern invention. It's mostly a reaction to the enlightenment. Jews were mostly poor illiterate peasants, and only the very best and the brightest went to yeshiva and became rabbis. The majority were what we would call today "traditional".

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    4. Just to clarify--the phrase I use is "orthodox perspective" not "orthodox prospective."Of course there's such a thing as an "orthodox perspective." A perspective is a point of view. The term "orthodox perspective" is used to clarify so readers won't think that kiruv organizations are selling Humanist Judaism, or chicken feed, or dry cleaning services. However, the point here isn't that orthodoxy is right or wrong. The point is that certain groups use deceptive tactics to sell a particular worldview to those who are not of that worldview.

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    5. Rachmuna Litlon, could you expand on what you mean? I think Meor says what they practice is traditional Judaism.

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  9. Bec,

    Really great post. -

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  10. August 22nd - Meor does not point out from the beginning that their view comes directly from God. That's too bad, because if they did kids might see how bizarre this is before their heads are swimming with romantic images of "family heritage" and "tradition."

    Instead, Meor sugar coats their message by saying their spin on Judaism is the "Torah True" one. Just because Meor thinks their version of Judaism contains God's words, doesn't mean it is.

    You must be heavily involved with Meor to have picked out what appear to be the only three schools that allow Meor a measure of legitimacy on their campuses. A few schools allow Meor to function as a student club, like the Frisbee Club. Club status usually gives a group a place to meet on campus, but is does not grant that group affiliation to the college. Sorry.

    I looked up UPenn. Meor is not a registered religious organization on that campus. It is listed as a student club. From what I can see Meor is led by paid professionals there, not by students, so even calling them a student club is a stretch.

    Meor is not even listed as a club at American University, Boston University, Brandeis, Cornell, Drexel, Harvard, MIT, or Temple. They just trawl around those campuses pretending to be affiliated and use the colleges names and iconic images on the local Meor web sites. Given the nature of relationships between clergy and their flocks, implying that you are a religious organization representing a college is more serious than calling yourself Campus Pizza.

    The biggest crime though, is that Meor arrogantly acts as if it is entitled to prey upon the minds, ideologies and lives of college students without ever telling them, their parents or college administrators what their goal is. A successful Meor recruit becomes a fully Orthodox Jew. A fully Orthodox Jew has little place in the world outside an isolated Jewish community. I wonder how many students would sign up for Meor's subsidized trips to Israel, and classes that pay $399 just for attending, if they knew where that road ended?


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  11. My nephew, a lad with a sharp mind and a broad Jewish education, took part in Meor, enjoyed the learning and signed up for a trip---many other plans set around the trip. Close to departure, he was "uninvited" for asking too many questions,(which was undermining the atmosphere.) In the end, he was given the $$ to help buy his own plane ticket to Israel. Yes, these programs need the timeshare disclosures!

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  12. My name is Moshe Friedman. I work for the Meor Israel trips. The author has presented a rather uninformed attack on our institution, and it does not appear that much research has gone into her claims.

    If there is anyone who has legitimate questions or concerns about the program and is honestly seeking answers, please email me at thecfree@gmail.com, with your name and phone number, and a good time to reach you. I would rather respond via personal conversation since writing can easily be misinterpreted.

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  13. What part of the author's essay do you think is an uninformed attack, Moshe? The part about Meor paying students to lure them in? Is it where the author showed that Meor suggests they are affiliated with Universities when they are not? How about where she questioned Meor for not disclosing who their "generous donors" are? Is it an attack when someone asks how Meor can promise recruits they will be able to attend "observant" weddings? Maybe you think asking what Meor's policy is when a student's school work slumps is an attack? Is asking what other requirements Meor has of students who attend two hour a week sessions an attack? Really, Moshe, none of these are not attacks. They are intelligent questions.

    I think the readers of this blog would like to hear someone who really knows Meor address the author's points. If Meor has nothing to hide about itself or its practices then addressing this publicly should be no problem. Who knows, you might even change someone's mind about the organization. On the other hand, if Meor has something to hide it would surprise no one that you would only discuss the group "privately."

