Rav Bar Oz* (From Strength to Strength)
by Rabbi Jeremy Barras
They are the largest Jewish community in town. They have no dues, no obligations, no commitments. For whatever reason, they are not members anywhere. Either they were members and we lost them, they are “in-between” Temples at the moment, or they simply never had any motivation to join a synagogue and become formally associated with the Jewish community. There are so many reasons to be a member of Beth Am, too many to count actually. But we already know this. What I am concerned with now is how to share what we already know with those who do not know what we are all about.
While our synagogue continues to grow, there are still in South Dade over 10,000 Jews who have no spiritual home. It is a scary thought to think that there are so many Jews in our own neighborhoods who are languishing without any spiritual community to take care of their religious and life cycle needs, to nourish their souls, and to connect with the social vibe of the local Jewish community.
In Israel, synagogue communities are organized under a much different model. Every neighborhood has its own orthodox shul, and if you live in a certain area you are automatically affiliated with that shul. If you prefer to attend a reform or conservative shul, then you must pay dues there because non-orthodox houses of worship receive no state funding (this is one of the largest obstacles to growth for reform and conservative synagogues in Israel). There are no dues because the synagogues are supported by the state. This is an important topic, but one for another article.
When the system was originally set up, the goal was to ensure that every neighborhood was united not only by physical proximity, but also remained spiritually connected. Unfortunately in the U.S., synagogues must also rely on dues for membership in order to function and exist. However, that does not mean that we shouldn’t consider every unaffiliated Jew who lives in our neighborhood a potential member of our Temple. Our Jewish tradition teaches that every soul is unique and offers a special gift that it can offer to the Jewish people and the world. For every Jew who remains unaffiliated, their contribution is lost. We are deprived of what they can offer, and they forfeit their opportunity to enhance our community. Considering there are nearly as many Jews unaffiliated as there are affiliated today, this is essentially a tragedy.
One remedy is ambassadorship. While our Temple staff is considering ways to maximize our outreach to the community, I hope you will consider joining in the effort. Any Temple’s greatest asset is its people. You are our ambassadors.
If you know someone unaffiliated, bring them along with you to something they might enjoy. Thumb through the pages of the Commentator. There are myriad activities and events in any given month. Bring a guest — let’s reach out to the Jews in our neighborhoods and let them know how eager we are to meet them and welcome them to our community. If we all do our small part, I am certain we can make a huge difference!
* The Barras family name was created during the Ellis Island Experience. Originally it was Bar Oz, meaning strength in Hebrew.