Monday, March 3, 2014

Kiruv in Israel: 10,000 Families to be Targeted by Outreach Professionals

     Haaretz reports that the Jewish Identity Administration, created by the Religious Services Ministry, will be putting together four kiruv/outreach programs aimed to attract secular Israelis to religious observance. These programs will be run by Ohr Torah Stone, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s conglomerate of educational institutions, according to Haaretz.
The four projects include appointing community-based “Judaism coordinators” to organize “activities in the field of Jewish identity”; a project to “deepen Jewish identity” among university students; one to arrange meetings between religious and secular families; and one to “increase synagogues’ influence on the community.”
The Judaism coordinators will be members of the communities they serve, so they can “foment the process from within” and not be seen as outsiders, the ministry decided.1

Laga’at Baruach, an outreach/kiruv organization in Israel meant specifically to target college students, will be "setting up study centers around [Israel.] In exchange for studying at one of these centers for 4.5 hours a week, students will get an annual stipend of 4,000 shekels. The goal is to recruit 800 students initially, all people with “proven abilities for the State of Israel and Israeli society.”"2 Like American ultra-orthodox kiruv programs, students are offered monetary compensation for the time they spend studying orthodox teachings taught by outreach professionals. This sounds remarkably similar to Meor's Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program, in which college students are enticed by the promise of being paid for their time, giving them some extra pocket money in return for allowing  professional kiruv workers the opportunity school them about their brand of ultra-orthodox Judaism.
     As with all ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach programs, they are rarely, if ever, done without a higher goal in mind. "The religious-secular meetings project is meant to reintroduce secular families to “basic characteristics of Jewish life” that they have lost touch with. The program will include reciprocal visits between religious and secular families from the same town, as well as “finding people capable of being leadership figures” who can provide “professional advice” on spousal relations, family life and rearing children."3 While this sounds innocent, the truth is that this program is subsidized the Wolfson Foundation, which "was launched by the late American ultra-Orthodox billionaire Zev Wolfson, [and] funds dozens of Haredi yeshivas – mainly in secular communities – whose students are asked to learn Torah with nonreligious residents."4 It's important to note that Zev Wolfson "supported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities ... as well as Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Germany."5 Apparently, Wolfson had lofty goals, and pushed hard for success, collecting donations from fundraising efforts as well as government sources. With these funds, he was able to get countless outreach efforts off the ground, "typically supplying a third to half the operating budget, much of it with funds he received from government sources."6
      When Haaretz reports that "the goal [of this program] is to involve 10,000 secular families from 20 communities,"7 I can only hope that secular Israelis will be motivated to stand up to this blatant act of disrespect for their non-orthodox lifestyle. It is quite possible to live side by side without  missionizing one's neighbor. Hopefully, these kiruv professionals will see the light.

UPDATED 3/4/2014-Just to clarify, Riskin and Ohr Torah Stone are Modern Orthodox. My concern is that this programming is funded by the Wolfson Foundation, which is known to support ultra-orthodox efforts. The fact that non-orthodox Jewish organizations were left out is disconcerting.

1. Kashti, Or. "Masorti Fume as Orthodox Get Funding to Woo Secular." Haaretz. March 4, 2014.
2. ibid.
3. ibid.
4. ibid.
Thirty Days Since His Passing: Mr. Zev Wolfson Z”L, His Story, Ideals and What Made Him Great - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/140256/thirty-days-since-his-passing-mr-zev-wolfson-zl-his-story-ideals-and-what-made-him-great.html#sthash.glUsIG53.dpuf
5 Wohlberg, Andrew. "Thirty Days Since His Passing: Mr. Zev Wolfson Z"L, His Story, Ideals and What Made Him Great." The Jewish Home, reprinted in The Yeshiva World News. September 20, 2012.
6. ibid.
7. Kashti, Or. "Masorti Fume as Orthodox Get Funding to Woo Secular." Haaretz. March 4, 2014.
upported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/140256/thirty-days-since-his-passing-mr-zev-wolfson-zl-his-story-ideals-and-what-made-him-great.html#sthash.glUsIG53.dpuf
upported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/140256/thirty-days-since-his-passing-mr-zev-wolfson-zl-his-story-ideals-and-what-made-him-great.html#sthash.glUsIG53.dpuf
In addition to supporting Jewish causes in Israel, Mr. Wolfson supported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/140256/thirty-days-since-his-passing-mr-zev-wolfson-zl-his-story-ideals-and-what-made-him-great.html#sthash.glUsIG53.dpuf
In addition to supporting Jewish causes in Israel, Mr. Wolfson supported nearly two hundred Jewish education or outreach programs in the United States, spanning thirty different states and scores of cities. He also heavily supported Jewish education networks in Canada, France, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Germany. - See more at: http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/140256/thirty-days-since-his-passing-mr-zev-wolfson-zl-his-story-ideals-and-what-made-him-great.html#sthash.glUsIG53.dpuf