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  14. Hi,

    As a student who has participated in several MEOR programs, and has just returned from a summer spent in Israel courtesy of MEOR, I have to say that the author of this article is extremely uninformed. I was raised a conservative Jew, and still consider myself conservative despite being subjected to "brainwashing" for over a year now. Many other of my friends who have done these programs as well, also have yet to be "forced" into orthodoxy.

    MEOR does not pay students to "lure them in." They just recognize that as college students, we have time restraints (as you wisely pointed out), and because they feel it is crucial to the continuation of the Jewish religion to inform us about practices, traditions, and so forth, they compensate us for our time.

    Further more, many organizations do not disclose donor names, because a lot of the time it is private families who wish to be unknown. It is a privacy issue, and I think it is a little ridiculous to expect a full list of donors and discredit the organization because you cannot obtain it.

    In regards to the time commitment issues you pointed out: MEOR is an optional, extracurricular activity. It is not the clubs responsibility to manage time for a student, just like any other club. If a student fails to keep up with schoolwork, then they need to limit themselves on what they do - it's really simple. I know that if I find myself overbooked, I know when to stop and what to take out. We all have choices in what we do and no organization "forces" us to do anything.

    I have gotten incredibly close with MEOR staff both in Israel and on campus and I am so thankful I've had the opportunity to learn with them. And for the record, I would like to state to anyone who wishes to discredit and attack MEOR, that they are so wrong about the objectives and requirements of this organization.

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  15. Since you were raised Conservative you were already miles ahead of Meor's secular targets and were better prepared to see through their BS. For instance, most secular people are not aware that certain (unscrupulous) Jews evangelize. When they meet a Meor rabbi who claims to be "just Jewish, like your grandparents," they have no idea that he has an ultra orthodox agenda. They have nothing to compare that to and neither do their non religious families.

    No one claims that Meor forces students to become Orthodox. I maintain that they love bomb, apply subtle pressure and coerce students into joining the fold. Money is one way to attract kids, it's a powerful lure.

    Knowing who funds a program aimed at vulnerable college students helps parents discern whether that program is appropriate for their child. It turns out that most Israeli charities exempt from disclosing donors names are right wing or ultra Orthodox. http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/new-information-reveals-most-israeli-charities-exempt-from-disclosing-donors-names-are-right-wing-or-ultra-orthodox.premium-1.436004 While Meor is not Israeli, it is certainly ulta Orthodox. The problem is they claim to be "just Jewish, like your grandparents." Disclosing donors names helps everyone identify hidden agendas.

    You wrote a lovely letter in support of Meor. I have no doubt that you are close to the staff. I would guess you also spend more time with the staff than most students, maybe babysit the Rabbi's kids, and even get do some kiruv like help organize Shabbathons. I sense that you are well on your way to becoming fully Orthodox. I also sense that you have no idea that the changes in your life, your goals, and the relationships you now have (or no longer have) with family and friends was deliberately and deceptively done to you.

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  16. I respect the fact that you are voicing your opinion, but I have to say that you are mistaken in not only your facts, but your assumptions as well. By claiming that Reform Jews automatically follow a MEOR rabbi because they make the connection that he is Jewish, you underestimate the intellect of these people. Even Reform Jews (and non-Jews in general) can tell the difference between a secular Jew and an orthodox one. So by claiming that they are unable to make the comparison between their non-religious families who don't wear yamulkas or tzis tzis, to those who do, you are calling them incompetent.

    In regards to your claim that MEOR "coerces" students to join with money: students have choices. I've had a few friends drop out of this program because they feel it is not for them. As I stated earlier - we all make choices. College students are not dumb: we understand if we like something or not. And believe it or not $300 for a decent time commitment is not an adequate "lure," if they really don't enjoy it.

    I read the article you posted and I'm sure that is valid to it's own extent. However, it is also a Jewish custom to donate anonymously, as well as the privacy issue I had mentioned before. MEOR is very open that it is more of a religious organization, therefore negating your claims about any "hidden agendas."

    And finally, I have to tell you that everything you have assumed about me is untrue. Among other things, I'm actually in a sorority and on my school's dance team - both activities that do not correlate at all with a Torah observant lifestyle. And no, I have not babysat any of the rabbi's kids nor organized Shabbatons. In fact, I think most people who did not know me, would be shocked to find out I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate this organization, as I do not look or act the part. My relationships with my friends and family has remained the same, but I appreciate your concern.

