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Michael Levy

From Conversations: Readers Respond to A Review of Kiruv

Developing and Implementing a Target-Centered Cooperative Outreach Strategy


For the purposes of this article, those who conduct outreach will be referred to as “sources.” Recipients of outreach efforts will be referred to as “targets.”

Many of the contributors to the Fall 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives are also Sources, who can justifiably highlight outreach successes. Rather than competing, the sources should consider coordinating their strategies to maximize their effectiveness through a cooperative target-centered approach.

An Ailment that Requires Treatment

If Orthodox Judaism is the heart of Klal Yisrael, then assimilation occurs most severely in the extremities of the body that are farthest from the heart. These extremities have the least access to the nourishment provided by Torah-rich arteries.

Some doctors specialize in short-term treatment to stave off the progress of symptoms, even though they know that only long-term treatment can cure the ailment. A doctor who specializes in long-term treatment, however, understands that short-term treatment will only keep a patient from succumbing to the ailment for a while, but recognizes that the patient must also undergo long-term treatment at the same time.

Since financial and manpower resources are limited, target-centered coordination among “specialists” can maximize the effectiveness of treatment efforts.

Three Outreach Models

All the contributors refer to one or more of three outreach models:

The Avraham Avinu Model

First and foremost, Avraham Avinu helped wayfarers based on their particular needs for food and shelter. Only after their needs were satisfied did he introduce them to monotheism. At least initially, what attracted them was his generosity and care. They saw the joy with which he greeted his guests, and felt comfortable because they were clearly the focus of his undivided attention, to the point that he (in one midrashic incident) gave them higher priority than the Shechina (Divine Presence) itself.

Avraham’s “treatment” was short-term. People continued their journeys with a more positive outlook regarding monotheism. Some of the men engaged in further study with Avraham; some women studied with Sarah.

As many of the contributors to Klal Perspectives pointed out, today’s wayfarers travel on the Internet and social media. Rabbi Ilan Feldman discovered wayfarers during an Israel trip. Lori Palatnik brings them together through the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project. Chabad is admirably famous for seeking wayfarers worldwide, and offering them a warm and nourishing home away from home.

As part of its work, Aish HaTorah provides spiritual places of lodging to Internet travelers. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald advocates frequenting the ever-changing roads traveled by the wayfarers, just as Avraham would leave his tent to seek wayfarers where they might be traveling.

Today, there seem to be fewer wayfarers on the road than in the past. As far as I can determine, no contributor mentioned that the Jewish population as a whole, like its secular counterpart, is aging. In addition, a multitude of secular blandishments have convinced many Jews that they have reached their Promised Land, even if it contains little or no authentic Judaism.

Sources may offer these “at-home” Jews a variety of incentives to leave their comfort zones, but in the long run, you cannot effectively treat someone who considers himself to be perfectly healthy.

We have a tradition that our “Jewish patients,” even the most assimilated, have a spiritual genetic trait that mystically draws them to Avraham’s tent. One can only pray that the “pintele Yid” is strong enough to withstand a very powerful malady.

There are Jews who are physically as well as spiritually lonely. The “soulful Judaism” described by Rabbi Moshe Weinberger in a previous issue, and similar settings like Carlebach minyanim, succeed because they not only are enthusiastic about G-d, but also show love to fellow Jews.

We are Ignoring Many Wayfarers

While contributors mentioned individuals estranged from their heritage, they ignored populations who seek access to Judaism but face barriers.

Print-disabled individuals have limited access to learning and davening (inaccessible websites are inexcusable). Jews with mobility impairments are unable to attend places of worship, study and celebration. Attitudinal barriers keep many Jews with disabilities (who may number up to 15% of the population) from enjoying the rich ongoing life of Klal Yisrael.

The intense, lifelong services provided to perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 Jews, mostly cognitively disabled, are laudable. However, it does not please me that intense dramatic attention focuses exclusively on them, and their specialness and courage, while, hundreds of thousands of other Jews losing their sight, hearing, ability to communicate, and mobility, or never having had these faculties to lose to begin with, are at best ignored and sometimes not welcomed by Orthodox Judaism. Even the zero-cost accommodations they request are sometimes ignored.

Christians have always offered a warm welcome to the Jewish disabled. Some of the Orthodox Jewish disabled find a more welcoming home in other Jewish denominations.

Many Jews with disabilities call, and there is no response. Understandably, they may eventually stop calling.

Sources who promote lifelong services for Jews with certain disabilities may, perhaps unintentionally, have convinced Klal Yisrael that they are serving all disabled Jews. Meanwhile, less costly and sometimes more temporary accommodations for the vast majority of Jews with disabilities continue to be overlooked. To paraphrase Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, the Orthodox Jewish establishment should consider the many thousands of Jewish souls in the disability community who are being lost and who will be lost because of their further alienation.

