Does Oorah Need Money? What Do They Do With it?


rabbi-lipschutzBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Who in our world hasn’t heard of Oorah? Who isn’t in on the search for Fiveish? The most loveable, charming and memorable campaigns for any Jewish organization are no doubt those produced by and for Oorah. But who are the people behind Oorah? Do you ever wonder?

A few weeks ago, I met with some people at Oorah’s headquarters in Lakewood, NJ. Like many of you, I had viewed the organization as a goofy bunch of people with a catchy radio jingle and great advertising. I knew that they were into kiruv and had a camp or two, but I didn’t really know why they needed so much money and what they did with it. Intrigued, I took advantage of an opportunity to discover the answers firsthand.

What I found there was not only awe-inspiring, but an unexpected and wonderful life-lesson.

Oorah’s public image couldn’t be farther from the truth. A successful educational and outreach group, the only area in which this organization is lacking, ironically, is public relations. They spend considerable amounts on marketing strategies but forget to include an important piece of the picture: who are the individuals behind this unusual organization? What are they doing when they aren’t playing Fiveish?

The same genius Oorah activists have for marketing, they have for kiruv work, but they are too normal and self-conscious to hype up their own personal image. You run into this noble quality in some dedicated people who throw their time and energy into helping others. They are altruistic and bashful about their accomplishments and feel uncomfortable talking about themselves. But usually there’s a downside to their modesty: when they have to reach out for financial support from the community to be able to maintain their activities, they are surprised and disheartened that the money isn’t forthcoming.

It’s not hard to understand. With the economy in shambles, it is much tougher to raise money for charities. People aren’t earning enough income to sustain their lifestyles, pay steep yeshiva tuitions, while also being constantly solicited for extra donations to keep the mosdos viable.

For a long time, as the Jewish community expanded and yeshivos and days schools proliferated, the going was good. Some schools didn’t have to engage in real fundraising. To keep themselves going, all these schools did was squeeze the parents a little more and they were able to make a go of it. There was no need to maintain a healthy relationship with the broader community and to develop lasting friendships and a sustainable donor base.

We are feeling the painful fallout from that system now. It is only those who were enterprising enough to develop a wide circle of friends and supporters who are able to sustain the current downturn without turning to loans and other desperate moves in order to remain viable.

It is by building relationships and aiming to achieve something with our lives that we can go on to do great things.

In our fast-paced world, people are too pressured to notice anything but the exceptional. To win recognition, one must stand out, produce something unique and memorable. Yet we tend to copy what the other guy has done, instead of being original. We try to copy someone else’s campaign and then wonder why it worked for them and not for us.

In order to succeed in a crowded marketplace of ideas and causes, we have to be more proactive, creative and intelligent in selling ourselves and our product.

There are so many organizations out there competing for the same charity dollar that in order to have a chance of getting those funds, we have to be able to communicate to potential donors what it is about our organization that sets it apart and makes it worthy of support.

In an economy such as ours, you have to be prepared to spend money to promote yourself, or you will get lost in the shuffle.

This is what Oorah has done. It has made a career out of marketing its vision and its success has a lot to teach other mosdos. They’ve done it partly by building a solid base of support which can sustain them in good times and bad. They have considerable name recognition in the Jewish community.

We owe it to them and to ourselves to understand what it is that they really do and how they are unique.

Founded by a simple tzaddik, Rav Chaim Mintz, mashgiach of the Yeshiva of Staten Island, Oorah takes a cradle-to-the-grave approach to kiruv. The Mintzes don’t just introduce a Jew to Torah and leave them there to fend for themselves. They, and the organization they established, remain connected with them and their family, for the rest their lives, providing regular support to those who become frum. In essence, Oorah becomes their extended family.

They do this with a network of over 1,300 volunteers who are actively involved with over 2,000 families, impacting between 8,000 and 10,000 Jews on an annual basis.

They pay tuition for children at 100 different day schools and yeshivos. In fact, they spend over $130,000 a month so that Jewish children can receive the education they deserve.

Over 500 Jewish children and teenagers attend Oorah’s highly subsidized overnight kiruv camps, BoyZone, Boys TeenZone, GirlZone, Girls TeenZone, and Discover-U.