    You clearly had a bad experience with this type of organization, and I truly am sorry for that. But your assumptions are wrong, and it is not right to loosely base your experiences on an organization you clearly don't know anything about.

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  17. I do not underestimate the intellect of college students, Jewish or otherwise. I maintain that secular Jews do not know the difference between a kiruv rabbi and a Reform rabbi. Campus kiruv rabbis make it a point to act as non Jewish as possible to disarm secular students and their parents. They intentionally dupe people by downplaying, if not denying, their ultra Orthodox affiliation. When they say "we're just Jewish, like your grandparents," it's a bold faced lie. My grandparents did not practice kiruv-style Judaism.

    To suggest that money is not a lure for students is out of touch with reality. Just as students can turn down money, so too can drug addicts turn down drugs. The likelihood of either happening is low. When Meor waves money in front of kids, tells them they just have to take a few classes, then argues that they should just walk away half way through if they don't enjoy it, especially in the face of love bombing junior Meor acolytes hounding them, they go beyond the boundary of what is reasonable. Meor knows exactly what they're doing. The problem is that students do not. Students will hang in there for the paycheck and out of a sense of honor to complete what they started. The money is a ploy and tool to give kiruv rabbis time to work on prospective recruits.

    Jews did not invent the practice of donating money anonymously. The hidden agenda with Meor is their goal to make students ultra Orthodox. They claim to practice "just Judaism, like what your grandparents practiced," when in fact it is Meor's goal to make students fully practicing ultra Orthodox Jews. Why not be up front & call themselves an evangelical ultra Orthodox Jewish organization? Why keep that hidden? Meor may not be breaking laws by keeping their donors hidden, but they are acting immorally.

    I think it's wonderful if your association with Meor does not affect you or your relationships. I wonder what you might have done with your summer had you not gone to Israel with Meor? I stick to my assertion that you are well on your way to becoming fully Orthodox, that you don't see this happening to you, that you THINK you are making decisions such as buying slightly more modest pieces of clothing or eating more kosher foods, but that the changes and decisions in your life are actually happening TO you because an organization with anonymous donors put a great deal of effort into making sure it would. I also maintain that you can't see it.

    It is absolutely right for me to speak out about groups such as Meor. They cause tremendous damage to families, they derail the lives of students, and they are deceptive about their goals. Remaining silent would be criminal.

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    1. I'd also like to clarify that the author of this blog and I had entirely different experiences with kiruv. She became involved with Chabad & my experience is with Aish/Meor groups.

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  18. "How can they guarantee that there will be "an observant Jewish wedding" for their participants to attend?" -- Who says they guarantee it? In fact, if you read the blurb carefully, you'll see the words "such as". The words "such as an observant wedding" cannot be construed as a guarantee.

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    1. Right, every college student should read the small print & untangle the deception that Meor presents before accepting an invitation.

      Although, it's just amazing how they manage to consistently pull off that "observant wedding" non-guarantee.

      Clear Minded

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  19. "Who are these generous donors who are giving money to Meor? And why are they doing so? What is their goal?" -- People ask that question about the donors to Nefesh b'Nefesh. A person who is interested in using this organization to move to Israel may find out who is donating that money -- often evangelical Christians who have their own agendas. And their response is usually what?
    "Heh, who cares?! I'm getting funded to go to Israel!"

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    1. Actually, it DOES matter who is donating the money. Some of us will not accept money from people with agendas who expect something in return for it. In the case of Meor's anonymous donors, it turns out that quite a few promote the agenda of making secular Jews ultra orthodox. Everyone should know up front what is expected in return for a gift. I suspect that Meor would have far less success if they were open and honest about who their donors are.

      Clear Minded

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    2. I'd like to repeat what I wrote, emphasizing one word: "And their response is USUALLY what? "Heh, who cares?! I'm getting funded to go to Israel!" So, it does matter to some and it doesn't matter to others. (So I'm not arguing with your second sentence.) The donors aren't EXPECTING anything in return for their gift. They're HOPING that their gift will attract the person to choose to lead an orthodox life.

