When Allyson Marcus arrived at the Jewish Awareness Movement’s Shabbat afternoon luncheon near the University of Southern California, she wasn’t expecting to return home in tears. That, however, is how things turned out for Marcus, then a senior at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. After talking throughout the meal with a group of male friends, Marcus was confronted as she left the table by Bracha Zaret, the wife of Moshe Zaret, a Jewish Awareness Movement rabbi. The rebbetzin, apparently incensed by Marcus’ immodesty, asked her if she was on any medication. Marcus was puzzled, not realizing that the question was meant as an insult. Zaret then kicked her out of the house, telling her that she would never amount to anything and would be unmarried at forty.
Such stories are not uncommon in interviews with students who have interacted with the Jewish Awareness Movement, or JAM, an Orthodox outreach group active on five California campuses. JAM’s aggressive techniques and single-minded focus on making students more observant distinguish it from more established outreach organizations. Interviews, coupled with reports on the blog kvetcher.jewschool.com and in the Daily Trojan, USC’s campus newspaper, have painted a picture of a group that routinely practices high-pressure tactics, including deceptive advertising and persistent unwanted phone calls, and is sometimes rude and dismissive towards those who don’t meet its standards.
Rabbis on JAM’s staff did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
In September, the University of Southern California’s Office of Religious Life disallowed JAM’s rabbis from advising the JAM chapter on the USC campus. The expulsion was a direct result of an e-mail sent by one of the two JAM rabbis, Daniel Geffen, advertising that alcohol would be served at an event open to underage students. A November 2007 article in the Daily Trojan about the incident also reported that the University’s Office of Religious Life and Student Affairs had received complaints from students who felt harassed by the JAM campus rabbis. Some had received repeated phone calls from rabbis after asking them to stop calling.
This was not the first time that JAM’s activities had raised eyebrows at USC. An April 2006 article in the Daily Trojan describes an incident in which a JAM rabbi named Avi Wosner promised students an opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg on a film project. Students who signed on quickly discovered that Spielberg was in no way involved.
The Bozoer Rebbe emails: “I saw the post about JAM treating a young woman rudely. It would be nice if you posted an update to that post indicating that JAM and JAAM, Jewish Awareness America, are not affiliated with each other. I know the folks who run JAAM and I find it impossible to believe that any of their staffers would act as the rebbetzin from JAM.”