One of the fundamentals of successful outreach is recognizing opportunities for Jewish engagement. Sometimes it means follow-up phone calls or emails to people who came to an event, but other times the opportunities fall right into our lap. That’s what happened for a synagogue in San Francisco, according to a recent article in J, the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.
Thomas Karatzas is the son of an interfaith couple, and growing up he didn’t have much exposure to his Jewish roots. But seemingly out of nowhere, he wanted to have a Bar Mitzvah. Since the family was unaffiliated, they weren’t sure where to begin. So they turned to their Jewish landlord, who directed them to his synagogue, Congregation Ner Tamid. The synagogue’s Rabbi, Moshe Levin, said:
I was thrilled we might have the opportunity to connect with a young man and his family who really are on the fringe of Jewish identity and community.
The article goes on to illustrate the immense support Thomas received from both his family and the Bay area’s Jewish community. What’s nice about the article is what’s missing – any prolonged discussion about Thomas’ status as the child of an interfaith marriage. His background, while it gave the article an interesting angle, was not of immediate consequence. What’s important is that the synagogue recognized Thomas’ hunger to embrace Judaism, and the fact that they did everything they could to support his decision.
All too often we hear stories from people who want to explore their interest in Judaism, yet they find it hard to even get a foot in the door. They don’t know where to start, and when they do approach, they find too many barriers. Congregation Ner Tamid demonstrated here the best practice for engaging someone when they come to you – to remove barriers, open the doors, and accept all who approach. This is how we will get the Jewish community to grow, and we hope others will follow suit.