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    3. The thing is, Reginald, donors expect results. If they don't get them they'll stop giving. So kiruv professionals have to produce BT's or their cash flow will dry up. There is a lot of pressure for them to produce & that can lead to them not being forthright & honest.

      Clear Minded

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    4. As if all other programs ever thought of run on air. C'mon, they all run on money that can go away if results aren't produced.

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    5. That is the point. It contributes to why Meor-style kiruv is not to be trusted. It is deceptive. They tell kids one thing, but they are under pressure to produce BT's and will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. Even lie.

      Clear Minded

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  20. "If a student starts to do poorly in his/her university courses, but is spending a lot of time with Meor, how does the Meor staff handle this? Do they discourage the student from staying with Meor? Do they have a minimum GPA that must be maintained in order to remain part of Meor?" --
    Great questions. Questions that can be asked of soccer clubs, glee clubs, and community service clubs, too.

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    1. Reginald, University students are required to keep up their grades in order to participate in University sanctioned activities. Students are frequently put on notice or suspended from teams when they do not meet the minimum academic requirements. The problem with Meor is they present themselves as being University sanctioned when they are not. Meor usually calls itself "Meor at ______ (pick your campus)." That suggests they are affiliated with, and sanctioned by the school whose name they use, and Meor does nothing to dispel this notion.

      The audacity it takes for Meor to sucker people into believing they are sanctioned by a University, and then turn around and claim no affiliation or responsibility when students have problems, (we're just a community service club), staggers the mind.

      Clear Minded

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  21. bec writes: "However, if the only information out there is one-sided, then making an educated choice is impossible, since half of the information is missing."
    I can go to one Jewish group and get one-sided information. I can go to another group and get other one-sided information. An ashkenazic kollel, a Chabad, a Sephardi center, the Modern Orthodox shul down the road. I fully anticipate that the information will be one-sided from each one. But the very fact that I now have these four options challenges your notion that "an educated choice is impossible."

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    1. Reginald,

      Most organizations do not promote their way as the one and only True Torah Judaism, suggesting everything else is wrong. They do not tell recruits that all Jews used to practice the way they do now, which we know is false. They do not tell recruits that what they are showing them is their "heritage," as if their parents denied them of important family history. In fact, other groups of Jews do not recruit.

      Clear Minded

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  22. wow, you have issues

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  23. For what it's worth, I saw that the University of Pennsylvania Director of Campus Chaplaincy and the Director of Hillel International both endorsed Meor in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WZ717TqF5s. They speak pretty highly of the organization as an educational program. I noticed you questioned whether UPenn or Hillel actually partner with or support the organization, so this might be a helpful snapshot of where the institutional relationships were as of a couple years ago.

    Overall, I'd say a person should ask friends about the program and attend a lecture if they want to know what Meor is about. And a parent should ask other parents of Meor students and sources at the college that they find trustworthy to get their perspectives, also. Probably parents who feel strongly about vetting the educational information their children receive would also be researching professors whose classes their children are considering signing up for, so the process would be the same.

    -A guy who never attended a Meor event in college, but met some Meor alumni after college (both folks who liked and disliked it)

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  24. I just stumbled across this discussion while looking for something else and I have a few points to make.

    1. Just because a program offers a stipend doesn't make it sinister or imply it has a hidden agenda. As a former campus rabbi and Hillel director familiar with the Maimonides Fellowship program, I understand that they strive to provide Jewish text-based learning and philosophy to college students, using classical sources. Their leadership consists of Torah-observant Jews and their programming conforms to halachic practice. They do not hide this -- any potential participant will see this immediately.

    2. Many observant Jews choose not to apply the label "Orthodox" to themselves (I am one such person.) because they don't support dividing the Jewish people up into opposing factions. To demand that they nevertheless accept the label "Orthodox" simply because of their commitment to observance, and to suggest they are deceiving people if they don't accept the label, not only ignores this crucial principle but also insults other people in the Jewish community who consider themselves observant but associate in different circles, as if to (falsely) say that anyone who identifies with a faction other than "Orthodox" is necessarily not committed to observance. Plenty of "Reform" and "Conservative" leaders would object to such an insistence on a one-to-one correspondence between the commitment to Jewish practice and the term "Orthodox".