Circumstances may force women to become wayfarers at any stage of their lives. They are a minority in society and must struggle against cultural bias and sometimes not so hidden discrimination. In the Jewish world, including the Orthodox Jewish world, attention and reward may more often be lavished on boys and men.

Can halacha accommodate women who wish to see and hear the rabbi? Can a multi-minyan structure enable husbands to care for the children while their wives hear a drasha? Would not such innovations constitute a kind of outreach?

Other marginalized groups include singles (especially those raising families or widowed in old age), divorcees, women considered unattractive and less suitable for shidduchim, broken families, people too poor to pay for the affiliation they seek, individual Jewish children who need Big Sisters and Big Brothers, the Jewish homeless, those fighting government, insurance and other bureaucracies for needed services, benefits and treatments, those coping with serious illness, the Jewish unemployed, newcomers to a neighborhood and families experiencing stressful life cycle events like birth and bereavement.

In many of these situations, what is most needed is a smiling face and a helping hand. If it is a smiling Orthodox Jewish face and a smiling Orthodox Jewish helping hand, that is outreach.

Our rabbis and educators must lead us in reminding every single observant Jew that any kindness or assistance that he/she can provide to a fellow Jew, of whatever denomination, is a potentially successful outreach. Success is measured in these cases by the target understanding that another Jew cares for him.

At least for now, some of the less affiliated targets have identifiably Jewish names. In this respect, the social media and data mining could search out those in need of assistance.

A Lesson from the Past

In its heyday, the Conservative Jewish United Synagogue Youth (USY) offered a variety of Jewish experiences. Many teenagers came to USY to enjoy a Jewish social event, with perhaps a passing interest in Jewish observance.

At USY events, there were always peers and leaders who were a little more serious, who intimated that there was more to Judaism than a fun time. Those USY-ers who were interested gravitated to these peers and leaders. They were self-selecting; there was no judgment or coercion, just friendship and genuine care.

In addition to offering a welcoming front door, those who employ the Avraham outreach model should provide guiding lights to a door for those who wish to take the next step on the journey towards observance.

Perhaps we could expand Chabad’s strategy of establishing entry points wherever Jews of any or no affiliation gather. Orthodox Jews with something informative and genuine to say should consider appearing at Limmud conventions, federation gatherings and even nominally Jewish sports events and concerts.

The Yeshiva Model

Non-halachic Jewish movements become extinct. This is not a condemnation or judgment. It is a historical fact.

Returning to the medical analogy, halachic observance is a cure for those alienated from the observant heart of Klal Yisrael. As was pointed out in the Fall 2012 issue of Klal Perspectives, sometimes treatment is not an effective option, because it comes too late.

Any study of Torah is meritorious. While chevruta or institution-based learning is ideal, every outreach organization should appreciate all genuine online and adult education learning opportunities, not just its own Internet initiatives or the Jewish websites that attract the most “hits.” Don’t leave out Rabbi Simon Jacobson or Rabbi David Fohrman.

Before addressing outreach co-ordination efforts, there is one more model to examine.

š The Inspirational Model

The more an outreach effort relies solely on inspiration, the less likely it is to succeed. Inspiration has a long and mostly disastrous history in Jewish tradition.

The enthusiasm generated by the miracle at the splitting of the sea lasted a couple of days. Some of Bnei Yisrael worshipped the golden calf forty days after the revelation at Sinai.

From the judges through Elijah’s confrontation with the Baal prophets, inspirational victories and miracles were often followed by backsliding. In today’s cynical society, even a whiff of inspirational rhetoric will cause many Jews to seek cover elsewhere.

Inspiration can be a short-term draw, but it will succeed only as much as it partakes of the Avraham and Yeshiva outreach models.

A Common and Cooperative Outreach Strategy

At the very least, the Internet could feature an indexed outreach clearing-house of all Orthodox Jewish outreach movements. It could contain standard location, description and contact information, and perhaps a brief blurb. Jews seeking “something” could peruse the clearing-house. I am thinking of an Orthodox version of

Alternatively, sources employing the Avraham outreach model could cooperate to produce a standard written form, which an individual can choose to complete. This form could be compared to “medical history and current condition” forms which “entry point doctors” use to assess a patient.

The form should be developed in such a way as to guide the target to the next step which would be most effective and appropriate for him/her. It could be done by “computer match,” or a human guide not biased towards any particular outreach initiative.

Herein is the “crunch point”:

Let’s say that Source X has succeeded in increasing the interest of Target A in Judaism. However, the most effective step for Target A might be to seek affiliation not just with Source X, or not at all with Source X, but rather with Source Y. Sources will need to sort out the inevitable financial and political complications. The point remains: all sources should keep the target’s best interests in mind, and realize that, while they have accompanied the target on part of his or her journey/treatment, it may be time for another guide, or spiritual doctor, to take over.

Michael Levy, a transportation manager at MTA New York City Transit, is a member of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York and a founding board member of Yad Hachazakah, the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center (

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