Monday, December 16, 2013

Kiruv Professional Writes About Recruiting Jews on Campus

     On the blog "This Way To Eden-Documenting a Search for a Meaningful Life," Rachel Eden, a
woman devoted to kiruv (she's worked for Aish, taught Hebrew School, and worked in campus outreach,) writes about "demystifying kiruv."  In her own words, her "article refers to campus outreach as opposed to all other kinds, which by [her] estimation, is distinguished by its accelerated pace since young people tend to be more open to new ideas and [are] transient."
     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?

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
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.
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.2
     Ms. 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.
2. ibid.


  1. This post points out my objections to kiruv work: it's built on deceiving rather than letting people seek out Orthodoxy for themselves. Let's look at it this way:
    Kiruv organizations target exclusively teens between the age 15-20, you never see them target middle age adults or young children. Usually, reaching teenage is a period when you question life for meaning; I remember when I was 16-17 and I would write verses I thought were deep. Putting on a philosophical spiel is not hard at all and it's easy to impress a teenager with profound philosophy (which actually a lot of times is just a smoke screen). Second, what is more serious is luring teenagers with their trust; teenagers need support to find their way in life and abusing their trust for selfish reasons (yes, worrying for Klal Israel and reaching out "to save it" is selfish) is outraging. A charity organization is what it sounds like, it reaches out to those in need; a kiruv organization is earning trust from a teenager (and the teenager probably thinks "man those are nice individuals, I wish I can be as them") and exposes a great vulnerability to kiruv workers. The same pattern can be seen in child abuses, which earns a child's trust and exploits the vulnerability created.
    For those kiruv workers who see it as their mission "to save" the Jewish people and consider it a commandment, I consider it being just the same principle as missionaries reaching out to "pagans". Also, it's worth mentioning that the prophets in the Bible criticized the Jewish people for not following the law, but they didn't try to deceive the Jewish people back into keeping mitzvot. More so, they also acted only when God commanded them and not out of their own desire "to save".

    1. This line: "Also, it's worth mentioning that the prophets in the Bible criticized the Jewish people for not following the law, but they didn't try to deceive the Jewish people back into keeping mitzvot. More so, they also acted only when God commanded them and not out of their own desire "to save"."

      That makes me wonder how kiruv workers have come to the conclusion that this outreach has to be done at this time. It all just seems like another extreme version of Judaism.

    2. That makes me wonder how kiruv workers have come to the conclusion that this outreach has to be done at this time.

      Bec, the missionary, ultimately, isn't trying to convince you as much as he's trying to convince himself - because if he can convince you he's right, then, he reasons, he must actually be right, and can stave off for a little while longer the nagging doubt that threatens constantly to overtake him.

      I looked at her "Responsa" to your post. I couldn't get through it; the cliches were too much to bear: "You’re my Jewish sister. Let’s get real. Really real". She really has clue as to what a stereotype she is.

    3. I read it earlier and realized that rather than write a comment, it would be more beneficial to respond with a full post. I do agree with you, Cipher, regarding her response, especially because this is certainly not the first time I've heard most of what was written.

    4. Razvan: "Kiruv organizations target exclusively teens between the age 15-20, you never see them target middle age adults or young children." Really? under which rock are you looking?
      "Also, it's worth mentioning that the prophets in the Bible criticized the Jewish people for not following the law, but they didn't try to deceive the Jewish people back into keeping mitzvot. More so, they also acted only when God commanded them and not out of their own desire "to save"."
      How many prophets do you know personally? Can you introduce me to one?
      Your entire comment is based on conjecture, speculation, and unfounded opinions. Way to go.

  2. I grew up in an evangelical Christian home. I converted over 25 years ago, and am often described as a progressive, Renewal Conservadox practitioner. The parsing of that description is for another time, but I share it to give a bit of background. There are two specific gifts from my upbringing, among several, that come into play when reading this article and dealing with this issue. One is a finely tuned radar system for proselytizing in any form by anyone, and two is a deep knowledge of the Christian Bible and its connection to Hebrew Torah. This combination leads to me to both formally and informally teach and discuss issues of particularly Christian missionary efforts to Jews. The discussion in the missionary circles about whom they target is remarkably (not) close to the description here for those who are the targets of the Orthodox kiruv activity. The only piece missing, that I believe is there but not mentioned, is someone who is already questioning things, whether as a part of learning and growing or as part of a rebellion. I think it is subtly tucked into the "intelligence" part of things.

