Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Supermarket Soul Saving in the Matzoh Aisle

   I found this in my email today. It's Project Inspire's latest outreach effort, their brand new Supermarket Passover Awareness Campaign. The goal is to reach non-orthodox Jews who are shopping, in order to educate and "inspire" them about the upcoming Passover holiday. And what better place to reach out to inspire them to purchase holiday foods of the kosher variety than the supermarket!
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


  1. I'd love to know how much time a kiruv person ever spends thinking about the human/emotional/personal/familial toll their work takes on their subjects. Or do they spend any time at all thinking about that?

  2. i honestly believe that kiruv workers lack empathy for the non-orthodox jews and their families. it takes a lot of chutzpah to go up to someone with the assumption that whatever it is they do, however it is that they choose to observe or not observe holidays, or practice or not practice judaism, is wrong or lacking or substandard to the way the kiruv professional practices. outreach isn't about the person being reached out to. it's all about the person doing the reaching. this way, the outreach worker scores brownie points with his/her god, community, and rabbis. if they didn't believe that they needed to get the non-orthodox to practice some version of orthodoxy as part of the magic package to make moshiach (the messiah) come, i doubt that there'd be so much time and money funneled into the recruiting of the non-orthodox.

  3. First of all, wow - what an amazing blog! It's really fascinating to hear your dissection of the kiruv enterprise, as it's something I think a lot about as well. I've been working on some 'outreach' efforts myself but trying to stay away from kiruv and instead use humility, empathy, respect, etc..

    Anyway, I'm commenting on this post because I saw a related campaign - called Passover in the Matzah Aisle - run by the Jewish Outreach Institute, which is a non-Orthodox org (http://bit.ly/Xj6VkY). I'm curious what your thoughts are on this/them, and where they fit into the "kiruv" label..

  4. Thank you, Hart, for your comments and for continuing the dialogue!
    And thank you for providing the link to Passover in the Matzah Aisle. I took a look at it and I think it looks great. I like the fact that it welcomes all families who are raising Jewish kids, including mixed families. I am a firm believer in pluralism and inclusion. The programs offered by Big Tent Judaism seem to be what people would expect when thinking about "outreach." They don't seem to be pushing anyone in any direction, the language used is respectful and non-judgmental, and based on the website, it appears that communities can order guides on how to implement these programs. I certainly wouldn't label this as "kiruv" in the orthodox sense. There doesn't seem to be any deception or ulterior motives from the organization. What I do like, and keep in mind that I'm only looking at this particular link, is that they've partnered with Shalom Sesame, which my own kids have watched. What orthodox kiruv professionals forget is that not everyone has an interest in becoming orthodox. Reaching out to liberal Jews and their spouses who may or may not want to practice Judaism to get them involved is fine and not particularly intrusive. Reaching out for the sole purpose of ultimately making them orthodox, in my mind, is intrusive and ultimately divisive.
    Thanks again for your comment and I hope that you'll continue to be a voice here!

    1. > What orthodox kiruv professionals forget is that not everyone has an interest in becoming orthodox.

      They don’t “forget” that. It’s an assumption in the frum world, as basic as the assumption that when you drop something it will fall, that all Jews SHOULD be Orthodox, that Orthodoxy is self-evidently correct and all other lifestyles/beliefs/values are obviously false, and that the only reasons someone Jewish wouldn’t be Orthodox is because they’re ignorant or willfully ignoring the obvious so that they can be free to live a hedonistic life.


Your respectful comments are welcome.