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.