Friday, February 01, 2008

The Jewish outreach absurdity

Instead of competing against each other, Jewish outreach groups should join forces to battle assimilation

Rabbi Levi Brackman

There has been a real transformation of the Orthodox Jewish landscape recently, but until now I have been only vaguely aware of it. Of course I knew that there are many different outreach organizations, all trying to reach and inspire the ever-elusive assimilated Jew. However, the extent of this movement within the Orthodox world—outside of Chabad—was not known to me.

Last week, for the first time, I went to a Jewish outreach convention in Baltimore, Maryland, which was hosted by The Association for Jewish Outreach Programs (AJOP). This convention was attended by over 550 Orthodox outreach professionals with representation from over 20 orthodox outreach organizations including Aish, Ner L’Elef, The Orthodox Union, NCSY, Torah Umesorah and Ohr Samayach. This was an opportunity for me to get a broad view of Jewish outreach and what makes it tick.

Clearly the sometimes insular Orthodox world has woken up and they have begun to organize in a serious way to combat assimilation. In fact it was inspiring to meet at the convention Yeshiva students from the local Ner Yisroel Yeshiva in Baltimore who had already decided to dedicate their lives to Jewish outreach. The ideal within the mainstream Orthodox Yeshiva world to leave the enclave and do outreach is still in its infancy there is no doubt however that the movement will grow both in strength and in numbers in the years to come. With the stunning statistics of assimilation and intermarriage throughout the Western world the awakening to do Jewish outreach has not come a minute too soon.

It seems, however, that there is still a rift between what is now known as the “kiruv world,” or the world of Orthodox outreach professionals, and the community of Chabad emissaries which do similar work. When, for example, one of the convention organizers presented statistics on outreach across the world the Chabad contribution to Jewish outreach was not included.

Considering the impact Chabad emissaries and Chabad organizations have had and continue to have on the Jewish world, the omission was absurd.

Same ultimate aim
Nonetheless, in conversation with some of the pioneers of the kiruv world, I found a dichotomy. When these pioneers got involved with outreach in the 1960s and 1970s, they told me that they took their inspiration from the work of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of Blessed Memory and from Chabad. One such pioneer actually explained to me that the only way they were able to get the rest of Orthodoxy involved in doing outreach was by making as if Chabad did not exist and then doing it independently of Chabad. “Chabad has to be ignored if we are to get the the ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva world to do outreach,” this individual explained.

From my experience Chabad also seems to ignore the good work done by other outreach programs, so this problem goes both ways. But my intention here is to encourage rather than to criticize. Clearly, all groups involved in Jewish outreach are doing important work and have the same ultimate aim, which is to stem the tide of assimilation and to encourage Jews to get more deeply involved with their Judaism. The methods and strategies used may vary slightly, but the resources displayed at both the AJOP and the Chabad conventions show that they are essentially the same. The question then demands to be posed: Why are they ignoring each other?

The notion that the outreach organizations are in competition with one another is ridiculous. With the high rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the West, I cannot imagine that there could be too many outreach workers in the field. The day that happens will be a blessed one. The battle against assimilation is far too important for its warriors to get embroiled in politics of this sort. Undoubtedly, all the outreach organizations, Chabad included, should put their differences aside and pool together all their resources and ideas to create an even brighter Jewish tomorrow.

Rabbi Levi Brackman ( is executive director of Judaism in the Foothills ( His upcoming book, about Jewish Business Success, is set to be published in late 2008.


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shmuel said...

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