Culture, Politics, Religion

NCSY/JSU relationship questioned even by JSU student leader

I have previously questioned whether NCSY’s control of the 170 Jewish “Student” Union clubs operating in the public high school system, and which are used to recruit students to NCSY activities, is understood by parents or the average teen who stumbles in on the pizza party these clubs throw. I apparently underestimated the problem. It appears that the NCSY/JSU relationship is unclear even to students in leadership positions at these clubs.
On the NCSY message board, “Sheistyfalafel” asked,

“I’m president of a JSU at my school. I was wondering the relationship between JSU and NCSY. Is JSU part of NCSY or what? I know a lot of people are interested and don’t get clear responses.”

“Rabbi Jack” Abramowitz, NCSY’s director of national programs, answered,

“That’s definitely a question for JSU, which I can’t answer because I’m not them. But what is it that you would have them write on their page? “We oversee some clubs [editor’s note: MOST] that are run by NCSY and others that are not?”

See, NCSY wants to disclose this information, they just can’t come up with a way to do so accurately. Let me attempt to help a brother out. How about disclosing the “dean” of JSU is Rabbi Steven Burg, and a little blurb about who he is, including disclosure that he the leader of NCSY as well? How about disclosing the NCSY positions most of the “cool advisors” have outside of the JSUs within the descriptive bios about them that somehow never include this information?
“Sheistyfalafel” asked, “Why isn’t this information on the JSU page?”
Well, Dean Burg?

17 thoughts on “NCSY/JSU relationship questioned even by JSU student leader

  1. DK:
    Could you provide some background/FD as to why you’ve taken such an interest in the NCSY/JSU dynamic? Your posts from the last 2 months have dealt almost exclusively with this issue. Just curious.
    FYI: I never really jived with NCSY growing up. I went to 4-5 conferences in middle school. In my freshman year of HS (well before the establishment of JSU’s), I went to 1 national conference in high school and one regional, and then called it a day. I was mostly turned off by people around me smoking and hooking up. Many of my friends from Conservative day school, though, found NCSY to be a meaningful beginning for exploring their relation to Jewish tradition & ritual–none of them, however, were coerced into Charedi institutions, and all of them completed at least 4 years of University (2 at YU, most others at Big Ten universities).

  2. Freeproduce, I’ll tell you why. DK is worried that Haredim are trying to convince all the Jews that their Judaism is the only Judaism, and all you get from a different Judaism is percentage points towards being haredi. Other forms of Judaism evangelize less out of principle (a mistake?) and so are caught at a disadvantage over a movement with no qualms influencing teens (successfully or otherwise) to do things that would put them at odds with their parents, friends and way of life.
    Becoming frum (in any denomination or manner) is not a decision I’d encourage any 15 year old to make on their own, but that’s what NCSY is trying to do – and if this were any other religion you’d be up in arms about it too.
    And as an aside, if your conservative school really was conservative, and serious about it, you wouldn’t need NCSY to “introduce” you to Jewish ritual. I hear they read Torah in Conservative shuls too.

  3. amit:
    thanks for the insight. i understand the issue, although i’m not sure i agree about the extent to which NCSY forces Haredi hashkafa as opposed to modern orthodox.
    What I was looking for was a reason why DK seems to be posting on the matter so frequently. JewSchool authors aren’t commonly known for harping on one subject, and i’m curious if DK has personal reasons for doing so beyond the philosophical ones you mentioned.

  4. freeproduce,
    I have written about this before, but suffice to say, I experienced haredism years ago, and rejected it. I am grateful to have left, and would like to inform others of things to be aware of before they embark on such an experience. My own perception of the effects of haredism for liberal and secular Jewry was quite different than all the happily ever after stories you will read on or Rabbi Tatz’s “Teshuvah Revolution.” Additionally, I am not the only one who feels this way. Many feel this way.
    Because of my personal experiences, and because of what I saw, there is a lot there I am concerned about, not least of all the rapid growth of those movements and institutions targeting secular and liberal Jews, both deceptively and through bait and switch tactics.
    Though I did attend NCSY a little in high school, and remember it being more haredi than not, I attributed that to the secific NCSY branch being based in Baltimore, a predominantly black hat community. I did not initially see NCSY as a problem, because it is under the Orthodox Union umbrella, and the Orthodox Union is not monolithic, but is, more than anything else, right-wing Modern Orthodox, not haredi.
    My perception about NCSY began to change almost a year ago, when the OU released a press release boasting of the role Rabbis Weinberg and Weinbach played at an NCSY professional retreat:
    As you will see in that first post, I thought this was an aberration. That someone just hadn’t thought this through.
    Over time, I found out that the relationship went deep indeed, and that haredi recruitment–particularly for NCSY alumni going to yeshiva or seminary for a year(s)–was the norm, and not the exception, for Jews with a public school background.
    Additionally, I found evidence that this *guidance* was being given to public school kids through NCSY’s public schools clubs themselves. Since these clubs are rapidly expanding, this became my greatest concern, as it is underage recruitment through deception on many levels.
    But my concern remains haredism. Certainly the Jewish community as a whole should be concerned about NCSY’s role in recruiting underage Jews into haredism. But “kiruv,” by its nature, tends to attract the haredim.
    That the parent organization, the Orthodox Union itself, has allowed this to continue is much more disappointing.
    The OU has had a history of allowing NCSY too long a leash. I think it is very wrong of the Orthodox Union to allow this to be happening. They tell themselves it doesn’t happen so often, but decline to find out the actual numbers. When they hear horror stories, they tell themselves it is the exception.
    They are betraying American Jewry, and ultimately, they are betraying themselves. I think they know better. And I think they just don’t care.

