So-Han Fan considers himself the product of not just the Jewish Diaspora, but a Chinese one as well. In this article, published in eJewishPhilanthropy.com, So-Han, a Chinese-American-Jew who only found out he was Jewish as an adult, writes: “The main thing that I know now, that I didn’t know before, is that Jewishness and Chineseness aren’t things that you can go and simply pick up and put on, like a hat - you have to create them, and it’s a process that never ends.” As a community that wants to grow and thrive, the more welcoming we are, the more we help individuals and families find a way to “be Jewish” that works for them, and the wider we open the tent to create Big Tent Judaism, the more successful we will be.
When we meet someone like So-Han who doesn’t “look” Jewish, how do we determine if he or she is interested in participating in anything Jewish-related? Of course, we would have to ask. But it might be impractical for us to go around asking everyone we see, “Are you Jewish?” Not only that, it might seem like we’re proselytizing - which is not something Jews do. So how do we identify the newcomer in order to engage him or her? We create engaging programs outside the walls of our institutions (where the people are) so that the newcomer might find something of interest in our programs that s/he would like to explore further.
JOI trains Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders on proven techniques to identify the unaffiliated and less-engaged, to engage those identified more fully, and to create a customer-centric atmosphere where the needs of the individual and his/her family are the most important components. Outreach is not a membership drive. Outreach is about identification and engagement. For So-Han, it was the “gentle introduction” to the holiday of Purim that serves as his entry point to Judaism. Our Public Space JudaismSM programs serve this same purpose, allowing people to literally “stumble upon” holiday-based events in public spaces. But then what?
Following So-Han Fan’s logic, we can’t simply get someone’s name, put it in our database, and start sending out flyers for events and solicitations for our capital campaigns. We have to create a relationship; we have to show that the tent will open to them; they don’t have to come to us. Engagement is a lot of work, but the results are going to be immeasurable for our community as a whole.
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