This is not the first time a supermarket campaign has been waged for Jewish souls. For years, Chabad representatives have set up in supermarkets in various locales, giving out booklets about upcoming holidays, kosher food samples, and information about the local community outreach activities. When I first saw this in my inbox, I laughed. It looks like Chabad will have some competition on the kiruv (outreach) front this year. But that's not the main reason I'm posting this. I know I've mentioned in previous posts the problem I have with the way kiruv professionals address the non-orthodox Jewish population. If you look at the photo, you'll see see two instances where the Project Inspire refers to non-orthodox Jews as "less-affiliated." They "plan to set up tables in supermarkets across the country to reach out to less-affiliated Jews who come to buy their Passover provisions...." You know, because if you're not orthodox, you're less. Less of what? Less connected? Less Jewish? Obviously this is what kiruv professionals are thinking. Certainly, this is the message that those of the liberal branches of Judaism or even those who are secular Jews would get if they were to view this ad. Bear in mind that this message is intended for insiders in this organization. And recall previous postings in which I've mentioned that orthodoxy does not allow for Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, or other denominations of Judaism. To outreach professionals, if you're not orthodox, you're not practicing true Judaism.
The third paragraph mentions the intention to provide the "less-affiliated Jews" with "meaningful hand-outs for their seder"(sic) and is extremely offensive. Project Inspire appears to assume that if one is not orthodox, he/she is not having a meaningful seder and therefore needs to have supplemental materials, specifically the ones that they will provide. They will also provide shoppers with "opportunities for further involvement in outreach programs." The intention here is to undermine whatever Jewish affiliations shoppers have and provide them with something else, something that Project Inspire appears to believe is better.
Now, imagine this for a second. You're doing your weekly shopping on a Sunday. Maybe you have a kid in tow. Maybe you're alone. You're picking out your five-pound box of Streit's or Aviv matzoh from the huge display because, hey, maybe you celebrate Passover to whatever extent that you do. Or maybe you just like matzoh. (Yes, there are people who do.) A lovely Passover table is set up. A few people are standing around. You're offered some gefilte fish. Conversation ensues. You walk away with a handful of literature and fish breath. But you've also told them, in polite conversation, about your daughter's upcoming Bat Mitzvah at the Reform temple. Maybe you told them that you're an atheist, but you still go to holiday meals with your family. Perhaps you mentioned that your nephew goes to a Conservative Hebrew school twice a week. But whatever information you volunteered in pleasant conversation was interpreted in one way: this is a less-affiliated Jew who needs our help.
Project Inspire's website has a link to an article by Rav Shlomo Wolbe in which he states that "the only requirement for the coming of the Moshiach [the Messiah] and the redemption is repentance. We have to repent. And what about our brothers…B’nai Yisroel who are far away from fulfilling the commandments? They have to repent, too! And we have to help them come close to repentance."1
So, while you shop on any of the four Sundays before Passover, remember that when you're offered "food for [your] soul and educational materials about Pesach," it's not because these are just nice people who want you to buy some A&B's fish. They want you to buy into a whole new way of thinking.
1. http://www.kiruv.com/articles/338/rav-wolbe-ztls-vision/ accessed 2/5/2013, 8:18pm