On the blog "This Way To Eden-Documenting a Search for a Meaningful Life," Rachel Eden, a
In her post, she talks about what she and other outreach professionals look for in college students, and then goes on to write about how students are approached. At the end of the article, she makes a huge point about how few students actually end up orthodox, despite the huge amounts of time and money invested in the campus kiruv venture. She says that the ideal is that seven students per year commit to orthodoxy per campus venture, but believes the number to be lower. However, if seven is the number committing at the end of the year, I would want to know how many are sent on to yeshiva or other programs encouraging an orthodox lifestyle? I believe that students who are being groomed for a possible eventual move to orthodoxy may not necessarily commit to changing their lives while on campus, but are encouraged to go onto other organizations that will help them to get to that point.
I'm pulling a few excerpts from the December 4, 2013 post because I think that they're very eye-opening. Again, remember that this is coming from someone who is a kiruv professional.
There are a few types of students educated outreach professionals tend to seek.... The idea is that if the assimilation rate is skyrocketing at the speed of lightening, who will your time and effort resonate with best?In Ms. Eden's discussion of the three top traits that kiruv workers should look for when recruiting, she specifically looks for people with "inner strength" and brazenly mentions the difficulty in changing one's life in the face of peer or parental pressure. Of course, a potentially successful recruit would have to change one's life to become orthodox. Ms. Eden is also cautious of people who might be "addicted to perfect grades." She doesn't want people who are perfectionists. If I'm reading her correctly, this is because there is a fear that a potential recruit might take too much on too quickly, and this could cause a whole slew of problems for both the outreach worker and the student. The first quality that is considered important is the willingness to question. A person who is unwilling to question won't question their current lifestyle in order to possibly change it for a new and different lifestyle, in this case, orthodox Judaism.
1. Middos - good character traits. Nice, normal students. Is this person nice, punctual, helpful? These are questions my source tells me are critical to ask before investing serious time.
2. Intelligence. Torah’s philosophy is brilliant and true- and completely adverse to many ideas we have in the Western world. A student is required to question what s/he thought to be true about priorities and ideas. Such a person (obviously) must be a thinker but proceed with caution if the person takes too much pride in his/her intelligence (see #1) or has an addiction (not aspiring) to perfect grades.
3. Inner Strength. A student must have the emotional strength and wherewithal to stand up for what is right or walk away depending on the case. Change is very difficult but change in the face of possible peer or parental pressure requires nothing less than complete grit.1
Let's move on to the second part of Ms. Eden's discussion about outreach:
Part two are the steps someone in outreach should take if they meet someone who fits the criteria and ..well…seems to like the rabbi/rebbetzin. In the scenario that follows, I’m the rabbi/rebbetzin and you’re the student:
Step 1: We meet. We connect. I ask you for another time to meet and connect.
Step 2: We do this consistently, talk about important philosophical ideas that most people don’t slow down long enough to consider, and we share our lives with one another through these conversations.
Step 3: I invite you over for Shabbat. You eat my food. You meet my family. I enjoy your company. We repeat this cycle often. Before or after Step 3, I throw in other invitations to social or educational programs that take place frequently (example: Maimonides)
Step 4: Our relationship is stronger now. I invite you to a Shabbaton in a Torah-observant community. You have the opportunity to meet different types of religious personalities and families to give you a more well-rounded perspective on what it means to live an orthodox life.
Step 5: I invite you to learn and tour in Israel on a short (10 day to 2 week) trip that’s an intense whirlwind of inspiration and gives new meaning to Judaism.
Step 6: We plan a longer trip for you to study in Israel and integrate Jewish ideology into your everyday life and future.
A nice tidy package, huh? Obviously this is an over-simplification but meant to be a generalized structure for creating an environment where positive relationships and a Jewish student community can flourish.2Ms. Eden gives us a nice step-by-step list of how kiruv works. A relationship is built gradually. Deep conversations are had. Invitations are issued. That part of the "cycle" is repeated "often." Sounds nice, kind of like a friendship. Except that in this scenario, the target person is befriended only because the outreach worker has determined him/her to be a good choice for a potential recruit, based on the first piece of quoted material. The potential recruit isn't being invited to talk about life's meaning over coffee because the kiruv professional wants to be a friend. The kiruv professional is feeling him/her out, and if he/she is receptive, then the outreach agent will move to the next step. This way, outreach professionals can say "see? We never pressured anyone. They got involved of their own volition!"
Following the steps outlined by Ms. Eden, we come to Step 3, in which she mentions that she might toss in invitations to join other programs (she mentions Maimonides--a program run by Meor,) in addition to an invitation to Shabbat at her house with her family. With all of these invitations and discussions going on, the kiruv professional has now gotten the potential recruit involved in a program that pushes a one-sided view of Judaism. But if questioned, this is all "just Jewish." Keep in mind that the college student away from home is now thinking of the rabbi and rebbetzin as friends who are looking out for him or her. The student now trusts these people, and believing them to be friends, or at the very least, people who care for him/her, and is more likely to be convinced to get involved in any extracurricular programs that they run. The problem here is that this relationship is not based on honesty. The student is being honest and may be thrilled to have such deep conversations, but the student is not aware that the reason this relationship exists is for the sake of recruiting this student to orthodoxy.
Steps 5 and 6 take the student to different venues to study Judaism. Jewish students are told about Birthright and may be encouraged to travel on a Birthright trip sponsored by the campus rabbi's organization. If the student shows an even greater interest, he/she will be further encouraged to attend a yeshiva abroad.
I stated earlier that Ms. Eden said that maybe they get seven people to commit to orthodoxy a year per campus. (Again, keep in mind that a person may become orthodox at yeshiva in step 6, so he/she isn't necessarily orthodox from the campus rabbi.) That may not sound like a lot. But let's take one hundred campuses with seven recruits per year on average. That's still seven hundred new recruits. That's seven hundred kids who started off as non-orthodox Jews and rejected their upbringing. That's seven hundred families that will have been thrown into disarray, as parents try to figure out how to relate to their children and how to weather the growing pains of the baal teshuvah, who, at times will exhibit self-righteous behavior and disdain for their upbringing.
Comments from people on this blog can often be broken into two camps: people defending Jewish outreach and people against Jewish outreach. This is because those who defend kiruv feel that they are doing what their god wants, and people who are opposed find that notion to be ridiculous and offensive (and very similar to what non-Jewish missionaries do.) However, the one thing that the anti-deceptive kiruv camp wants is more transparency in outreach. You want to proselytize? That's great. Tell people from the very beginning why you are on campus. Tell them that you'd love for them to become orthodox and that's your sole purpose for being on campus. Explain to them that you, the outreach worker, are teaching strictly from an orthodox perspective and that you would like the students under your tutelage to ultimately become observant. Let's face it. Shouldn't people who claim to be brethren exercise at least the same respect that Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter Day Saints exercise towards us? At least they tell us who they are and that they're hoping we'll accept Jesus. Why are our own brethren not even giving us the benefit of a straight story and instead, resorting to deception in order to further their own agenda?
1. Eden, Rachel. "Blowing the Head Off of Outreach." This Way To Eden, Documenting a Search for a Meaningful Life. 12/4/2013.