    This is a very good example of what we used to call Friendship Evangelism. It is a much softer, subtler and more insidious at times, method of proselytization than the stereotypical street corner preacher and tract distributor. It is the method often used by those who call themselves Messianic Jews, who are really just Jewish "flavored" Christians. I see this Friendship Evangelism particularly from Chabad outside of the NYC metro area. The concern isn't for the individual, as Raven mentioned, but to increase numbers and out of some sense of commandment.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Paula. And welcome!
      "Friendship evangelism"--wow. That's exactly what goes on here.
      I completely agree with you--there are certain people who are going to be "better targets" precisely because, as you said, they're already questioning what's out there. It makes them easier to influence if they're looking for answers and the friendly rabbi seems to have them.

  3. A person who is addicted to perfect grades may be unwilling to let schoolwork slide for the sake if Torah. The process of becoming frum is often detrimental to academic performance. In addition, such a student may be unwilling to miss class for yom tov and similar holiday observances.

    1. I agree completely. Although I doubt any kiruv professional will ever admit to this.

    2. I think kiruv agents (love that phrase) work on kids until they are willing to miss "just one" class. It's a sort of next step that the student makes and it earns them praise from the kiruv agent. Many schools accommodate students who want to take off Jewish holidays. Hints of antisemitism wafting through the air accomplishes that fairly easily. At some point BT's become convinced that they MUST be unavailable every Friday night & Saturday. They drop their extra curricular activities because they nearly all require involvement on weekends. I don't think being a good student is insulation against kiruv tactics. Kiruv agents just have to work a little harder to get those kids to comply.

    3. "The process of becoming frum is often detrimental to academic performance."
      Or the process of becoming a great musician. Or a star athlete. Or artist. To master anything requires choosing where to focus your energy and where to let something slide for a while.

  4. I think the racist approach to kiruv is a waste of money - we have plenty of gentiles who want to convert and be good Jews, but millions are wasted on people like you, just because you have a Jewish mother - Judaism is about faith, not racist bloodlines like these kiruv rabbis make it - I was a kiruv rabbi for a long time, but now I'm just here to teach Torah to anyone who wants it - I really don't care if you become frum or not, that's up to you, just want to let people know it is an option if they want and it is their decision - of course, there's no money in this, so I am thinking to go back to kiruv again...

    1. I wonder if you'd tell us a bit about the pay structure for kiruv rabbis? Kiruv rabbis seem to have no meaningful accountability to the public when it comes to who pays them & how much they receive. Temples & Synagogues generally have financial committees overseeing the money and reporting expenses such as clergy salaries to their congregations, but not so with kiruv. How exactly do kiruv rabbis get paid? Do they receive a percentage of contributions they solicit, a flat salary from organizations such as Aish, Chabad & Meor, do they receive a per-student stipend, something else? Are there bonuses when BT's attend yeshiva's or get married?

    2. > Judaism is about faith, not racist bloodlines

      No it's not. Judaism, and certainly Orthodox Judaism, is about compliance with halacha. "Faith" is a distant second, and was even more distant before chassidus became popular.

      Defining a Jew as someone born to Jewish parents isn't racist. No more than defining women as someone with two X chromosomes is sexist.

  5. All kiruv money comes from donations. Whether it is from major philanthropists (Wolfson, Horn etc.) or from the people that are being mekareved or their parents, all of it is private donations.

  6. Each Chabad rabbi usually fundraises for all of his expenses, personal and business. Others such as Aish or Meor have fundraisers who work on percentages and or salary, the Mekarvim make a salary (between 40,000 - 80,000 for a full time couple depending on cost of living where they are located). They do not get bonuses for people becoming religious or going to yeshiva, they just lose their jobs if people don't.

  7. Thank you for referencing my article. I felt compelled to respond for the sake of clarity on my latest post.

  8. Ugh, I hated that part about targeting some students over others.

    The rabbis that I have liked and respected the most weren't just about looking for recruits. They were the ones to had a genuine commitment to actual Jewish values, such as ahavat yisrael (loving your fellow Jew, no matter what) and extending hospitality, regardless of whether someone fits a profile. At my first Orthodox shul, the rabbi warmly welcomed us - but he also had the door open to Jews who were homeless and/or struggling with substance abuse and/or mental illness, and he treated absolutely everyone with respect. One older fellow with questionable personal hygiene was never going to go to yeshiva, impress any donor or become a donor himself, but the rabbi would make sure that he ate some hot meals and that he'd get the Kohen aliyah. I've avoided the rabbis who are all about making the sales pitch and feeling us out, but this one who treated everyone with warmth and respect still gets our support.

