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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Outlooks on Outreach

(Note - I had the whole post written and was trying to publish it when Blogger decided it had a different plan. Please bear with the end of the post if it isn't well-written, I had to re-write it, which I hate.) My father subscribes me to magazines on a random basis. In the past I have found copies of Newsweek and Moment magazines in my mailbox unexpectedly. It's very cute of my dad, and I appreciate it. Unfortunately, I don't always have the time to read them. My father also subscribes me to the Deep South Jewish Voice (DSJV) (complete with ads for Piggly Wiggly grocery store). Again, I don't always have the time to devote to reading the whole thing, but I usually skim it and check out the mazel tov section to see who I know has gotten engaged, married of had children. Also, there are often pictures of the kids who were my campers when they were 8 years old, who have now gone on to graduate college. It's crazy. Last night, I had a few minutes to spare and a couple back issues of the DSJV to catch up on. I was flipping through, and I came to a section where they had two viewpoints on "outreach." The first was an article from Jack Wertheimer and Steven Bayme that initially was printed in the Jewish Week. It spoke about the importance of converting those non-Jews who are married to Jews. The other viewpoint was from Rabbi Avi Shafran and his perspective on Jewish outreach coming from an Orthodox viewpoint. I have to admit that, probably unsurprisingly, I side more with Rabbi Shafran's view of outreach. I don't think conversion is a way to battle dwindling numbers of Jews. I understand where Wertheimer and Bayme are coming from - they view it as better to convert a person who is already involved in an intermarriage, so that the children have a chance at identifying Jewishly, than ostracizing those non-Jews altogether, giving them a negative view of Judaism and eliminating them, and their very often Jewish children, from connecting and having positive feelings about Judaism. I have been in the Orthodox world so long that it was surprising for me to read that Jewish outreach was being focused on non-Jews rather than Jews. But I guess it shouldn't have come as a shock. I remember clearly when I realized I had to leave Birmingham. It was when I saw that the Reform Temple which my family belonged to had a support group for intermarried couples - yet no singles group for Jews to meet other Jews. To me, that was a case of faulty priorities. I have a hard time relating to a world in which Jews are not proud of their heritage. You would think it would be different - I have lots of intermarried family and quite a few relatives who don't really identify Jewishly (and that's for those of my relative who are actually Jewish!). But, my family was always a bit different. My father worked in Jewish communal services, he life was the Jewish community. Because of this, even while often being the only Jewish student in my school, I was proud of my difference rather than making attempts to hide it. Because I didn't know many Jews, it was something special about me, rather than something that was just another variation between students, like eye color or height. So I think it's important to focus on those Jews who don't feel Jewish. To make them comfortable within the Jewish community, to encourage them to focus on Jewish life. I don't hold the belief that every Jew must be Orthodox, doing kiruv is not at the top of my list of priorities (maybe it should be, but I think it's more important at this point to just give others a positive impression of Orthodox Jews). But I think what needs to be done with our outreach efforts at this point is not making non-Jews comfortable within Judaism - it's make Jews feel comfortable. Have a good Shabbos!

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