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 ultra-Orthodox “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”.

Rabbi Shmuel Lynn

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.

Rabbi Mordechai Prager

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 to us 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 so-called “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 the kind of manipulation associated with “brainwashing” than legitimate Jewish studies. They recruit on college and university campuses much like controversial religious groups called “cults.” But they specifically target Jewish students. Everyone should be more aware about who they are and how they have negatively impacted Jewish families. Hopefully our story will help to enlighten people and serve as a warning.

Note: CultNews and the Cult Education Institute has received many complaints over the years from Jewish families about the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Outreach movement and its network of rabbis operating on college and university campuses across the United States. This heartbreaking account by a concerned Jewish mother is sadly not unique and instead seems to reflect the familiar pattern and practice seemingly understood within the movement. That is, to recruit Jewish students regardless of their existing denominational affiliation, submit them to intense indoctrination and then feed those recruits into cooperating yeshivas in Israel. Many of these students stay in their assigned yeshivas for years and some never return from Israel.

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18 comments untill now

  1. Cynthia Harris @ 2018-12-23 14:10

    This happened to our son exactly. Please help?

  2. I am very sorry about what happened to your son. However I wanted to thank you. My son was also the valedictorian and now a junior at Wharton and also in a Fraternity. He told me last Firday that he was going to an overnight retreat for shabbat with his rabbi at Penn. The next day out of the blue my son mentioned to me that he was thinking of going to Israel to study torah for a year following graduation. He was raised as a conservative Jew and I am all for his connection to Judiasm and studying Torah and doing Mizvot. However, this was a shock because he just accepted an amazing job that he wanted so badly a couple weeks before. AND he is already planning to study abroad in Israel for his junior spring. So I spoke to him and tried to see where this was coming from. However, he was very resistant to any thing negative I was suggesting about his idea. Normally he is always very open to considering my opinions. So I told him I would call him later to discuss his potential plan. I then googled “jewish recruiting of college students cult” and I immediately saw your post. The similarities were shocking. It was if you were writing about my son. I called my son and asked what organization he was thinking of going to Israel with and he said MEOR. I sent him your story and it quickly got through to him and it helped him realize that at 20 years old, he was more susceptible to being unduly influenced. We agreed that if he went to Israel for a year to study that he wouldn’t necessarily spend the rest of his life alienated from his family but it was certainly possible and why take that risk? After all look what happened to him after just a single night retreat. He could study as much as he wanted right here. Why be under the control of an organization for an entire year while he studies all day and night? Why walk away from an amazing job? So I am eternally grateful for you sharing your story and potentially saving my son.

    Thank You


  3. Maybe I should chime in here because what happened to your sons happened to me many years ago. Let me start by saying that in my view Orthodox Judaism is not a cult. You can be an Orthodox Jew and be a very normal person, who smiles, thinks for himself, says good morning, stays close with his family even if they are not Orthodox, and earns a living. In fact, at least in my view, you are supposed to do all of that. However, there are a few subgroups that share some traits with cults and there are individuals that one should avoid. These groups aren’t usually a problem for the people raised in them. It’s more a problem for beginners that enter them. Some beginners (people not raised Orthodox) are brought along too fast and are pushed to take on too much too quickly. In my view, study in Israel is generally not a good idea. It’s too radical a change and the student is isolated from familiar people and surroundings. Israel has an intense culture and a very different culture from that of Anglo countries. Becoming Orthodox involves enough personal changes, doing it in Israel can produce bad results. The brain can snap. This is not always the case, but it can be the case as you have described. Some of the outreach groups are somewhat deceptive. If you look at their websites, they portray themselves as open and easy going but they really are not. You lower your guard and then bam, they come on like gangbusters. They don’t all do that but a few do as you well know. If I can offer some hope it’s that many of the people who freak out calm down over time. In the end, Orthodox Jews are supposed to have normal family lives. We are not monastic. And all that helps to promote psychological health of a sort. Children kind of force you to lighten up. Of course, it helps to keep the channels of communication open, not be hypercritical of the new lifestyle, and not nag; although discouraging marrying after only a few weeks of dating is a good idea. Also, let the boys know they can always come stay with you because they might tire of living in substandard conditions and realize they want a change. Helps if you have some kosher dishes around and maybe even some Torah books. I recommend the works of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888). He advocates a balanced life and is very articulate about that. Do a search on his name and you’ll find some of his writings.

