Religion & Beliefs

NCSY Expounds On Using Their “Cultural” Groups to Recruit Public School Students to Orthodoxy

In an Orthodox newspaper, NCSY dropped pretense of ecumenical goals of “cultural” clubs, and detailed their “kiruv” (Orthodox recruitment of non-Orthodox Jews) efforts in our public school system. Let’s compare NCSY’s public message and agenda (or lack there of) with that detailed … Read More

By / October 18, 2009

In an Orthodox newspaper, NCSY dropped pretense of ecumenical goals of “cultural” clubs, and detailed their “kiruv” (Orthodox recruitment of non-Orthodox Jews) efforts in our public school system.

Let’s compare NCSY’s public message and agenda (or lack there of) with that detailed in The Jewish Star.

In the “about” section, the NCSY-controlled Jewish Student Union (JSU) declares,

The mission of Jewish Student Union is to get more Jewish teens attending public high schools to do something Jewish! That’s it! It’s that simple!!!


But it isn’t that simple at all.

And that is certainly not what most JSU chapters run by the same NCSY regional directors say to their own.

In this week’s Jewish Star, an Orthodox newspaper based on Long Island, Michelle Bortnik interviews Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, the regional director of New York NCSY, and NCSY international director (and JSU’s "dean") Rabbi Stephen Burg, and it reveals what we all know, and what NCSY continues to deny. Deny to us, that is, not to their own community.

 Amid college fairs, SATs, football games and parties, high school presents kiruv (Jewish outreach) professionals what is perhaps their best opportunity to reach unaffiliated Jewish students, who otherwise might never be exposed to Torah Judaism.


What is “Torah Judaism” for these “outreach professionals”? ORTHODOX Judaism.

How do they measure success? Two ways…the first normal, the second more troubling.

 Rabbi Lightstone became the regional director for Long Island NCSY in 2006. On his watch, three public school clubs grew to 18, and the organization went from having 100 kids at events to between 400 and 500; from sending two or three kids to Israel each year to sending close to 25 […] The decision to merge both regions, whose offices were twenty minutes apart, made both financial and practical sense to NCSY and to the Orthodox Union, the parent organization that provides most of the funding.


This is troubling not because they send kids to Israel, but that NCSY is unwilling to set guidelines about which institutions are acceptable to partner with in a recruiting fashion, and which ones are not. 

For NCSY, which ones are acceptable? Those institutions that are Orthodox. Which ones are not? Secular institutions.

This is a much bigger problem than Orthodox or secular because for decades, NCSY has prided itself on predominantly sending those young people from the public schools interested in a more traditional lifestyle to predominantly haredi institutions, the only institutions that were available to public school graduates for a year (or several) in Israel. NCSY has also demonstrated particular nachas when public school graduates gave up their opportunity to the best schools in the nation.

And at the core, not much has changed. Though the Orthodox Union does offer services on some secular college campuses now, the right-wing Modern Orthodox (RWMO) preference was always and remains that the young person not attend a liberal arts college, but should instead attend only Orthodox colleges, such as the dismal Touro College.

NCSY has a long history of deception and concealment, and outright dishonesty about its agenda. The Jewish community needs to demand not only that NCSY be forthright about all of its various goals for our youth, but NCSY needs to be transparent about the details. Especially because NCSY quietly continues to send public school students to not only ultra-Orthodox institutions, but hardline haredi ones, we have a right to know how this happens, and how NCSY assesses whether or not an institution is acceptable for recommendation to a student. The usual blather of "it depends on a person’s specific needs and his/her advisor" is insufficient, and in light of NCSY’s past, we should be suspicious that it actually sometimes means, "as Orthodox an institution as the young person will agree to."   

I would note that Jewish Star’s Orthodox readership will not have a problem with NCSY’s dishonesty and lack of boundaries. Read the story in light of the JSU’s actual claim. Lightstone is nevertheless presented as heroic. They don’t care about the lies or the deception. They are Orthodox, and this is Kiruv.

If the traditional secular and Liberal Jewish community raised its voice loudly and coherently, NCSY would change. But for now, NCSY clearly assesses that there is no reason to do so beyond a couple of Modern Orthodox institutional additions. For their public school graduates, that is.

NCSY’s pipeline from the public school to frumville continues to expand at a rapid clip. The few voices shouting for oversight, monitoring,and negotiations, are a whisper among the storm of mainstream Jewish organizations obsessed with “engagement.”

There are over 250 JSU programs in the country. Most of them are overseen and operated by the local NCSY regional director. These programs are servicing our communities, in our public schools.

Update: As Mike Winddale noted, the major problem is that the JSU does not reveal its ties to NCSY or to the Orthodox Union. Rather, the JSU feigns non-denominational goals and ties, most strikingly, to Liberal Jewish organizations.

In addition to the problems of Kiruv, we have a problem where Jewish-identified students of patrilineal descent appear to be refused entry to off-campus programs which are pitched on the public school premises to club members.

As The Jewish Star noted,

When she inquired about becoming Jewish, Rabbi Lightstone told her that while she was welcome in the club, he couldn’t teach her more about Judaism unless her parents gave explicit permission, something they expressly refused to do.

The girl was dejected and spent the following Christmas break with her maternal grandparents. Seeing she was unhappy, the girl’s grandmother asked why. She wanted to learn more about Judaism, the girl said, but couldn’t since she wasn’t Jewish.

“You don’t have to convert,” her grandmother explained, “I’m Jewish and so are you.”

There problems with misrepresentation of self are manifold. The problems with misrepresentation of self when dealing with an underage population are particularly egregious.