Friday, May 4, 2018

Guest Post: A Concerned Jewish Mother Speaks Out About Kiruv

Guest Post
Thanks to TB for submitting her account of her child's experiences with aggressive ultra-orthodox Jewish outreach.

Is the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Outreach movement “brainwashing” students?

By a concerned Jewish mother

Our family practiced Conservative Judaism. My son graduated valedictorian from high school and went on to the University of Pennsylvania where he was accepted into the Wharton school of business. This was the school of his dreams and economic and finance were his career aspirations.
Our son was a person who was always surrounded by a warm family and many friends. He excelled in almost everything he tried and he was the kind of person who always put other people’s needs before his own.
During his time at the University of Pennsylvania, he was active at the gym, joined a fraternity, and excelled academically. He won an award secured a position at a prestigious investment bank in New York.  My son was at the cutting edge of his field, with a bright future and a role model to others.
But then he became involved in Jewish outreach or Kiruv organization named Meor. During his second year of college my son was approached by Rabbi Shmuel Lynn of Meor. He was offered a large sum of money (for a college student) to attend a weekly lecture series, where he was supposed to become in touch with his “Jewish roots.” He was recruited into the so-called “Maimonides Leadership Program,” which purportedly would make him somehow become a “better person” and “successful leader”.   He would attend weekly seminars and Friday “Shabbats” with other students who were raised within secular Jewish families or families that practiced Conservative Judaism or Union of Reform Judaism. These seminars were led by Rabbi Shmuel Lynn and culminated in a “FREE” trip to Israel and Poland where they were to learn about the Holocaust, the existence of God, and the importance of getting in touch with your Jewish roots.
When our son came home from the Israel trip, he had changed. He began to keep Kosher. He began to isolate himself slightly from his fraternity and his friends. He began to become more heavily involved in the Meor program.  After graduating the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania our son sat down with his father and me one night while at a Sushi restaurant and announced, “I decided I don’t want to take my job at the investment bank.  Instead I want to study in a Yeshiva in Israel – at Machon Yaacov.”   
We pleaded with him to at least spend a few years working at the investment bank before make such an abrupt change.  His father and I asked him if he would at least work for two years. And if he still wanted to give the Yeshiva a try after that we would be more likely to support it.  He reluctantly agreed.
Our son moved to Manhattan and started working in the city for the investment bank. He lived with one of his fraternity brothers who also graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
My son went to weekly Shabbatons in New York and would met regularly with local Rabbis of the community. After one year of working at the investment bank he became involved in the West Side Kollel, Kollel Yisroel VeShimshon, where he met Rabbi Mordechai Prager. Shortly after that our son’s life took a drastic downward spiral.
First, our son declared that he would no longer work on Shabbat. And that he must leave work early to go and study at the Kollel. He also broke off an engagement after Rabbi Prager told him that he must honor “Chok Hanegiya” and was not allowed to be in the same room with his fiancé until they were married.
His relationship with his family also deteriorated. Our son’s behavior became erratic and he would run away in the middle of a sentence. He neglected his father, even when he became ill with lymphoma. He lost all care and interest in his niece and nephews.
Rabbi Prager and Rabbi Prager’s wife recommended that my son take time to study in Israel. He was then introduced to another rabbi in New York, whose name he never disclosed. This rabbi recommended that he go to study at Yeshiva Tehilas Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva school run by a group of Haredi Litvak Jews.   Our son was told by the rabbis not to disclose under any circumstances where he was going. He was also told to lie to his parents and told us that he would only be going for two months. And that he would be back soon to go back to work after completing two months of Yeshiva study in Israel.
Our son left in the middle of August 2017 to Yeshiva Tehilas Shlomo in Jerusalem, which is headed by Rabbi Pinchas Leibovic. At the end of September our son announced that he was not coming back. Not in one year. Not in two years. Now our son announced that he would stay at the Yeshiva for at least five years.  He had no intention of going back to work or coming back to live in the United States. 
My husband attempted to reach out to Rabbi Pinchas Leibovic. But his calls were not returned. My daughter’s husband tried to reach Rabbi Liebovic and after a dozen attempts, a disgruntled man picked up the phone and said “I can see why he left his family. If you were my family I would leave too.”
In December 2017 our family took a trip to Israel to visit a sick family member. Our son told us that he would not be able to meet with anyone or see anyone because it would cause too much conflict.
We decided to go to the Yeshiva he attended, which is located at Ramat Hagolan 57 in Jerusalem. We found our son living in a run-down apartment. He had not showered, was unshaved, pale, dressed in a black hat, white shirt, and a black suit, soiled and covered with stains. He looked unkempt and dirty. His face showed no emotion and instead he had a flat affect, and appeared subdued and depressed.  He agreed to go to a restaurant, but would not eat any food.   
At the end of our visit he thanked me, his father, sister, and niece for coming and gave them a hug.
We were able to persuade him to come home for a visit during Pesach. He returned home in 2018 six months after beginning his studies at the Yeshiva.  Our son planned to visit us for two weeks. Immediately after coming off the plane, his brother-in-law noticed that he was quite withdrawn. Our son seemed restless and agitated in the car when music was playing and walked with his head down, looking at the ground.  When he arrived home he announced that no one could enter his room to keep it free of Hametz. 
We soon found out that the restrictions set up by his rabbis were endless, extreme, and very difficult to accommodate. He was not allowed to eat in restaurants, even if they claimed to be Glatt Kosher and were in Orthodox religious enclaves, including New Jersey and New York. Our son obsessively inspected every piece of food for very specific Hekshers. He would not use a phone, not even to navigate when he had to drive. He would not look out the window.
We agreed to all of his demands as best we could. We koshered our oven, even catered strictly Glatt kosher food and purged every bit of hametz per his instructions, following every rule he had been told by his rabbis.
But our son stopped talking to us. He would only read and study the Talmud. He woke up at 5 AM, dressed in a suit and tie, never showered, and left for the nearest ultra-Orthodox synagogue to pray or to some Hasidic Yeshiva to study.  And when he was home he would pray by himself, reading his Talmud and isolating himself from everyone that was not ultra-Orthodox, including his family and old friends.  He also said bizarre and completely uncharacteristic things. For example, during a Seder he mentioned that women do not need to use a pillow because “Women don’t need to recline, only men do.” This was rude and confrontational, which is totally unlike our son.
The rabbis from Yeshiva Tehilas Shlomo called our son as soon as Pesach was over. They wanted to check up on him to make sure he was following their restrictions and regulations in our home. After those phone calls, our son’s mood changed for the worse. He became stressed, overwhelmed, agitated, and restless. He was ill-tempered and curt with us. He stayed in his bedroom totally isolating himself. He acted depressed and did not readily communicate with us.
We were very worried about his behavior and asked our son if he would sit down and have a serious family discussion to address our concerns.
The next day, he announced that he was unable to stay in our home, eat any of the kosher food we had purchased, and was so uncomfortable that it was necessary that his visit be cut short.  Instead of a two-week visit he ended up staying for only one week. 
We begged our son and pleaded for him to stay and talk with us and have some quality time devoted to family interaction and discussion.  He repeatedly refused. 
My son was living in fear. He acted like he was in a state of horror. His mind was not his own. 
Our son was transformed by Meor and a network of “Jewish Outreach” rabbis that completely changed his life through their undue influence. He was once independent, analytical, well-informed, free thinking, happy-go-lucky soul. Now he has been distorted into a miserable, tired, rigid, condescending, racist, and empty person dependent upon his “leaders” for every basic life decision. 
Beware of the Jewish Outreach movement promulgated by ultra-Orthodox rabbis like Rabbi Mordechai Prager. What they call getting in touch with your “Jewish roots” seems more like so-called “cult brainwashing” than legitimate Jewish studies. They recruit on college and university campuses much like controversial religious groups called “cults” preying upon vulnerable and naïve students. Everyone should be more aware about who they are and how they negatively affect families. Hopefully our story will help to enlighten people and serve as a warning.