  4. Robin Cutler @ 2021-01-16 16:54

    Is it possible to get in touch with this family? We are going through this with our son. It’s very scary and upsetting.

  5. Joshua Bergman @ 2022-03-30 18:43

    My sons currently going through the beginning phases described in this article. I fear this is the path he’s headed. He looks different. He’s lost his life and energy. He refuses to come home, see his family, and is constantly lying to us. He is now informing us he has no intention to ever return. Any advice on how to approach this?

  6. Joshua,

    Ultra-Orthodox groups, that target Jewish college students, subject them to very intense indoctrination and social isolation.

    IMO your son is under undue influence and is probably being coached on what to do and what to say.

    I have done interventions to help people leave such groups.

    However, such an intervention depends upon the family having meaningful access to the son or daughter involved.

    At this point given the relative isolation of your son all you can do is learn coping strategies and avoid conflict.


    This book has a chapter on “Coping Strategies,” which can be helpful.

    Don’t blame your son for what has happened. These ultra-Orthodox so-called “Jewish Outreach” groups IMO are very predatory. I am sure your son did not realize their intentions as they are most often quite deceptive.

    IMO much of this is financially motivated.

    The “Jewish Outreach” rabbis have created quite a fund raising network both in the US and Israel. A lot of money is involved.

  7. The guy who runs Meor also runs a “yeshiva” called Machon Shlomo which consists of 10-15 young men living in a run-down apartment in Israel. They spend their days and nights in a barebones program, run by a tiny staff, isolated from the rest of the Orthodox world as they have no guest speakers and barely ever leave the apartment. They call themselves the “Ivy League yeshiva” and really are quite the opposite as Ivy League schools have 1000s of classes, world-class staff, massive libraries, and gorgeous campuses. For many years Machon Shlomo literally had just a half-shelf of books, which is extremely unusual for a yeshiva. The cost is $10,500 a year and they have you sign a contract promising to pay it back if you can’t pay it up front. Search on the name and you’ll find blog posts from former students who detail the bitter experiences they had there.

  8. Meor engages in deceptive recruiting. Their website hides any connection to Orthodox Judaism even though the entire staff is Orthodox. You won’t find the words Orthodox, Torah, mitzvah, commandment or even God on the website. Photos of their basically clean-shaven staff are taken at such an angle as to hide the yarmulkes. They offer what they title a leaders fellowship that has almost nothing to do with leadership. It’s a class about Orthodox Judaism. They claim to help college kids to “connect with Judaism on their own terms” but are completely opposed to all forms of Judaism except Orthodox (and a more right-wing version at that). Meanwhile, Orthodox Judaism isn’t pursued on one’s own terms even if there are personal aspects to it. For this they’ll bribe you with $400, and you get to put the word fellowship on your resume. They website is loaded with photos of attractive singles, all mixed together, some with their arms around each other, many in immodest dress, some drinking alcohol and raising their glasses together. The message is, hey come and get lucky. Meanwhile, if you become religious you aren’t allowed to hold hands with anyone but your spouse, and it can take years to get one, particularly if they ship you off to yeshiva. In the meantime, you live in complete celibacy. Several of the campus directors make more than $100,000 a year recruiting you. They get you to lower your guard and sprinkle a little Torah thought on you. Then they say, you want the big time, go to yeshiva in Israel. Then they send you off to Israel – away from your family and your support systems – to an environment that is the furthest thing from Judaism on your terms. As a former student of one of their schools wrote, “That was one of the truly cultish things about machon shlomo- the daily reinforcement of the idea that they had the patented ‘correct’ view of judaism and no one, not artscroll, not the chassidim, no one really ‘got it’ but them.” For this you pay them $10,500 a year for one of their little dumpy schools and $20,000 for the other one. You walked into Meor hoping to meet a girl or a guy, to get a class in leadership to help your career as you collect a few hundred bucks, and maybe even to explore Judaism a bit (which to you meant Reform Judaism), and now they have you stuck in a yeshiva in Israel, celibate, declining that job offer you worked so hard for, feeling as though your entire life was worthless until now. These people give Orthodox Judaism a bad name for not all Orthodox Jews or even Orthodox Jewish outreach people indulge in such deception and such extreme treatment of people. Aish HaTorah does some of this, but Meor is the worst. By contrast, Chabad, Ohr Somayach, and Belz do not hide their Orthodoxy and don’t tempt you with sex and suggestions that you’ll be some kind of leader. Just visit their websites and you’ll see the difference.