The camp staff members are bnei Torah of the highest caliber who dedicate their bein hasedorim and bein hazemanim to bring kids closer to Hashem. I was told that as you enter the boys’ camp, you feel as if you’ve entered one of the largest botei medrash in the mountains, with 200 yeshiva bochurim and yungeleit – from leading yeshivos – serving on staff.

The camps are entry points into a Jewish child’s life. Each child is set up with a yeshiva bochur or Bais Yaakov girl as a big brother or big sister to learn with at least once a week. These children continue receiving guidance not just in camp but throughout the year. The Torah Mates learning program was established to bring regular learning over the phone to these children and teenagers, as well as to adults. Over 1,400 adults currently participate.

There are also regular BoyZone and GirlZone trips and Shabbatons throughout the year to keep in touch with the kids and make sure they are progressing.

I am sure that many of you reading this article didn’t know about what I have shared. You probably also didn’t know that at a recent “Shabbat with Oorah” family Shabbaton, over 600 people attended and enjoyed the blessings of a Shabbos together with Oorah volunteers.

Did you know that Oorah hosts Avos Ubonim programs in multiple locations, providing the avos to learn with both avos and bonim?

I could go on and tell you about how many baalei teshuva were at their Purim seudah and how many mishloach manos they sent out, how many sets of arbah minim, how many Sukkos they put up, how many kids they took on chol hamoeid trips, how many shiduchim they redt, and all kinds of other tidbits of information, but I don’t want to bore you. Besides, I am not their spokesman.

The Bnei Torah who head their divisions, staff their headquarters and volunteer by the hundreds, are a talented and dedicated group. They demonstrate a business acumen they could have used to enrich themselves. Together with the devoted hard-working Lakewood women who are the force behind Oorah, they are using their talents to enrich the community and Klal Yisroel.

The last time I was in Eretz Yisroel, I bumped into Rabbi Mintz. He told me that he was in Yerushalayim to check up on Oorah’s post-yeshiva program which helps Oorah-sponsored students through their yeshiva years as they learn in Israel. I had no clue that Rabbi Mintz maintains a satellite Oorah office in Israel with a full-time staff and volunteers who arrange trips and Shabbatons, and offer their talmidim regular home-away-from-home counseling and guidance. That is the degree to which Oorah views its responsibility to bnei ub’nos Yisroel.

Rabbi Mintz is so nonchalant about what he does, so humble and self effacing, that he was almost embarrassed to tell me what he was doing there.

This dichotomy, whereby Oorah is so well-known for its advertising, yet less known for its world-changing and global kiruv efforts, is striking.

We should recognize how unique, in our age of hype and self-promotion, is the kind of avodas hakdoesh performed under the radar that defines this organization. Hiding under our noses in plain sight is a remarkable organization that is bringing thousands of men, women and children tachas kanfei haShechinah.

We should commend Oorah for establishing an organization of this magnitude which sustains itself by maintaining a high level of professionalism and fundraising, permitting it to exist on small donations through grassroots efforts.

As the marketing arm of Oorah heats up in anticipation of its annual Chinese auction, we will be seeing more of the ubiquitous and lovable Fiveish and his antics. We should encourage other organizations to think out of the box, to come up with methods to sustain themselves and enable them to provide much needed services to the community.

True, we are strained and overtaxed. Tzorchei amchah merubim. There are so many good causes, so many needy people, and so many yeshivos and schools desperate for funds. Perhaps Oorah can open a new division and share some of its secrets. In the meantime, let’s pay homage to these unsung askonim camouflaged from view by their creation of Fiveish. Far from the spotlight, these dedicated people are bringing neshamos closer to the Ribono Shel Olam every day.

As we prepare for the Yom Tov of Pesach and search through all of our belongings and possessions to find what has accumulated there without our knowledge over the year, perhaps we should also look through Klal Yisroel and see what is “hiding.” Just as stores regularly take inventory, we should review what is going on in Jewish life, no less than what is transpiring in our personal lives. We should examine what is good and what isn’t; what needs repair and what needs to be junked.

You never know. So often we find hype with little substance behind it and sometimes, if we dig deep enough, we can find that elusive diamond in the rough that, like Oorah, is waiting to be mined, polished and appreciated.

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  1. all too often we find ourselves asking cynical questions about various mosdos that have lavish tzedakah campaigns
    DO they really need so much money ?
    or better yet – what in the world do they do with all that money ?

