Putting Outreach Pieces Together

There is plenty of debate in the Jewish community regarding which is the fastest growing branch. Both the reform and the orthodox movements lay claim to that title. They have different methods of counting who is and isn’t a member of the Jewish community, but let’s not overlook one obvious and illustrious point – both branches are growing.

How can we harness what each group is doing right and apply that to the entire Jewish community? That’s a question JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Adam Bronfman, managing director of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, asked in a recent JTA op-ed titled “Denominational bickering hurts outreach efforts.” Progressive and traditional Jews will always have differences in ideology, as will their respective adherents. But instead of focusing on the differences, the trick is to get each denomination to respect the choices other Jews have made. Once we make that shift, we will be able to focus on what’s working in terms of outreach and how we can learn from each other the best ways to engage all those in our midst. They write:

We won’t reach that point, though, if we waste our time bickering on what divides us. It would serve us better as a Jewish community to act like a community and not a group of warring factions. Jews, whether born or converted, from an intermarriage or inmarriage, are inextricably linked through a shared history. With the respect each part of the community deserves, we should be asking questions of each other that will help us find and celebrate our common ground. After all, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

Judaism is our child. It has survived because we as a community have done our best to ensure continuity and relevance. But there is always the fear that assimilation and integration will lead to our demise. It’s time to quash that fear. The Jewish community is much too strong and much too determined to ever let that happen. Halcyon days lie ahead, and as we embark on a new year, let us all think about what we can do to make sure we prosper as a vibrant and meaningful community.


  1. Bickering isn’t the problem. Jews have been bickering for thousands of years.

    The problem is that the reform don’t know the difference between arithmetic growth and geometric growth.

    Comment by Dave — November 16, 2008 @ 11:19 am

  2. The problem, as I personally experience it, is an attitude of exclusivity and judgment about who is or is not a Jew, and/or who has the right to become one. I can’t think of anything greater than being Jewish, but I’m in a weird non-category: had a Jewish mother, but was not raised religiously, and am married to a non-Jewish atheist. We don’t fit “interfaith” (which I know because I was turned away from an “interfaith” class) because my spouse has no faith. I don’t fit the definition of “Convert” because I was born Jewish. But I’m not taken seriously as a Jew because wasn’t raised with it and am just learning it now. If barriers are decreasing to living a Jewish life and getting support for that goal, great - but so far, I feel lost. If I wait for someone else to approve of me and let me in, I suspect I’ll be waiting for the rest of my life.

    Comment by Sara — November 26, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

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