Sunday, February 17, 2008

Oorah and Cars-For-Kids

There has been an expose of the charity organization Oorah broadcast on New York television station WPIX, channel 11. In response YeshivaWorld world featured a letter which was written in disgusted response to channel 11.

Unfortunatley for some reason I can’t access the link provided on YeshivaWorld even though I’ve tried several different ways of doing it. So I am at a bit of a disadvantage. With that disclaimer in place I will proceed. In any case the issue I address is not really so much to defend channel 11 as it is to critisize Oorah about something that has bothered me for quite some time.

The general feeling in the Frum community seems to be that Oorah - a worthy charitable organization was smeared. At least that’s what the letter writer seemed to say. Most of the commentary seems to be righteous indignation against channel 11 characterization of Oorah, calling it a smear campaign and yellow journalism. The feeling seems to be that a great Tzedaka organization has been been seriously damaged in their fund raising efforts.

I don’t know that much about Oorah. But I do know about their 1-800 cars-for-kids ad campaign. In fact I’m sure that most people who listen to the radio have heard their catchy jingle. People are asked to donate their old ‘clunker’ cars to the organization in exchange for a huge tax deduction - the maximum legally allowable. The ad suggests that the money will go towards the education of poor children or some such generic description. No mention of the name Oorah as the sponsoring organization. No mention that the organization is an Orthodox Jewish one and that the recipients are all Jews… probably mostly Orthodox Jews.

If as I suspect the expose was about this deceptive tactic, then the expose is legitimate. It may have looked like a smear but I would not characterize exposing this information as a smear. Again, I didn’t see the piece so I have to reserve judgment – pro or con – about channel 11. But I do not reserve judgment on their deceptive tactic.

I’m sad for the recipients of the charities that Oorah provides for. They will likely suffer. But G’nevas Daas (deception – which is forbidden by Halacha - Jewish law - against Jew and gentile) is not the way to raise money. And that is exactly what the cars-for-kids campaign is doing. The average person who listens to these ads and donates their cars to it thinks ot is a non sectarian charity. And donates their cars primarily on that premise.

Now I’m sure that there are many good Christians out there that would willingly give charity to a Jewish organization that provides for the Jewish poor even without a tax deduction. But it is not fair that they are not made aware of that when they donate.

To demonstrate the extent of this deception let's imagine the following.

Let’s say it was Evangelicals doing this. They advertise a charity campaign that implies it is non sectarian not revealing who is behind it. But in fact all donations go only to Evangelical causes. There are many good hearted Jews who give to secular charity organizations. Many Jews are motivated to give a donation to an organization that helps feed the poor in America… or anywhere else. Jews give charity in large amounts. Is it right that they are not informed that the money is going to fund only Evangelical charitable organizations? I don’t think so.

Add to this the possibility that a significant portion of that money goes towards teaching the recipient children about religious practices. Does anyone think omitting pertinent facts about the religious affiliation of the organization and their religiously exclusive recipients is OK?

What Oorah does may be legal but is wrong. It is G'neivas Daas and it is a sorry situation when an Orthodox Jewish organization gets caught in this deception - legal or not. That other religions may have similarly deceptive programs doesn’t really matter. Wrong is wrong.

And if as I suspect Oorah was exposed in this manner, the indignation by the letter write on YeshivaWorld is misplaced. The indignation ought to be against Oorah!