  5. freeproduce
    dk apparently had a bad expirience becoming frum and now he is on a righteous mission to prevent that from happening to anyone else.
    I went to public school and became frum when I was 15 not through ncsy but through my conserv. hebrew school. Nobody forced me to become frum but I was glad to be exposed to Torah knowledge that was left out of my suburban upbringing. I am really happy that this exposure wasn’t prevented by likes of DK.
    As to why jewschool keeps posting these repetitive paranoid diatribes is beyond me.

  6. DK:
    Thank you for taking the time to share/review your interest in the subject matter, and for clarifying your labeling of ncsy as recruiting to haredi institutions. I appreciate that you took my question seriously (as I intended it), and not as a personal attack.
    Thanks again, and write on.


  8. “Nobody forced me to become frum but I was glad to be exposed to Torah knowledge that was left out of my suburban upbringing.”
    Statements like this are, I think, a clarion call. I said it before and I’ll say it again, why aren’t USY and TPTY engaging public school youth?

  9. Rich – because, like their parent movements, they’re stuck in shuls. And also because they wouldn’t like any people from other religions screwing with *their* kids’ heads in public school.

  10. i am the president of hte jsu club in my school. basically, jsu and ncsy are affiliated with one antoher. jsu is the public school branch of ncsy. jsu’s mission is NOT to make public school jews more religious. ncsy/ jsu is more about exposure, rather than imposure. jsu’s official mission is simply to just get public school kids to do something jewish. no one in the club, no matter from what background, feels pressured in any way. the club in my school is very diverse in terms of “religiousness” we have modern orthodox to reform and everything in between. the jsu advisors do work for ncsy, but its not like the kids mind. we dont feel like we’re being “brainwashed,” we all go because we feel something different, separate, and special when we go there, when we have deep conversations about life. and thats why we are so responsive to it. some of us have become more religous because of hte club, but some of us have simply become more proud to be jewish. theres nothing wrong with that, now is there? i believe every jew has hte right to be exposed to the fundamentals of hte religion. i dont mean to offend any one in anyway, if i have im sorry. i hope this helps you guys see the clubs from a new perspective, thanks

  11. If you’re thinking in frames like “modern orthodox to reform and everything in between” and “become more religious”, then yes, you are being brainwashed.

  12. joon, the “dean” of the JSU — who just coincidentally happens to be concurrently the International Director of NCSY — specifically outlined the preferred trek set for Jewish students who join the Jewish Student Union.
    Step 1) JSU
    Step 2) Latte and Learning
    Step 3) Shabbatons
    Lest there be any confusion, Rabbi Steven Burg explained (all of this at the 2007 NCSY professional convention), “This is how we make the frum.”
    Rabbi Burg has also talked about the “conversion rate” of JSU students to NCSY proper programming.
    NCSY is very, very careful to NEVER give examples to the non-Orthodox press about how students go from the JSU to NCSY. Rather, all examples are students who were first in NCSY and then went to JSU. Probably because they started their school’s JSU.
    But in the OU’s own internal materials (which to their delight, I have frequently publicized) and to other Orthodox media, NCSY has been VERY clear which way the traffic goes.
    By the way, you can read about NCSY’s misuse of the JSU’s on Wikipedia. Oh, wait…no you can’t. All of my well-sourced, verifiable quotes have been repeatedly deleted by people including a ringleader I know for a fact was at least at one time an NCSY person.
    You can read the discussion, though. Oh, not really. Just me demanding why my links are being deleted.
    This is one of the very few places where criticism of NCSY utilizing our public school system as a Kiruv half-way house is tolerated.

  13. DK,
    I never went to day school, so maybe you can clarify something:
    Why do day-school students even participate in something like NCSY?
    Aren’t they meeting Jewish friends and learning “Jewish” things during the school day?

  14. BZ, please make sure parents and faculty know what NCSY’s history of misuse of these clubs are. You may want to download this:
    Please print/and or spread email this pdf around. It outlines how NCSY’s “cultural club” at the elite public school of Stuyvesant successfully encouraged many students to decline their opportunity to attend colleges in favor of some very right-wing Orthodox yeshivas and seminaries. Many of these success stories did not go to college at all, and the OU is clearly quite proud of this achievement.
    Jonathan, the JSUs are a public school phenomenon. However, NCSY itself is not just for those from non-Orthodox backgrounds, but also serves as a youth group for already Orthodox Jews, inspiring them to frum it up as well.

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