This week, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky of the Jewish Outreach Institute, along with Rabbi Elliot Dorf of the American Jewish University, announced the launching of a new initiative and web site called Big Tent Judaism. This term, now thrown around by dozens of organizations, is meant to recall the biblical story of Abraham and Sarah, who made their tent open and welcoming to strangers and family alike.
In an op-ed piece for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Olitzky challenges the Jewish community to be more inviting to outsiders–in ways that have been suggested before many times: offer free programming that does not require membership, give out direct contact information, include Hebrew translation and avoid jargon, post greeters at the entrances of events, invite newcomers to dinners and small gatherings, and make personal connections between people.
What does seem to be different is the launch of Big Tent Judaism, the web site. Still in development, half of the site is dedicated to “newcomers,” with a searchable directory of resources, discussion boards, and basic information about Jewish holidays and practices.
The other part of the web site is devoted to those of us “insiders” who need to open our tents. It has information being more welcoming and a top ten list of ways to be more inclusive, which serves as the guiding principals for a new coalition.
This initiative is most definitely a step in the right direction for the Jewish community. Though some of the advice might seem to be common sense, far too often, those of us in the professional Jewish communal world cannot comprehend how daunting it would be for a newcomer to approach our institutions.
I, like many in the community I imagine, will be following this to see if BigTentJudaism can differentiate itself from past failed attempts aimed at similar goals. The key will be to find effective means to get what’s on the web site in to the hands people.