  1. Thank you for writing this. It was especially hard for me to read because the same thing happened to my child at Penn at the hands of Lynn. I could have written this post myself except I'm not as talented a writer as you. The facts were the nearly same, the progression the same, and the heartbreaking loss of my child the same. How long will it take before comments come into this blog blaming everyone and everything for the destruction of our families and our children's lives except Meor? Lynn and his minions are despicable, predatory creeps.


  2. Dear Concerned Jewish Mother,

    Sorry to hear about your son. You should also be aware that many of us are born into the Orthodox Jewish cult and the enormous challenges and difficulty that we encounter as we seek enlightenment. I wrote my blog to counter Kiruv and Orthodox Jewish arguments.

    Once you are in the cult outsiders become the 'enemy'. Cult members think they have truth and create walls preventing contradictory information penetrating their shell.

  3. hello my name is nakisha i want you all to join me to thank this man for restoring my home with my ex husband who dump me for another woman for 5 years,. At first i never believed DR OGUDUGU will be able to help me win back my EX HUSBAND from this other woman but because i still love him and need him in my life.. i work and follow DR OGUDUGU instruction and it surprise me that after 3 Days of casting the spell and working with DR OGUDUGU, my EX HUSBAND called me asking me to forgive and forget the everything he has done to me that he still love me... now myself and my husband are fulling back together and we are very happy with our new life ... all thanks to DR OGUDUGU for the great work he has done for me.. i promise to always share his good work to the whole wide world and if any body is out there passing through any relationship difficulties should kindly contact him via email:
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    (3) You want to be promoted in your office.
    (4) You want women/men to run after you.
    (5) If you want a child
    (6) You want to be rich.
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    contact DR OGUDUGU via his email for a total solution

  4. What can I say? Snags ain't built for kiruv.
    Seek chabad, they are more welcoming than Reform and don't bend scripture, too.

