Fifty Years of Outreach

In a milestone celebration, this year marks fifty years of Jewish outreach by Chabad in Detroit. Chabad is known for aggressively promoting Judaism, working to reignite the spark in unaffiliated, unengaged Jews to help them get back in touch with their Jewish roots. And Detroit has been no exception. Whether we agree with all of their outreach methodologies or their ideological stand on certain Jewish issues, we congratulate Chabad on this anniversary.

Writing in the Detroit Free Press, Niraj Warikoo explains how Chabad came to Detroit, and the effect it has had on the community since then. Local leaders, he writes, claim that up to 40% of the 72,000 Jews in metro Detroit have taken part in some sort of Chabad outreach event, and that Chabad is building a new $15 million complex in the suburb West Bloomfield. I would be curious to know what its name collection and follow-up techniques are after hosting outreach events. These are important JOI strategies indispensable to outreach, which we believe are better used as an overall methodology, not just something to reach a target population. But either way, these numbers do point to a certain degree of success.

Where JOI and Chabad definitely see eye to eye is on the issue of engagement. We both know that the best way to get people involved in the Jewish community is to go out to where the people are (what we call Public Space JudaismSM) and lower the barriers of participation. We also both know that making people feel welcome is the best way to get them to increase their participation in Jewish life. In the article, a Chabad rabbi puts it nicely:

“The idea is to make Judaism accessible,” said the shul’s (Chabad synagogue of West Bloomfield) head, Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov. “We wanted to have a place where Jews of all walks of life would feel comfortable.”

Our work is based on the belief that we need to open hearts, minds and doors to all those who have chosen to cast their lot with the Jewish people. Along with Jews-by-choice, unaffiliated, and unengaged Jews, we believe this should also include welcoming interfaith couples and their families, and involving them in all aspects of Jewish life. Chabad may disagree with us there, but our bottom line essentially remains the same – to grow and strengthen the North American Jewish community.

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