    3. The use of a college name such as in the phrase "Meor at Penn" or "Meor at Yale", etc. does not imply university involvement in, or endorsement for, the program any more than it does when Hillel labels itself that way, such as "Hillel at Penn" or "Hillel at Yale". It merely tells people the location at which the program is based and the population the program attempts to serve.

    4. It is not uncommon for an organization to offer a stipend or fellowship for people to engage in study or research, even if they are not receiving credit for that study at the college they attend full-time. Of course and obviously the Maimonides Fellowship program uses the stipend as an incentive to entice students to attend, and of course they won't pay the stipend to a student who does not complete the requirements of the program, anymore than someone would pay a contractor who doesn't complete their job. The participants know these conditions -- which are typical of such stipends -- going in; there is no subterfuge here. The stipend is designed to enable students to take hours they might otherwise spend in a part time job and instead use them to study Torah without financial loss. Many programs do this. To accuse one of acting deviously because of it, smacks of some prejudice against the content of, rather than tactics in, Meor's work. While one has a right to dislike what a particular organization stands for, one ought not attempt to deny that organization the benefit of the same promotional efforts that other similar organizations use to promote their programs, as long as they are upfront and honest.

    5. At a time when we are witnessing never before seen levels of Jewish assimilation, we ought to be applauding whatever viable efforts appear on the scene to provide students a real and profound opportunity to learn about the meaning and value of their Jewish heritage. Precisely because people are different, we need a variety of such programs that employ a variety of approaches. Meor is but one such program in a fortunately diverse myriad of such programs, and it deserves the same accolades as all the other programs engaged in this vital work for this noble cause.

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    1. To KK:

      1. Meor lures kids in with stipends that they call or heavily suggest are fellowships, merit based scholarships, University sanctioned scholarships and highly coveted awards when nothing could be further from the truth. They are payments to guarantee that students will sit for brainwashing sessions. It's a way to buy recruits. Let's call a spade a spade. Of course Meor hides their intention. I asked the kiruv rabbi at Penn if his goal was to make students Orthodox and he lied to my face when he said "no." Penn parents were so outraged with that deceptive stipend program that they demanded it stop. See this article:
      http://www.thedp.com/article/2014/09/meor-cancels-stipend-for-maimonides-leaders-fellowship

      2. The goal of Meor is to make kids Orthodox, especially secular ones. To claim that many Jews, (especially kiruv Jews), don't define themselves as Orthodox in order to unite all Jews is laughable, disingenuous, deceptive and another lie. Kiruv rabbis don't use denominations in order to confuse their targets. Non practicing secular Jews may have only heard of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. To go from no religion to Orthodox is an enormous jump, maybe too big a jump. But to just read about "True Torah Judaism" from a well trained, highly motivated kiruv rabbi who supposedly has no denomination, well that seems safe enough. It's part of the lure, part of the deception, and it's a con well played played over and over by kiruv rabbis. It's dishonest and shameful.

      3. The lies seem to grow. Prominently displaying the name of a University with whom Meor has no formal connection on one's web site is deception at its grandest. Why not say Meor - serving colleges in Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia etc.? Because the point is to make Meor look as if it's a sanctioned part of a University. They want people, especially parents, to think they were checked out by the University, and they're approved of by the University. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meor gloms onto college names, uses the good will and good name of a college, and has their way with students whose unsuspecting parents are thousands of miles away.

      Combine the use of the college name with the stipend that is also made to sound like it comes from a campus academic source, and combine it with the lack of transparency about what denomination these supposedly true torah kiruv Jews are practicing, and you're batting three for three on deceptive lies.

      4. Again, the stipend is a lure and the threat of non-payment keeps students in a chair for kiruv rabbis to work their magic. It's a paid brainwashing program, except the students, their parents and the University who Meor attaches itself to don't know.

      5. Meor teaches a skewed version of Jewish heritage. They also fill kids' heads with nonsense such as the "meaning and value of their Jewish heritage." Kids exit, (if they're lucky and get out), with inaccurate facts about how their ancestors lived, how they practiced the religion, and WHETHER they practiced the religion.

      Assimilation is not a tragedy! It is how Jews chose to live when they became educated, prosperous and free from political oppression. It is a good thing.

      I've had it with kiruv thugs.

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Your respectful comments are welcome.