24 comments:

  1. Sounds like they are pretty open about it if it's blatantly in the papers. What's wrong with openly stating your goals then servicing the people who sign up?

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  2. Are you kidding, AM? They openly state that their goal is to teach “basic characteristics of Jewish life,” (just as Meor claims to teach kids about Jewish "heritage"), NOT that their objective is to make kids ultra orthodox. Omitting one's objective is deceptive at best, fraud at worst.

    Why not say: We are an Ultra Orthodox evangelical Jewish group whose goal is to bring you into our religion. Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses & Bible banging Baptists do that, why not Jews? Why do kiruv Jews lie about their intention by cloaking it in feel-good "heritage" lessons and non threatening information about “basic characteristics of Jewish life?"

    Kids don't sign up to be converted to ultra Orthodox Judaism. They sign up for stuff that clearly does not sound as if it leads to ultra Orthodoxy. Once they are committed to a class, and with the carrot of money dangling at the end, they are led deeper and deeper into the abyss of ultra Orthodoxy. Just as battered wives are unable to leave any time, so are kids who get sucked in by kiruv.

    Your comment above is insulting, AM, and it is ridiculously apologetic of kiruv. Do you honestly believe that peddling kiruv as heritage lessons & basic characteristics of Jewish life is openly stating one's goals?

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    Replies
    1. What's the goal with this site?
      If there is no divine command,
      We are just randomly mutated acted upon by natural selection. Does anything really matter?
      It seems childish to believe in santaclas, after you openly express your knowledge of his fiction?

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    2. You can't figure out what the goal of Stop Kiruv Now is? Really?

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  3. The idea of paying them to come reveals a lot. Clearly the impetus to come is he value of money and not what is being taught. If there was suffiecient interest they would attend with being paid. So we have a case of using the student's need or desire for money to make them do something they wouldn't otherwise do. This is using a student's "weaknesses" to attain your (the funder's) goals. Seems rather worng to me. What are others' thoughts on this?

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    Replies
    1. Sorry for all the typos. I think I've learned to go over my cooment before posting.
      first line: he=the
      line 2: suffeiecient = sufficient
      line 3: with = without
      last line: worng = wrong

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    2. To anonymous, Welcome. You should read the many dozens of my comments on previous posts, learn a little about me (AM stands for anonymous mekarev - I work in the field of Kiruv and am NOT ultra-orthodox) and then please feel free at that point to jump right in on my motives and ideas. For everyone here, including you Bec, this is an important FYI announcement. The Jewish Identity Administration was set up by Naphtali Bennet (one of the current enemies of the Ultra-Orthodox world due to army draft issues) and is headed by Rabbi Amichai Ronsky, a National Religious rabbi. They are both pro the secular, democratic state of Israel which is devoted to religious pluralism on all accounts. I myself have participated in holiday celebrations in Israel, on COMPLETELY secular Kibbutzim in homes without mezuzot and flagrant treif served at the events. Yet, they invited my wife and I and other friends to their homes to read the megillah, dance with them, have a drink and shmooze. Why? Because of programs like this one where they met people who were observant of Jewish practices for the first time and liked them! These programs are about connecting irreligious Jews with religious Jews and creating friendships centered around Judaism. I have numerous friends, and students that are not - and will never be orthodox Jews. I met them through Kiruv, and have learned as much from them as they from me, and probably more. Not all Kiruv is manipulative and just as Bec has fought against the Kiruv that is, I have and will defend the Kiruv that is not

      Respectfully, AM

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    3. AM, I added an update to the bottom of my post in order to clarify my position. My concern is that it's funded by the Wolfson Foundation, which is a major sponsor of ultra-orthodox kiruv efforts, and I wonder if they need to uphold a certain standard, or gain a certain number of followers to maintain funding.