  9. It’s a shame and heartbreaking to see families struggle when one member finds orthodoxy. I am quite familiar with the path the OP’s son took and am familiar with both Meor, the Yeshiva and issue and Rabbi Lebovic. They are all a part of what is known as the “yeshivish” world, a part of the poorly labeled “ultra-orthodox” community. Their view is straightforward — dedication to living a religious and Torah-observant life is paramount. And ‘Kiruv’ is the process to help bring nonobservant Jews into a Torah-observant life. Modern Orthodox Jews are able to harmonize living a religious life within the secular world. They will end up going to college and working in finance or law or medicine, while at the same time keeping a strict observant lifestyle (eg not working Friday night and Saturday, not eating in nonkosher establishments etc). But the stricter Orthodox Jews eschew the secular world, as interfering with an ability to live a true Torah-observant lifestyle. Their lives are dictated strictly by Jewish law, and to someone outside that world it seems crazy. But they live very fulfilled lives, albeit one led by faith. Their community is supportive and energetic, and loving. They find life fulfillment through celebration of sabbath and holidays, through learning Torah and meaningful prayer, helping their community and through raising large Jewish families and instilling in them a love of their religion. Going from a secular college environment, where you witness kids getting wasted at Friday night frat parties, to one where families and their guests get together Friday nights for warm sabbath dinner is an eye-opener. And when you are immersed in that bubble, particularly in an Israeli neighborhood where everyone around you is like you, coming back to the States is like entering Sodom and Gemmorah.
    The OP’s son unfortunately is immature and too young to understand how to navigate his new world without completely abandoning his old. Most can though, but some of the Kiruv folks fail to properly help these kids move in a direction that is tempered, and allowing for family acceptance. The kids sometime move too quickly. The OP’s son couldn’t be in his parents’ home over Passover, even though they attempted thoughtfully to accommodate his needs, because the rules of Passover are very very strict and his parents, through they tried, no way met his strict observance levels. He looked unkempt because he wrongfully believes that worrying about your appearance is incongruous with a true Torah lifestyle (conversely, most yeshiva women dress very stylish). Any time not spent learning Torah is a waste of precious time.
    I feel for the OP because the son did not learn how to properly navigate his path. This is the Baal Tshuva conundrum. (BT is the term for a Jew that “returns” to his faith). But nothing about where he went and how he got there is cultish.

  10. Just had to respond to a post that describes Meor as deceptive, hiding their orthodox foundation. They are quite transparent. Their videos and staff pictures show clearly orthodox-looking guys wearing big black yarmulkas, with very orthodox sounding names. They do have polished marketing materials, but all Kiruv organizations do these days. Nothing makes it seem like it’s a place meant primarily for social purposes (unlike Birthright trips where everyone knows is meant in large part to get Jews to meet and date other Jews). And all Kiruv organizations are run by religiously-right leaning orthodox folks, whose main goal is to get secular Jews to become religious Jews, following all torah laws (ie keeping strict sabbath, kosher, sex etc rules). But it’s all pretty darn clear.

  11. No it’s not “pretty darn clear” that Meor is ultimately focused on recruitment.

    Meor says its about “the importance of Jewish values, identity, and community.” They don’t specifically state that their agenda is recruit people into ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

    Certainly relatively few of the Jews Meor contacts through their college campus outreach will ultimately affiliate with an ultra-Orthodox synagogue and community, but that is actually their goal.

    Meor doesn’t seem to care if the student is already a practicing Jew within a more liberal branch of Judaism.

