NEW YORK (JTA) — An independent Jewish organization at the University of Pennsylvania has stopped offering students a stipend to participate in one of its programs after parents objected to the practice.
Since 2004, Meor has offered a $400 stipend for students to participate in its Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program.
More than 850 students have completed the semester-long program, which involves weekly seminars mixing lecture and discussion with Jewish leaders and educators. The concerned parents found the stipend “suspicious,” according the campus student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian.
The parents brought their complaints to Penn’s Office of the Chaplain, which is responsible for coordinating religious activities on campus. Meor, which is recognized by the university but does not receive funding, reached an agreement with the university’s chaplain, the Rev. Charles Howard, to stop offering the stipend.
“In 10 years we have only had a few complaints — three or four that I’m aware of — from parents who have their own agendas and disagree with their children getting interested in Judaism,” Meor’s executive director, Rabbi Shmuel Lynn, told JTA. “Parents see that a religious organization is offering their children money to participate in a program and they are concerned about that.”
Only students who completed the program received the stipend, and they were free to use it at their discretion. Lynn said that he understands how parents might perceive the stipend as a type of payment for students to learn about Judaism.
He said the students were encouraged to use the money for charitable causes and that the program does not foist an agenda on participants.
“We want to help students engage with Judaism in a vibrant and intelligent way. What they do with the information is their own prerogative,” Lynn said.
Other religious organizations also offer stipends for students who complete certain programs. Chabad, another Jewish group on campus, offers a $350 stipend for participants in its Sinai Scholars program. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that the Chaplain’s Office has not contacted Chabad about the stipends.
“All the organizations on campus offer stipends,” Lynn said. “These are busy students with busy lives, so it’s really just the same thing that goes on in all the other departments.”
Lynn considers the program to be “very successful” and believes in its continued success even without the stipend. The extra money will be used to provide more texts and to further subsidize trips for participants to Israel, Poland, Russia and elsewhere.