By Rabbi Tuvia Teldon

Across America Jewish organizations have a strong common bond. They all spend much time trying to figure out what makes the “unaffiliated” Jew tick. These Jews wield tremendous power and keep them on their toes. “What will bring them in the door?” they ask each other. Is it a great corned beef sandwich, art, dating, Yiddish, Kabbalah, or Israel? The list goes on and on, with creative techniques that range from Jewish Cabbage Patch dolls to classes on the art of bagel baking.

The usual definition of the “unaffiliated Jew” is one who doesn’t belong to any synagogue or Jewish organization — hence, he is unaffiliated. But when we stop to think, this definition of “unaffiliated” describes who these people are not, not who they are. In reality, unaffiliated Jews are very much like you and me. They pay their bills, worry about their children and the future of our country, and have a few outside interests.

They also have emotions and feelings about personal matters, whether they are family issues or personal challenges that they face. They use the same train stations we use and shop in many of the same stores. They want to be happy and feel like they are leading a meaningful life. They probably do many mitzvos, whether they know it or not. Finding them is not a problem here in the suburbs because they are living a similar type of life to the one that the “committed” Jews are.

And when they put on tefillin in a Mitzvah Mobile or come to a Jewish event or class, or even join a temple, it’s not like they have gone through some total transformation and have now taken on a new identity. All it means is that somebody or something touched their lives and made them feel like belonging has personal value to them. Either they reached out or someone reached out to them, and the result was much appreciated. A simple act or mitzvah can change the whole scenario for them.

Most unaffiliated Jews I meet are not that way because they choose to take on that identity. Either they can’t afford Jewish membership, have lost interest over time, or were never approached in a way that attracted them. Very few have deep negative feelings about being Jewish these days. They just don’t feel it is a priority in their lives at this time. Their heart, mind, or soul has not yet felt the connection. However, whatever their age, background, financial status, or lifestyle, if they were approached by the right person at the right time in the right manner, most Jews would be receptive to hearing a kind word, learning a meaningful Torah message, or receiving an invitation for a Shabbos meal. The Jewish soul is a mysterious creation and often quite unpredictable. You never know what will arouse it from its slumber. But once it happens, they will no longer want to be “unaffiliated.”

Accordingly, anybody who considers himself to be a “committed” Jew has the ability to change the Jewish landscape and reach out to “unaffiliated” Jews to bring them a little closer to home. You don’t have to be an “outreach professional.” One simple act or string of events can change their destiny. An authentic Jewish experience or idea that is relevant to their lives at this moment in time can make all the difference.

With this in mind, perhaps we should change our name for this group from “unaffiliated” to “potential Jewish participants if and when they are touched in the right way.” It makes the future of the Jewish people look much brighter.

So why not be part of the solution and reach out to your neighbor, your business associate, or a distant relative? Invite them for a Friday night dinner or Shabbos lunch. Be proud of who you are and the treasure that you possess. You may be surprised at how easy it is to get somebody to come to your house to have a real Shabbos experience and taste a bit of the inner peace of Shabbos that we often take for granted. 

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon is the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island. He can be reached at rabbi@chabadli.org. For more information and inspiration, visit www.chabadli.org or Facebook.com/RabbiTeldon to view his weekly broadcasts.

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