In 1997 Schulweis created a Keruv Center at his synagogue ("keruv," or drawing-in, is the term preferred to "outreach" by the Conservative and Orthodox movements). The Center was launched in conjunction with a lecture series on basic Judaism that Schulweis advertised in the Los Angeles Times as being open both to Jews "who seek a deeper connection" and to non-Jews "searching for a tradition of wisdom, truth, and meaning." More than 400 people attended that first series, which was taught by rabbis from all four major streams.
Jack Wertheimer believes that very few Conservative rabbis have followed Schulweis's lead. "At this point, it's a lot of rhetoric," he insists. "These are calls, bold declarations that have not really been followed up." Schulweis disagrees. "The leadership is behind the rabbis in the field on this," he asserts. "They don't really have the pulse of the people."
His Encino congregation isn't the only Conservative shul pursuing active outreach to non-Jews. Susan Lustig is the administrator for the Hillel Institute, a 24-week conversion course affiliated with Lawrence Epstein's Conversion to Judaism Resource Center on Long Island. In five years, 113 of the 189 course graduates have converted.
The Hillel Institute's approach is somewhere between welcoming converts and actively seeking them, Lustig says. "We're not out there on the street corners, but we are much more open about [publicizing] the availability of information and classes," she explains.
Greenwood says that although Gary Tobin's call for proactive conversion "may seem fringe," he is in fact describing the substance of what the Reform movement is already doing-an assessment, by the way, that Tobin does not share. But neither is Tobin's sense of urgency shared by the majority of Jewish leaders interviewed for this article. Epstein of the conversion center in Commack, N.Y., who is passionate about the need for Jews to restore their sense of universal mission, believes the Jewish community is not ready for the kind of wholesale conversion pitch Tobin advocates. Not yet, anyway.
Schulweis, on the other hand, feels there's no reason to hesitate. "Jews need to be convinced they have something unique to offer the world," he says. "It's all up to the rabbi and the congregation to make these people feel welcome. The synagogue should say, 'We want to meet you. We want to help you.'"