Saturday, December 28, 2013

Who *ARE* These People in's Fundraising Letter?

     I received this email in my inbox the other day. Chabad is known the world over as masters at fundraising, and I mean that as a huge compliment--and as a huge fact. Shluchim (missionaries) learn both on the "job" and in classes, as well as through in-house literature, how to effectively solicit donations for their programming. Fundraising can be done in a multitude of ways. In this case, I'm sharing an email, recently sent out to those on the list. While I do receive several of these per year, I wanted to share this particular one. I've taken the liberty of underlining certain lines in red and green.
   " is often the deciding factor in the life of a troubled teenager, a lonely college student, or a "regular" family in some forlorn corner of the world with no Jewish community or friends."
     I'd like to know what the decision is that these people are trying to make. What are they deciding between? I'd also like to point out that Chabad emissaries don't only set up camp in "some forlorn corner of the world with no Jewish community." If you look around the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, you'll find many existing Jewish communities with Reform and Conservative populations into which Chabad emissaries have inserted themselves and set up Chabad centers. While they may say that they are not in competition with local synagogues, it is my opinion that this assertion is not entirely true. Through fundraising, they are able to greatly offset the cost of things like Hebrew School, holiday and shabbat services, and social programming, thus enabling them to offer little or no-cost (Chabad-centric, nicely packaged orthodox) Judaism to local Jews. The problem here is that this hugely subsidized programming serves to compete with the more liberal synagogues in existence, thus compromising temple membership for the more liberal factions. So, while they may not be directly in competition, the competition still exists. (This is not taking into account competing holiday programs, Purim parties, Hanukah celebrations, etc. that may occur at the same time.)

     I am also curious about the "troubled teenager" they are trying to reach and how exactly my money is going to help this person. How is he/she troubled? If there is preexisting knowledge that someone is indeed "troubled" then I would think that there are some ethical issues to be considered. Are parents being contacted? What is being done?  And what's the story with this "lonely college student?" Will money be given to the college's Student Union to help fund a new campus club? (This is a good time to remember specifically that missionaries, regardless of affiliation, regularly prey on people who may be more vulnerable and searching for belonging and meaning.) Is Chabad telling us that money that goes to the website will magically change people's lives? And tell us more about the ""regular" family." Why is "regular" in quotes in the email? Is that code for ... secular? And if they're secular, why exactly is this a problem?

     Let's also address the other line I underlined.
"We must continue to share and innovate until every last Jew has the opportunity to learn about his or her heritage."
The use of the word "must" conveys a sense of urgency in reaching "every last Jew" in order to give them this opportunity. Donors are paying to help them find every last Jew. I believe it was in Sue Fishkoff's book The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch (Schocken Books, 2003) in which we learn that Chabad missionaries new to an area will often use the phone book as a guide to locating local Jewish families. I guess that's part of the effort to make sure that "every last Jew has the opportunity to learn about his or her heritage."Chabad is known for their mitzvah tanks, their street-corner kiruv, and their more aggressive outreach efforts in attempting to reach people. It's no surprise that this is Chabad's modus operandi. They're good at what they do and they have many hands willing to do the work, research, article writing, and website maintenance to make sure they can approach "every last Jew."
     As a quick note, I know that for many people reading, none of this is a surprise. Some of you may have even received the same email. The reason I periodically post letters from outreach organizations is because I find the language to be very interesting when looked at critically. Most of us barely skim fundraising letters. But when we read into them, they really just leave a lot of questions unanswered.


  1. You make a great point. In our small community, Chabad swooped in about 10 years ago and offered free everything. The Conservative and Reform shuls had a hard time that year because no one gave money anywhere - Chabad was free. The good news is that eventually most people drifted back because they weren't interested in the Chabad ideology. Chabad was left with a handful of people they converted and some older men who don't mind that Chabad Orthodoxy is a men's club.

  2. We have seen a similar thing in our community. Chabad came in, love-bombed folks and so there was a temporary re-alignment, but we are now seeing people drift back to places that they are happier in.

  3. I'll tell you who those forlorn "regular" Jews are, those Jews with no Jewish community or friends, those were my grandparents who grew up secular and who were happily living in a small Oregon town until a Chabad rabbi found them and encouraged them to come around every so often for some Jewish programming, then as their kids got older the rabbi encouraged them to move to a larger town with "Hebrew" education, which they did. Chabad continued plying them with favors then pressuring them to become more committed Lubavitchers until they had married off two of their kids to BTs. Over time my grandparents became disillusioned with Chabad and slowly moved away from them until my grandmother committed the cardinal sin of leaving her hair uncovered, suddenly they were persona non grata around Chabad and they left, going back to the life they had left 10 years earlier and taking all but their oldest kid with them.

  4. A comment I posted this morning beneath an article about Chabad's promotion of illegal drinking among minors at Northwestern:

    Judge dismisses religious discrimination lawsuit against Northwestern in Chabad House disaffiliation


Your respectful comments are welcome.