A Chabad organization that targets teenagers is applying for Education Ministry recognition. If the request is granted, Chabad Lanoar, also known as CTeen – whose directors have praised what they see as a rise in religious observance among secular Israelis – will receive state funding for its activities.
A different Chabad organization with a similar Hebrew name has already received formal recognition and government funding. Noar Chabad encourages its activists around the country to establish Good Deeds clubs for children and teens as “a way to connect to Israel’s children and influence them.” These clubs’ goals are to “give joy to the rebbe,” a reference to the late Menachem M. Schneerson, the Chabad dynasty’s last rebbe, and “to bring on the Redemption,” among others.
CTeen’s application is under review by the Education Ministry committee that is responsible for allocations for informal education groups. The state supports about 20 such organizations. They include the Magen David Adom Youth Organization, through which teens learn and perform first aid, including by volunteering on ambulance crews, and Israel Gay Youth, which provides social frameworks for LGBTQ teens. About one-third of the organizations are religious or ultra-Orthodox. The combined funding for all these organizations from the Education Ministry was about 76 million shekels ($24 million) in 2020.
According to CTeen’s Hebrew-language Facebook page, the organization was found “to give teens the values of community involvement and personal empowerment.” It operates 24 branches nationwide. The description given to Israel’s Registrar of Nonprofit Associations is more detailed, and includes “giving Torah lessons to teens” and “increasing Jewish identity activities in [elementary] and high schools.” In contrast to the Noar Chabad, CTeen targets its activities beyond members of Chabad and other Haredi communities.
CTeen is headed by Rabbi Moshe Shilat. “The secular public is searching for tradition and always prefers Orthodox Judaism and not all the imitations,” Shilat said at a convention in 2019. In a recent interview with a Chabad website, he mentioned that “The rebbe [Schneerson] spoke innumerable times about the youth in the Holy Land and the duty to bring them closer [to Judaism] in a myriad ways.”
The other youth organizations that have received Education Ministry recognition, including the religious ones, tend to focus their work on their own communities. “We face outward, to everyone,” Shilat told Haaretz. “We don’t engage in bringing people back to faith, but rather in inculcating values, and we are proud of this. We operate in accordance with the law and we meet all of the threshold conditions” of the Education Ministry, he said.
The Secular Forum, whose goals, as specified on its English-language website, include “arresting the religious radicalization of the public education system while nurturing the Hebrew culture and its Jewish humanistic roots,” says that the Education Ministry “must eschew any recognition and funding of a youth organization whose aim is religious proselytization among secular children and teens.”
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A publication issued by Noar Chabad, which has no connection to CTeen apart from the joint affiliation with the Chabad movement, offers a glimpse of its modus operandi within Israel’s secular Jewish communities. “In the Good Deeds Club your children will meet an atmosphere of experience and fun. They will acquire values and tradition through play, song and creativity, and will come home happy.” The avowed goal is to “develop young leadership in combination with Jewish values and tradition.” The clubs are for “boys and girls in secular and religious public schools, in grades 1-4.” According to Noar Chabad’s website, the program’s 250 clubs serve 4,800 children.
The organization received about 2.8 million shekels from the Education Ministry in 2020. “Our activity suits the sphere in which we operate,” said the organization’s CEO, Rabbi Yair Borochov. “The Good Deeds Club provides a set of values and virtues with a connection to Jewish tradition and operates with full transparency vis-a-vis the parents – who support it financially. Participation is voluntary, based on the full knowledge and choice of the parents.”
A source in the Education Ministry who is involved in the agency’s supervision of nonprofit organizations and who spoke on condition of anonymity was skeptical about the possibility of keeping the finances of the Good Deeds Club separate from the allocations from the ministry.
In a response, the ministry said it would examine whether Noar Chabad had violated the terms of funding and withdraw its support if it determined that it had done so.