    1. That's the difference I think with the "kiruv industry" and just being a regular person/rabbi with the door open for anyone who is interested. There are so many people out there who get involved with kiruv organizations and ultimately get turned off to Judaism completely. It shouldn't be a business. It should be that all synagogues are welcoming and warm, but without putting pressure on others. Having Jewish services or holiday or shabbat meals on campus is one thing. But actively recruiting is just wrong.
      JRKmommy, the rabbi you mention sounds like a wonderful person. As usual, thanks for your insightful comments.

    2. jrkmommy, how would you suggest a secular Jew who never attended Temple with his parents or learned Hebrew or had a Bar Mitzvah, and who is away from home for the first time, distinguish between a rabbi who welcomes everyone with warmth & respect from a rabbi who is all about making the sales pitch, especially given that these kids might have never spoken to a rabbi before or heard the word kiruv?

    3. I'm not qualified to speak about kiruv on college campuses, perhaps the kids have never been Jewishly affiliated. Who knows? I'd be curious to know how you define "secular" campus Jew.
      I'm older and my husband was taken up by a kiruv rabbi along with other, mostly older, adults. I can honestly say that the other adults were (a) Jewishly affiliated throughout their lives; (b) mostly from liberal streams of Judaism and consequently far more liberal politically than the Orthodox families who "welcomed" them into their homes; and (c) quite knowledgeable. The adults, at least, were just mostly at turning points in their lives. That's all. Not secular, at least by any definition I'd give. Not clueless except to the motivation of others. Not uncommitted. Not religiously uninformed. What they were was uninformed about more literal Orthodox interpretations of torah.

    4. I think that most rabbis - if they are any good - would be welcoming and encourage someone to come to more events, get more involved, etc.

      I hear 2 separate questions here:

      1. Is the rabbi genuine, or just trying to recruit me?

      2. Is there a hidden agenda?

      For question 1, I'd say to look at how the rabbi treats others - ALL others. Is he always a mentsch? Will he treat someone well if they aren't a potential recruit or potential donor?

      Also, is there an attempt to push the limits of the relationship? This turned me off about some rabbis I knew. One, very early on, told us that he'd be happy to be our rav if we didn't have one. To me, that's like proposing marriage on the first date. [In Orthodox circles, a rav isn't just the local rabbi - it means that you turn to someone for all religious questions and sometimes even life decisions.] Another person started telling us, after one Shabbat meal, that we should pull our kids out of their community Jewish day school and switch to the Orthodox one. I know another rabbi that will be nice and friendly the first few times, and then say that it's time to start demanding more religiously. So, I'd say that nobody should ever hesitate to put on the brakes if they are being pushed, even if someone seems nice and gives them a meal.

      I think most Chabad on campus are pretty clear about identifying who they are. I don't know about other groups. I think it's fine to ask who someone is affiliated with, where they went to yeshiva, etc. Asking specific questions about various issues is also good. What is there view on the state of Israel? What is their position on marriage equality? What do they see as the roles of men and women? Which rabbis influenced them the most?

  9. I would like to offer you only one perspective, as a former student of Rebbetzin Eden's. I think that I, and other students, deserve more credit than you are giving us. When R. Eden invited me to Maimonides, and to her family's Shabbat dinner, I was happy to explore my Judaism and meet other students who were doing the same. But I never had any qualms about the Edens' motives or mission. Even if I was so naive as to be completely unaware of the rest of the setup, I would have to realize that the only reason that Jewish outreach workers were on campus was to make students more Jewish.

    Yet despite my awareness of her intentions, I respected her sincerity, and we became friends. And now, even though that was years ago and I am not Baal Teshuva, we are still friends. I'd like to think that even though our relationship started because I was singled out as a target, it hasn't continued because of that.

    To speak to one other part of this article: I have two friends who are Baal Teshuva, as a result of the program that R. Eden worked for, and they would never "exhibit self-righteous behavior and disdain for their upbringing." Honoring your parents, I'm pretty sure, is right up there in the Ten Commandments, and disrespecting them would be very un-Jewish.

  10. The one part of the article that I did like was her comment that the relationship is just as much about the one doing the outreach, since they need to be role models. I totally agree with that.

    Simply being a positive role model can be far more powerful than any script.

    At the same time, I'd say that in order for outreach to be both successful and genuine, it needs to be complemented by inreach.

    Promote good family dynamics within the community, not just as a show to outsiders. Practice the laws of good speech within the community, don't just preach it to others. Encourage the community as a whole to embrace Jews of all backgrounds, don't just have kiruv professionals target specific individuals. Encourage the community as a whole to embrace good middos, don't just preach to others that observant Jews have them.


Your respectful comments are welcome.