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September 18, 2009

Where Are the Reform Outreach Centers?

In your September 4 article “Largest Outreach Effort for Alums of Birthright Raises Concerns,” Reform rabbis Eric Yoffie and Andrew Bachman express concern over what is being taught at the Jewish Enrichment Center, which is staffed by Orthodox rabbis, and call for greater pluralism in Jewish outreach efforts.

What a great idea! The problem is, if you look around, you’ll see there aren’t many Conservative or Reform rabbis out there doing this sort of outreach work. The idea of teaching young, unaffiliated Jews the beauty of Judaism, for modest pay and limited pulpit prestige, seems, for some reason, unappealing to anyone but Orthodox rabbis.

There are numerous Jewish outreach programs in New York City — the Manhattan Jewish Experience, JEC, Young Jewish Professionals, Aish Center, Jewish International Connection, SoHo Synagogue and various Chabad centers — run by Orthodox Jews. But where are the established outreach programs run by Reform or Conservative rabbis? Do the Conservative and Reform movements even care about engaging the unaffiliated or addressing our intermarriage problem?

Maybe the finger-pointing needs to be turned around. Instead of Reform rabbis complaining about what is or isn’t being taught to unaffiliated young Jews at certain outreach centers, perhaps they ought to just do something about it. Nobody is stopping them.

Justin M. Baer
New York, N.Y.

Rabbis Matter, From Sermons to Budgets

Noam Neusner clearly has a problem with rabbis (“What if Rabbis Heed Obama’s High Holy Day Appeal?” September 4).

He is also out of touch with contemporary synagogue life. He writes that “nobody really listens to rabbis in non-Orthodox synagogues.” That’s an outrageous attack with no basis in fact. Where has he been hanging out on Shabbat? I can cite countless instances of lives transformed by a sermon, and most of my colleagues can do the same.

He derides rabbis for never having “to make payroll in their lives.” Actually, thousands of rabbis across America are struggling with budgets drastically affected by the economic crisis inherited from the previous administration and are providing amazing support for women and men who are losing their jobs and homes.

Neusner concludes with a reference to the rabbi as “ignoramus.” I will let readers judge that statement for themselves.

Most important, underlying Neusner’s angry anti-rabbinic assault is a profound misunderstanding of the mandate of Torah — that we are all created in God’s image and that those of us especially blessed are expected to care about the plight of the poor and disenfranchised.

Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff
Rabbi Emeritus
Temple Emanu-El
Westfield, N.J.

The writer is a past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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