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Outreach and Real Spiritual Growth

I love Jewish outreach, I support it all the way. But sometimes, in the hope of pleasing and bringing someone into the fold, it can become hurtful to that person. Recently, I was having a conversation with a “leader” in the American-Jewish community and they told me they did not believe in a lapsed Jew. Seconding this sentiment, another person in the audience blurted out that in Judaism that there was no such thing as “a bad Jew” or “wrong Jewish behavior.” It took me a minute to gain my composure but I finally innocently asked the leader and her groupie what the concept of repentance (teshuva) mean to them? If Judaism is anything and if there is no such thing as a lapsed Jew than did a Jew ever have to say I am sorry? They looked at me askance, brushing aside my question as the ranting of some Fundamentalist Orthodox rabbi.
What I really wanted to say to them was that simply not everything is Jewish. Just because someone is speaking Hebrew does not make something Jewish, just because someone is eating bagels does mean they are doing something Jewish and just because someone has a long nose does not mean every time he puts it into a handkerchief he is doing something Jewish.
The truth is that in our attempt to reach out and be welcoming, we many times forget about the importance of conveying the concept of responsibility that comes with being Jewish. By forgetting, we hurt the person who we want to make more Jewish more than we hurt Judaism. We fail to give them something real and authentic that can not only make them feel good, but also teach them something new, help them grow, and improve their lives. Jewish outreach is great, we need more of it. Irrespective of whether one is orthodox, conservative or reform, Judaism makes demands on people and asks them to be a certain type of person: a better person.



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linda

posted July 25, 2007 at 11:15 pm


if even though this is the jewish page, Stick Jesus in stead of jewish in the last paragraph and you have a call for christians too or all shapes and sizes.



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Lydia

posted July 26, 2007 at 8:57 am


I am jewish but married to a non jew. I wanted to connect with the jewish community but found it impossible. I even worked for a jewish agency for 10 years. Try as I might I couldn’t get involved in any of their activies. It wasn’t because I am jewish, it was because they were very clicky.



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Julie Hamil

posted July 26, 2007 at 10:25 am


the situation we have here is that SOME Jewish people make it all about “being Jewish”. It is not about being a good jew or a bad jew, it is about The Ancient of Days, The G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the One who is the judge from the begining of time, and who is going to judge us. Not how good a person we are or how well we provided for our families and friends – its all about G-d.



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Cully

posted July 26, 2007 at 11:29 am


I like Linda’s idea very much… why not include everyone who says they believe in G-d??
“The truth is that in our attempt to reach out and be welcoming, we many times forget about the importance of conveying the concept of responsibility that comes with being a person of faith. By forgetting, we hurt the person who we want to make more faithful more than we hurt faith itself. We fail to give them something real and authentic that can not only make them feel good, but also teach them something new, help them grow, and improve their lives. Faith based outreach is great, we need more of it. Irrespective of what their religion is,
G-d makes demands on people and asks them to be a certain type of person: a better person.”
Lynda, I have experienced what you have but from christians – a group that can be truely hateful in light of who they say they revere. sad :(



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Al Eastman

posted July 26, 2007 at 1:53 pm


Kudos to Rabbi Stern. All too often, SOME of our people merely pay lip service to our faith. It may be inconvenient for them to go to services on a Friday night AND/OR a Saturday morning, or their chosen lifestyles have little room for such activities.
Anything that can be done to bring these people back to the “fold” surely benefits all Israel. To even hint that doing so makes US similar to those of other faiths is, in my opinion, fallacious and hurtful. Remember, there is an innate beauty in our faith in addition to the necessary responsibilities. Stress the beauty and the richness in addition to the responsibilities.



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linoscript

posted July 26, 2007 at 7:57 pm


Lydia echoes my experience. I don’t actually experience the Jewish communities as interested in outreach. I experience them as closed, exclusive, and judgmental. For my entire life I have been regarded with more suspicion and judged more severely by Jews than non-Jews, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t raised religiously and didn’t share the same foundation of knowledge. How would I know what you’re about if you won’t tell me and I don’t know where to look? I had no idea Judaism was even open to me until I began to insist upon it. I am doing my own research. Maybe this means I will light the Shabbat candles alone, fast alone and pray alone. At mid-life I am only now beginning to delve into Judaism meaningfully. I could have been actively engaged decades ago, if it weren’t for open hostility and rejection from the Jews where I lived. If you want to do outreach, be accessible mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Be capable of listening. Be willing to answer difficult questions openly and honestly. Choose to teach and share what you know. Approach it with a spirit of generosity. Don’t expect newcomers to grasp your perspective from Day One. I honestly don’t see evidence to indicate Jewish communities are more than, at best, indifferent to secular, returning, alienated, isolated, or untrained, inexperienced Jews. Don’t say yes when you mean no. Don’t even pretend to want us when you don’t. Meanwhile, I will continue to study and learn – no one can take that from me.



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Dave

posted July 26, 2007 at 11:09 pm


Chabad does the best Jewish outreach-no other group anywhere is as nearly succesful.



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Tzvi

posted July 27, 2007 at 3:31 pm


When I was in college, I remember walking back from Friday night services with the Rabbi, His Family and a few other students, and we were talking about outreach, and i mentioned that there were a number of gay/lesbian jews in the area and on campus, and I suggested we include them in out outreach to which i was told that we didn’t do outreach to “those” people. Kinda hurt my opinion of on campus jewish life.



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rita32513

posted August 7, 2007 at 5:12 am


Thank you for the nice article, “Outreach and real spiritual growth”
Although I am not Jewish, I had a Jewish Professor in College,
who so impressed me with his ethics, and kindness toward everyone,
I wanted to find out all I could about the Jewish religion on my
own. One of the concepts I read about was ” Tikun Olam “, from
a book, “The Committed Life” by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis”,
Another book is “The Gentle Weapon” by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Knowing where to start, to learn more about true spiritual growth is difficult. I like to read the Bible, some of it I understand, yet some of it is had to understand. Please help ! In Zechariah, Allegory
of the Shepherds : He talks about two staffs, one of which he called “Favor”, and the other “Bonds” and he snapped asunder both
staffs. What was the tuth the allegory of the Shepherds trying to prove? I would appreciate any help to understand. Thank you, (just) Rita



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