    When organizations like oorah, delineate all the wonderful ways our tzadakah dollars are being used it not only validates the importance of giving tzadakah but shows how transparency in our mosdos can be a true kiddush hashem .

    Kudos to Harav mintz and his team, may they continue in their Avodas Hakodesh.

  2. I’ve had the same exact conversations with friends of mine in regards to other mosdos being as creative as Oorah with their fundraising.
    Problem is that the while the wildly sucsessful Chinese auction is now done on a small scale by almost all mosdos, the magnitude of the Oorah Chinese Auction is impossible to duplicate because they cornered the market.
    Kars for Kids is another great idea, but at the same time it’s hard for another mosod to compete with their well oiled machine. Additionally, they’ve set up Kars For Kids as a full time fully staffed business (I have a friend that works there) and many mosdos don’t have the resources or wherewithall to venture into starting a “business” from the bottom up.

  3. Every time I see or hear what Oorah does I am more amazed!

    When a staff member signs a camp contract, he/she isn’t agreeing to a salary, but rather to be available to his/her campers not only in the summer, but year round! They are truly dedicated in every way. No one leaves after the summer, they just continue with different forms of contact!

    Keep up the amazing work!!!

  4. In an ideal world, i would rather see people want to give tzedakah for the mitzvah’s sake, and that’s it. Unfortunetaly we have created a sociaty mindset that we first see what we can get in return (ie. chinese auctions, raffles, gifts etc) and then decide where to give. The concept of giving tzedakah for the mitzveh is being watered down, especially to our younger generation. Often the children view giving to these organizations as though they are going shopping, making selections in the beutiful high-quality brochures. I commend Oorah for being at the forefront in all this, but I just wish they and all other mosdos would’nt have to put on a ‘madison ave’ hat in order to sell themselves; rather their great works should speak for themselves, and we, the am hanivchar, will answer their call because Hashem wills us to, and not for our own reasons.

  5. The best thing about is that all the good phone deals these days you need an internet connection. With cucumber you get an unlimited plan and you don’t need an internet connection.i am very happy with their service and i am happier that the money is going to fund such a choshuve organization.1800-cucumber

  6. #3: This is a cop out. No big sponsors started Oorah off. Rabbi Lipschitz’s point is DON’T imitate, be creative on your own!

  7. Yasher Koach to all the quiet askanim who do their work without having the need to ttot a horn for applause. This is true oseik betzarchei tzibbur b’emunah.

    With the rough economy and people curtailing their tzeddakah dollars and giving only to places they used to give, these quiet askanim may have difficulty having regular people be mishalem secharam, but Hakadosh Baruch Hu never forsakes them.

    These quiet askanim should be zoche to simcha, gezunt, parnassah with their happy families ad meiah v’esrim shana.

  8. were in an economy where many institutions need money and if one charity institution seems to have enough money for more lavish and expensive advertising then most buisness seems to be able to do, were not even allowed to ask the question about where all this money is going and what its doing and whos receiving it all??

    Im sorry!

  9. Oorah is filling a need in kiruv that many other orgs. leave out—accompanying the baalei teshuva on their journey in order to create successful long-term outcome.

  10. You missed the point. the point was that advertising pays. by them spending so much on advertising they bring in in proportion much more of a percentage than the average tzedakah .

  11. I Saw first hand what great work they have done with my Students From Abrams Hebrew Academy. I spent a Shabbbos in Boys Zone What An Amazing job!

  12. You’re right, #5, but we don;t live in an ideal world. And frankly, selling the cahnce to win a prize is far less offensive to me then trying to peddle segulos and yeshuos.

    Agent Emes, I don’t their numbers, but look at it this way: If a 50 cent investment brings in a dollar — but they would have gotten nothing without the 50 cent investment — they’re 50 cents ahead. You might argue that “they’re wasting money.” The rest of us will support their work…

  13. To Agent Emess Time (#10)
    You are mistaken. They really don’t throw all their dollars into advertising. They place their advertisements efficiently and effectively. It’s called target marketing.
    do you see an ad for their Auction in the summer months? No, of course not! Do they advertise where they shouldn’t? Of course not! They track their advwertisements and the effectiveness but how their campigns produce.

    It’s really simple mathematics.