      Delete
  4. honestly, i expect rabbi riskin to run this program ethically, i find him to be a trustworthy man of extraordinary character, and after experiencing the environment of one of his educational programs, Yeshivat Hamivtar, i can personally attest his programs are run with no religious coercion and with open minds and open mouths, people are encouraged to speak up, to ask hard questions.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Motti, for that important perspective. My concern is that the Wolfson Foundation is very into ultra-orthodox kiruv, and since they're funding this, i wonder if more aggressive tactics would be used in order to keep numbers higher to justify funding. I also think that if Riskin was doing this on his own, or if there were non-orthodox groups involved, I'd be a lot less concerned about the existing program.

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  5. Since this is in Israel, some dynamics may be a bit different.

    1. While you mention concerns about ultra-Orthodox influence, from what I read this is very much a Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist project.

    2. I have to wonder if some of the purpose behind it isn't just to push religious Judaism, but to push the Religious Zionist version instead of the non-Zionist Haredi version.

    3. While the Reform and Masorti movements do exist in Israel, they are still pretty marginal. Most secular Israelis would automatically associate any group pushing "Jewish identity" and religious studies with Orthodoxy.

    4. The religious/secular divide is wider in Israel than in North America. We'll see how any of this plays out in practical terms. I'd hope, though, that one of the goals of the secular and religious families would be to break down some barriers.

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  6. Here's Failed Messiah's take on this story:
    http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2014/03/government-gives-kiruv-groups-22-million-to-convert-secular-israelis-to-orthodoxy-345.html

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  7. Bec, I wish you would read more about Mr. Wolfson, he did a lot beyond working on Kiruv causes. Plus he supported many non-Ultra Orthodox causes as well. He was extremely instrumental in helping the State of Israel, both economically and militarily.

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    Replies
    1. I've actually been reading up on him over the past 24 hours. While I see that he was a big philanthropist, I'm still uncomfortable with the tactics (moving into neighborhoods for the sole purpose of recruiting, offering money to get students to sit in classes, etc.) being used in this instance. I still hold by the idea that "kiruv" would be better done by example--being a good neighbor, answering questions if someone asks, not denigrating whole sects of Jews because they're not exactly like you, not teaching that your way is the best or only right way. (I'm not saying that these programs are doing all of these things, just using these as examples.)
      Then again, if a group supports a group that goes against what you personally believe is right, do they no longer deserve condemnation if they also support something that you have no problem with? For personal reference, there are companies that I will not buy from because they support issues that I oppose. I'm just throwing this out there as something to think about, not as an attack on the previous comments.

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  8. I wonder if the secular/religious family encounter projects would be anything like this:

    http://jewishmom.com/2013/10/16/national-geographic-spoof-on-orthodox-familys-shabbat-3-minute-funny-video/

    I like this video, not just because it's funny, but because it's actually pretty respectful toward the secular Jewish family. They show a secular family that does care about Shabbat, but just observes it differently. [In Israel, it's pretty common to do a traditional candle lighting and kiddush on Friday evening, even if people are on phones and planning to go clubbing later.]

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  9. The situation in Israel is different.
    First, as the old saying goes: the synagogue the secular Israeli doesn't pray it is strictly Orthodoxy. Reform and Conservative have never gotten very far in Israel because Israelis don't see them as genuine expressions of Judaism. They're not interested in rabbis who say that you can go to the beach on Shabbos and still be a good Jew. They want the rabbi who says you can't so they can ignore him while they're at the beach.
    But more importantly, part of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is based on religious identity. Arabs are taught that Israel is part of the global Islamic domain, that Israel has a Muslim history, etc. Secular Jews generally don't learn much about Jewish history in the land. A religious education does connect them to some of this history and also gives them a sense of purpose in being Israeli. For those reasons this initiative is of value.

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  10. Wow this is great news Bec. Thanks for sharing. Best thing for Israel's security is a heightened level of Torah observance. Hopefully we can close down the tattoo parlours in Tel Aviv! Hopefully this will help stamp out the toaiva movement, the drugs, the depression, suicide etc that is eating Israeli's alive. This is awesome. Zev Wolfson was a hero of this generation. R. Riskin is also good for Israeli's. With Hashem's help hopefully many Israeli's will be turned on to Torah! Thanks for sharing this great news.

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  11. Praise the Lord! Finally the Israeli government is doing something long overdue! This is wonderful positive, happy news. May all the Jews learn Torah and do as many mitzvos as possible. This is so great!!

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