    In such circumstances Meor will attempt to convince the potential recruit that any more modern liberal expression of Judaism is wrong and must be rejected.

    This has caused many Jewish families distress and in some situations estrangement.

  12. DaAdmin – in all due respect, I have to disagree. I’ve met many dozens of kids who have gone to programming run by Meor, Aish, Ascent and a few other kiruv organizations. And pretty much they all knew very quickly that the programming was run by black-hat orthodox entities, whose ultimate goal was to get them to lead a strictly orthodox (and not modern orthodox) life. Most say “thanks, but no thanks”. A few buy into it, but most don’t.
    But other than Lubavitch chabad, who may ultimately want secular/liberal jews to become strictly orthodox but are ok with them even just doing a bit more (eg lighting hanukah candles or having sabbath kiddush), all Kiruv organizations subscribe to a goal of strict orthodoxy or bust. It’s fundamental to their goal of strict Torah observance. Not sure why you have such an issue. They’re selling something and market it well. Kids know the deal. Birthright has an agenda – get Jewish kids to identify and marry other Jews. The organizations run by guys with big black yarmulkes and women with wigs – they have an agenda too: get kids to be strictly orthodox.

  13. Sam and Josh are neither looking carefully at the web sites, nor responding in good-faith to any of the specific criticisms of Meor or other organizations in the post and comments here. Rather, they are just responding with generalized automatic defenses and cliches that they have been trained to deliver. They don’t even realize that they are demonstrating their own exposure to indoctrination. Take for example Josh’s statement: “coming back to the States is like entering Sodom and Gemmorah.” Really, is Israel so kosher, even in the bubbles he referenced? America has its own Orthodox communities that have as much to offer as those in Israel. As for the society in general, the Midwest and South of the USA are more wholesome than most of Israel. Canada is more wholesome too. And not every college student staggers around in a drunken stupor and not every Shabbos table is warm and loving. Josh’s line, “Their community is supportive and energetic, and loving” is particularly revealing in its invocation of fantasy. How about the rabbi not returning the desperate mother’s calls? How about the man at the yeshiva who said, “I can see why he left his family. If you were my family I would leave too.” Does that sound loving and supportive? I’m not saying that there aren’t loving and supportive people out there, but to characterize an entire community like that is the kind of fantasy that newcomers are being fed. You want to say that the Modern Orthodox world is more integrated with society, particularly as far as careers go and suggest that maybe that makes more sense for newcomers? That could be, but Meor isn’t Modern Orthodox and the MO world doesn’t do much outreach. And even the little outreach they do is undermined by the obsession with getting everyone to live in Israel. What all the stories in the posts and comments here have in common is how the young men deteriorated after going to yeshivas in Israel. Dealing with a new religion and lifestyle and a new country (particularly one as idiosyncratic as Israel) is too much for most people. But the goal of many outreach groups is to get you to go to yeshiva in Israel.

    Sam and Josh are confusing Orthodox Judaism with outreach by these groups. They assume that if Meor and other outreach groups are run by Orthodox Jews that they must be wonderful because Orthodox Judaism is wonderful. And they try to sweep away all the heart-wrenching accounts of the parents here by saying that these parents just don’t understand Orthodox Judaism. Well, I’m Orthodox Jewish, and I find Meor’s tactics to be manipulative and destructive. And I know plenty of outreach people and have found that most of them aren’t trained at all in how to handle newcomers. They figure, oh I went to yeshiva and these kids don’t know anything, so I can lead them. I have witnessed mishandling of newcomers for decades and seen many tragedies and ruined lives. Each one gets written off as an odd-ball case of a person who had pre-existing problems.

    Sam says once one gets to the Meor events it’s clear that Orthodox Judaism is being promoted and many attendees simply say, “no thanks.” No, what they say is these people lied to me. They promised leadership training along with some talk of Jewish heritage, and they delivered recruitment into their religious group. The impression left by this first and possibly only encounter with Orthodox Jews is negative.

    You think that the Meor recruiters (whose yarmulkes are NOT obvious in many of their photos) are so idealistic? Did you know that many of them make more than $100,000 a year doing this? Check out their IRS 990s. It’s all there in black and white.