    1. Substituting one ultra Orthodox cult for another is not a solution for the dishonest and deceptive recruiting practices that kiruv workers employ.

      I am disgusted by kiuv. No one should stalk our college students, or anyone for that matter, to join a religious group. This isn't like joining swim team, although kiruv workers present it as just that innocuous.

    2. @Poster Chabad tends to target non orthodox Jews and seeks to convert them to the Chabad religion/cult. Is that what you mean by welcoming ? That is like saying Christian Missionaries are so welcoming. AND Chabad does distort 'scripture' when it suits them.

    3. @Anonymous That is how cults and religions persist and grow. 1) Early childhood socialization 2) New recruits. I need to point out that that the USA government provides direct funding to religions and tacit support to religions. That also help the religions persist and grow. Finally, even the less extreme forms of religions provide a ready supply of people that can mutate into extremist.

  5. Unfortunately I can understand exactly how these posters feel. My own son was involved in the Aish cult and they teach them to dismis the majority of the people from their previous secular lives. It is heart breaking. I’m ashamed to admit he is one of these Keruv rabbis influencing other non suspecting families for a lifetime of pain. Tbh they do appear quite ok through I couldn’t say happy. Always stressed and irritable and evidently overworked

  6. I read this blog post with interest and with sympathy. Please note, though that many of your writing describes a person with clinical depression, possibly a bipolar individual, rather than someone victimized by Kiruv organizations. It seems that this individual might be suffering from mental illness, and his joining the ultra-orthodox community as manifestations of an illness. If I am wrong, I am sorry, and I mean no disrespect, but perhaps you might want to consider psychiatric help for your son.

  7. Hello, i an not a Jew, but following Hashem..

    How could you put this comment up of nakisha at 5.29 a.m?

    Are you saying that doing this kind of 'magic'like she says about that dr... whatever.. is permissable..

    That is not good..

  8. I would like to say that this sounds like an individualized basis. I am a BT, in your sons shoes, and I haven't done any of those things you mentioned such as not showering, moving, showing irritation/agitation, or isolating myself. On the contrary, I have started to think MORE critically, and I have become a much happier, kinder, and more positive person in the process. I am really sorry about your specific situation, but just know that this also depends on the person.

  9. I actually know your son and randomly stumbled upon this. I was living in the Upper West Side until recently, I went to the yeshivahs you describe and have had dozens of friends come through UPenn Meor. Like the previous poster, I am also a Baal Teshuvah. Not sure where to start but here goes - it seems your son is acting strange and that must be really hard for you and your family. Judaism should only enhance your relationship between you and him but unfortunately you perceive him being nitpicky about Halacha and acting strangely. It sounds like you've tried to be very accommodating. Most new baal teshuvahs get really into it at first, and then mellow out. It always happens. I guarantee things will progress in a positive way between you and him. He will come back to America and your relationship will improve. I know Rabbi Prager, Rabbi Lynn, Rabbi Leibovic. All are really great men, although you paint them in very negative ways, which saddens me. Have you spoken to each of them? I know this whole thing must be tough, and it has come to the point where you are posting this online to scare other people away, many BT's parents feel this way at first, but your son will mellow out, come back and have a beautiful family. Try to understand your relationship will be a little different in the future, but he has a good group of wholesome friends and will live a really nice life, although please be open minded and give it time. My parents and in-laws are so thrilled with my life and growing family - and I have gone through, maybe a little differently with daily showering, the same thing.

  10. I hear the smug condescending tone of a BT naively defending a kiruv system that is indefensible.

    Families are ripped apart through kiruv and you have the gall to tell this mother that it's going to be great when her son has a "beautiful family?"

    Not all families come around like yours did. Many are alienated from their children forever. Those who have different relationships with their children have strained, unnatural relationships.

    Do you honestly think it's OK to deceptively meddle into people's lives and do this?

    The poster who wrote this should be applauded for writing her story. People SHOULD be scared away from kiruv, especially at UPenn, where there their egregious reputation of deception stands out.

    Shame on you!

  11. I empathize with this mother and to the degree that an outsider can, I understand her pain. Her son completely alienated himself from his family and friends - seemingly at the behest of his overly zealous rabbis. I would not be so quick as a previous poster to reassure this mom that her son will mellow out. Religious considerations aside, I think he need to be evaluated by a mental health professional. Based on the description, I'm concerned about his emotional health. If he would be open to it, individual therapy and possibly medication should be explored.

    I am a licensed therapist and have worked extensively with BTs and their families. When a child becomes religiously observant, it almost always impacts the family. Beyond the initial shock, some BTs and their families do a great job at maintaining or strengthening their relationship while others end up alienated and in lots of pain. I don't propose to know all the factors that make for a good relationship nor do I think that a child's decision to become more observant means disaster for the family. Good listening, respectful discussion and validation of each other's perspective can go a long way in keeping familial relationships on healthy footing.


Your respectful comments are welcome.