The Jewish community’s concern about numbers is not a modern phenomenon: it’s been around for thousands of years - in fact, the fourth book of the Bible is called Numbers because it begins with a census count of the Israelites.
Most often, of course, our concern is that the numbers are too few: What can we do about the dwindling Jewish population? How many people will come to the synagogue’s Purim carnival? How can I reach more people this year than last year?
But for some institutions, keeping their community at a manageable size is the fundamental nature of the institution itself. These institutions seek to foster a tight-knit community; a 500-person event can run counter to this goal. They’re delighted that people are interested, but want to maintain the kind of small, intimate environment that drew people there to begin with.
While this is not the problem that most outreach workers are dealing with, it’s still an important question to address considering how critical personal contact is in reaching out to new people. What options are there for people in this enviable predicament? The first thing that leapt to my mind was worms. Allow me to explain…
My brother and I used to scan the driveway in search of worms to cut in half — we wanted to test the theory that each half would become its own worm. Likewise, my first thought was that popular groups or institutions should consider splitting into two — the split could be based on geography, making the group even more accessible. But I must admit that after the splice, as each worm piece slithered its way to the grass, I would fret for the one left without its brain.
One concern about splitting a group into two is that one half will end up with the ‘brains’—that is, those strong personalities, or teachers, or leaders, or energizers—that are the glue of the group. But there a lot of energizing people out there, and surprising candidates might step up to the plate given the opportunity. It would be important that the leaders invest extra time and energy in the upstart process of the second group, but over time the second group would mutate into its own thing with its own personality and its own set of loveable idiosyncrasies — a unique, intimate group in the same way that the first group was unique and intimate. Numbers aside, it is a shame that people interested in participating in Judaism would be turned away. Are there other ideas out there for how to deal with this ‘problem’?