  14. What happened to the young men described here happened to me. I probably would have become Orthodox without the deceptive recruiting but did it in an unhealthy way because of the deception. I was seeking spirituality, talking to people from different religions, but was lured to a fanatical part of Orthodox Judaism in part by wealth. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but that’s what happened. My first Shabbos (Sabbath) was spent in ritzy Westchester, NY in a million-dollar home. Next one was in Monsey, NY in a 2-million-dollar home. It was the biggest house I had ever slept in. Then I spent a Shabbos in Brooklyn in a 1.3-million-dollar home. The brother-in-law of my host was one of the richest men in America and was listed in the Forbes 400. I later stayed at his wealthy daughter’s house where I met him. My childhood was spent in modest dwellings, and I was a graduate student at the time, living very simply in a rat-infested apartment, so this was overwhelming to me. They get rich people to host you. I’m not faulting the people for opening up their homes, but there is something misleading about it because that’s not how the typical Orthodox Jew lives. Then I went to a two-week program on a 22-acre resort in Connecticut. The feeling of wealth was palpable as we sat in the large dining hall, tended to by waiters. It was run by the same people who run Meor. The goal of that place was to get us to go to yeshiva in Israel. Fast forward two years later, and I’m sleeping without a blanket on a mildewy basement floor in a dilapidated yeshiva dorm being told that I can’t even take a part-time job because it will interrupt my Torah study. Like the guys described here, I became depressed, fearful, and just very strange. I didn’t walk in that way. It’s amazing what can happen to a person when he is being manipulated by uber-aggressive people, when his idealism is manipulated. It took me years to recover. I’m not faulting Orthodox Judaism. It’s the outreach people and some of the schools for baalei teshuvah (beginners) that mess you up. Many of them are deceptive and fanatical, and they don’t employ common sense.

  15. Denise Nabat @ 2023-04-08 18:25

    I am watching this happen with my nephew. I feel like they find kids who
    Can’t completely find their way yet and literally fish them in. All Jews should preach how important family is.. soon he won’t be able to hang out with his cousins. It’s ok to be more religious, but why would they encourage young adults to leave their family’s and disregard their beliefs? (We are reformed Jews) . His mother is mine conservative.

  16. This is currently happening to my son in Israel, at a Yeshiva. Like so many of the other posts my son also graduated from college and was an athlete. He was befriended by a Chabad Rabbi, on campus, who started to monopolize a lot of his time and recommended he go study in Israel. He will be coming back to the States, for a visit, in a few weeks. I would really appreciate any information from anybody that has successfully been able to talk their adult child out of returning to do more “studying”. I am very worried.

  17. That’s usually more the neo-Litivish/yeshivish approach, that everyone has to go study in Israel, and it is likely that this Chabad outreach guy has been influenced by this trend in the outreach world. Chabad youth in Israel actually come to Crown Heights to study. Chabad has three yeshivas for beginners in the USA (Brooklyn, Morristown, NJ, and Miami). The one in Brooklyn puts you in the epicenter of Chabad – Crown Heights. The one in NJ is the biggest, has a huge campus, and is right now building a huge multi-million-dollar building. You might consider visiting one of the schools with him. Then he’ll think of you being on his side and will be more open to your suggestions. If your son is becoming a Chabad guy, the NY area is the better bet for him. He spent his time in Israel. Time to come home and start his life. Part of Chabad philosophy is going out into the world to make it better. This means leaving Israel and leaving yeshiva. Is he at Mayanot now? That’s a Chabad school in Israel.

    Chabad doesn’t reduce the entire religion to study. Keeping mitzvahs (commandments) and having a balanced life is important in Chabad philosophy. The Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged many people to find ways to earn a living. Orthodox life is very expensive.

