The Importance of Personal Connections

JOI’s study “A Flame Still Burns” was one of a succession of studies on Jewish identity in young people. The latest is a research project led by Barry Chazan of Hebrew University which looked at 22 programs run by five campus Chabads. Chabad’s success at reaching out to unaffiliated/disengaged Jews is recognized and at times resented by the rest of the Jewish community, which hasn’t seen as much success. The question driving this study was: How do they do it when so many others have failed? The major finding of the study is not surprising, but nonetheless crucial to acknowledge. It’s something we’ve long talked about at JOI in consultation with communities and individual institutions—the importance of personal connections.

Personal follow-up is one of the things we investigate through our community outreach scans. We interview individual institutions and ask them: are newcomers followed up with? Are they placed on a targeted mailing list? Does someone from the organization send them a personal email? What about a personal phone call? Some institutions have said that there simply isn’t enough time for personal follow-up. But personal follow-up should be at the top of the priority list, because outreach extends beyond initial contact. One Jewish professional in Ottawa, where Rabbi Kerry Olitzky will be presenting JOI’s community outreach scan findings today, said that on occasion she’ll send an email about an upcoming event, but knows that if she really wants people to attend, she needs to call them up and personally invite them.

Truthfully, who actually reads bulk emails? At best I skim the offerings; sometimes I delete them without even opening them up for a peek. And of those who do read them, how many take the leap and attend one of these events? If, however, someone calls to invite you somewhere, the probability of attendance is much greater.

That personal connections are critical is not a new idea, nor is it unique to the Jewish world; politicians have long sent campaigners door to door during an election campaign. We need more Jewish organizations to place personal follow-up at the top of their agenda so that all spectrums of Jewish life truly reach out to more people, more deeply.


  1. One thing Chabad does that not a lot of other groups do — low or no barriers to participation. That means no or low fees for high holiday services, low or no fees for Hanukkah parties, Purim parties, etc. This gets a ton of unaffiliated (and especially younger) people through the door. I truly feel that the issue for the unaffiliated is not the amount of money, but the unwelcome feeling that these charges can cause. The common practice of mandatory synagogue membership for Hebrew school and high holiday attendance is logical, but regrettable. Seems like Chabad’s lauditory tactic of low obstacles can emulated throughout the community.

    Comment by Ron M. — June 8, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

  2. Good point. When people talk about cost as barrier, they sometimes overlook the kind of psychological barrier that you describe, which can be just as prohibitive as actual high cost.

    Comment by Julie Seltzer — June 9, 2006 @ 2:28 pm

  3. Just wanted to say that I attended Rabbi Olinsky’s talk last week here in Ottawa and it was amazing! Thanks!

    I have been very impressed with how Chabad does its outreach. I think its a combination of cost and personal connection. For those disconnected, if something is free, then there is “nothing to lose” by attending an event. However, for many people I know, they really only go to events if they have at least one person or family they know that is going as well. Its can be awfully lonely going to something and have nobody to talk to. That’s why I think that you have to follow-up newcomers and make sure there is someone from your organization at the event whose sole purpose perhaps is to make sure people are introduced and welcomed. Its so often neglected.

    I found in the Na’amat chapter that I ran, I always tried to make sure people were introduced and welcomed. Every year we do an open house and wear name tags (even though most of us all knew each other) and I do an ice breaker so that everyone has to say something about themselves. I am truly amazed at how people connected after that and its not very hard to do!!

    cheers, Jackie in Ottawa.

    Comment by Jackie Luffman — June 14, 2006 @ 9:22 am

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