Cutting-Edge Work in the Jewish Community

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In 
Relational Judaism
, I report six case studies of organizations and individuals doing cutting-edge work in creating relational communities. Chabad is numero uno. Their first – and most important – “secret” of success: a warm welcome to everyone they meet and an invitation to share a meal, usually in the rabbi’s home and usually within five minutes of the first personal encounter. They practice what I have called “radical hospitality,” a passionate commitment to learning about each and every person they meet. Google “Chabad” and inevitably you will see results that include “no membership fees” and “free Hebrew school.” The truth is that Chabad is not “free.” What they have done is to turn the membership model upside down: instead of asking for dues upfront and then serving the members, Chabad offers hospitality and programming first and then aggressively asks for money. The vast majority of their funding comes from those grateful for their relationship with the Chabad rabbi and his family, almost always non-Orthodox Jews. Does it work? Estimates suggest Chabad raises well north of $1 billion annually.

Hillel is pioneering a relationship-based outreach effort called “Senior Jewish Educator/Campus Entrepreneur Initiative.” College sophomores and juniors are offered stipends and training to reach out to their circles of friends on campus who would rarely be caught inside a Hillel House. They are coached and taught by a full-time senior Jewish educator who also commits the time to reach 160 disengaged Jewish students annually.

Congregation-based community organizing calls is a strategy to surface concerns among congregants by conducting one-on-one conversations around questions such as “What keeps you up at night?” The conversation itself is a relational engagement experience that some synagogues use to mobilize social justice actions, but just as importantly leads to better connectedness among the membership.

There are several well-known efforts to engage the next generation of young Jewish professionals, among them Moishe HouseNEXT (follow up with Birthright alumni), Jconnect in Seattle, and Next Dor – an initiative of Synagogue 3000 to place “engagement rabbis” and community organizers working from but outside mainstream synagogues to connect with young Jews ages 21-40.

Posted on May 2, 2013
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