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe also has many quotes that talk about moving at a measured and sensible pace and keeping one’s mental health intact. Since your son is involved with Chabad, finding comments from the Rebbe might help. For example, “One can’t begin by teaching a beginner 613 laws or encouraging him to commit to several new practices all at once. Rather encourage him to take on a single good deed. Ensure that he knows this is one of many good deeds about which he will learn at a later stage. Right now, however, focus on this one good deed. And then we have God’s promise that when he will do that deed, it will have tremendous success.” (7th Lubavitcher Rebbe, “New World, Old Song,” JEM, 840)

  18. I’m not surprised to hear accounts of young people getting messed up from Lynn’s methods in Orthodox outreach since he attended Meor’s Machon Shlomo and employs the Meor technique of hiding any sign of Orthodoxy, bonding with young people through secular interests, giving them just a bite of tantalizing Jewish thought, then sending them off to an Ultra-Orthodox yeshiva where they get overdosed on religion in an isolated environment.

    You can see the method in an online interview. Search for Interview with Rabbi Shmuel Lynn — Max Raskin ( In the interview the charismatic Lynn (that’s not necessarily a complement when it comes to religious leadership) talks about how he enjoys the music of the rock band the Grateful Dead, which had a counter-culture/hippie cult following from the 60s through the mid-90s. He also mentions screenwriting, jazz bands, and sports. The banner on his Facebook page is a photo of him on a safari. In his feed is an invitation to join a group at an off-broadway show. Lynn’s Manhattan branch of Meor has a weekly gathering that is described by the Times of Israel ( ) as having “the typical trappings of a Manhattan hangout” where “20-somethings in jeans and button-downs crowd around tables, raising their voices to be heard over the loud pop music. The bar is stocked with bottles of Heineken and Blue Moon, wine, and liquor and mixers for cocktails.” Does any of that sound like Orthodox Judaism to you? But the ultimate goal of all this is to bring people into Orthodox Judaism, particularly black hat Ultra-Orthodoxy, which has no bars where singles mingle over drinks.

    Once Lynn bonds with young people via all that secular stuff, he tells the men that they must go to Machon Shlomo which he tries to portray in the interview as this “powerful” place with rabbis who he describes as being brilliant in Torah and secular subjects. It’s a myth. There’s nothing magical or powerful about this tiny school of 15 students and 4 part-time instructors in a broken-down apartment. Lynne no doubt was himself subject to the Machon Shlomo brainwashing that it is the best school in the history of universe. They have been hammering this into people’s heads for 40 years. It’s based on nothing.

    So off they go to Machon Shlomo (or its sister school Machon Yaakov) where they are brought into some form of Ultra-Orthodoxy (albeit UO light in many cases) where secular interests are generally shunned, maybe minimally tolerated just a token amount. In that world, a man is supposed to fill all his free time with Torah study, so to recruit using secular interests is fundamentally deceptive. That’s what Machon Shlomo students do — study Gemara all day long. They don’t write screen plays or go on safaris. They don’t hang out with pretty girls at bars. All those interests through which they are recruited are left at the door.

    If Meor directed them to Modern Orthodoxy, some segments of which allow some secular interests and don’t insist on shipping them off to yeshiva in Israel, it wouldn’t be so bad. But off to Israel they go. And one hears at Machon Shlomo many diatribes against Modern Orthodoxy. Lynn and the directors of Meor and Machon Shlomo wear black hats. They are not Modern Orthodox. At least they don’t identify themselves with that tag.

    Most of Orthodox Jewish outreach is not like this. Meor is run by baalei teshuvah, ie. beginners in the religion and the problem is that they are mixing worlds in a way that people who have been religious all their lives never could. People who have been religious their whole lives couldn’t concoct such a façade. They have never heard of the Grateful Dead or Jazz bands. They just don’t talk this way. This is the Meor approach and it’s dangerous. Some people may report positive experiences with Meor and its two schools (that’s true of anything, including the Moonies), but many are ruined by them and Meor pretends that they don’t exist. They’ll say, oh those guys had problems even though many of them were very productive citizens before getting involved with Meor.

    So if you are puzzled by what happened to your sons, it’s all there on the web. Look at the Meor websites, including (Meor of Manhattan) and read its vague offers of meaning, joy, and leadership and see the photos of the pretty young ladies as they hang out with the young men. Note how there isn’t a hint of Orthodox Judaism. Then read the interview I mentioned and see the recruitment method on display.

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