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December 19, 2003     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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December 19, 2003
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 19, 2003 PAGE 11 gains favor Y By Uriel Heilman NEW YORK (JTA)--Fer- vently Orthodox Jewish lead- ers see a call to arms in the results of the recent Jewish population survey: As Ameri- can Jews' last greatest hope, they say, they cannot stand idly by while American Jewry dis- appears. In a speech last week at a conference of Agudath Israel of America, Rabbi Avi Shafran, the group's director of public af- fairs, said fervently Orthodox Jews must set out on a"rescue mission" of American Jewry. "We're the Zaka of North American Jewry," Shafran said, referring to the Israeli rescue organization that deals with victims of terrorist attacks. "The threats to Jewish souls are no less dangerous--in fact, they're more dangerous---than threats to Jewish bodies." ''We, our community is the last chance for the American Jewish community," he said. "The question here is one of pikuach nefesh," or saving Jew- ish lives. Shafran's call was both a rec- ognition of the success fer- Vently Orthodox Jews have had at preserving their own num- bers and their failure in ex- tending that influence to the American Jewish community at large. The speech also was a sign that Chabad-Lubavitch's focus on outreach to non-Orthodox Jews is gaining currency among other fervently Orthodox Jews, or haredim. "I think there's a lot to learn from Chabad, to be honest," 8hafran told JTA in an inter- View after the conference, ~Vhich was held in Stamford, Conn. "There are many Ortho- dox Jews that have complaints about aspects of the Chabad movement and some are valid Ones. But the idea of active Outreach that Chabad pio- neered has, over recent de- Cades, become very much part of the mainstream stance of ainstream Orthodox Ameri- Can Judaism." Chabad says it welcomes Other fervently Orthodox Jews taking up the mantle of out- reach. "By all means, it's a wonder- ful development," Chabad SDokesman Zalman Shmotkin Said. "It's just becoming in- Creasingly evident how crucial it is for the Jewish people as a Vhole and each specific Jew to reach out to other Jews." Agudah is not the only seg- ment of the American Jewish mmunity looking to Chabad as an outreach model. At last onth's Reform convention in Minneapolis, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Re- form Judaism, said Reform Jews had a lot to learn from Chabad s example. b"It is hard for me to say this ut I will say it nonetheless: We Rust !o!low the example of habad, Yoffiesaid. ldisagree ith Chabad about practically everything and I am appalled messianic fervor that as flared up in their midst. But I envy the selflessness of their young men and women vho fan out across the world to Serve Jewish communities in distress.' Recently, nearly 2,000 Chabadoutreach emissaries, or hluchim, came to Brooklyn from all over the world to talk strategies for bringing )on-orthodox Jews closer to rthodox religious observance. The movement has perma- nent representatives in more than 70 countries, including nations torn by violent conflict and places with almost no Jews or synagogues. In the United States, Chabad has representatives in all but five of the 50 states, according to Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, di- rector of the International Con- ference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, chairman of Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the umbrella organi- zation for Lubavitch, said out- reach activities are becoming more common in fervently Orthodox neighborhoods. 'I would assume that it's definitely a recognition that Chabad's assessment of the situation was accurate," Shemtov said. Nevertheless, he said, it's not so important who is doing out- reach or who was .doing it first, as long as it's done. "Chabad has never looked for recognition. Chabad was looking for everyone to do what they had to do," he said. "When the Torah says we are respon- sible for each other and part of each other, it doesn't say any 'but.' There are no provisions. How practical it is depends on a person's readiness. '`what to others was a dream, a vision, to the rebbe'--the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson---"was a reality," he said. Shafran outlined his own vision for the future in his speech to the Agudah audience of about 1,000. He said he dreams of the day when there will be "Telzers in Topeka, Gerers in Green Bay, Mirers in Muskogee," a reference both to various fervefitly Orthodox sects identified by their cities of origin in Eastern Europe and to American cities with virtually no Orthodox Jews. ''We can do much more than we think," Shafran said, "being open to the existence of other Jews who are not like us." It remains to be seenwhether Agudah's rank and file actually will rally to the cause, and Shafran said no specific out- reach programs were in the works. Rather, he said, fervently Orthodox Jews should be re- sponsive to inquiries by other Jews about religious obser- vance, invite non-observant Jews home for Shabbat and volunteer to study Torah with non-Orthodox Jews. But outreach presents a unique problem for fervently Orthodox Jews: How to reach out to the non- Orthodox with- out exposingoneselfto the dan- gers and temptations of the secular world? "The vast majority of the haredi community has been concerned about the strength- ening of their own core group," Rela Mintz Geffen, president of Baltimore Hebrew University, told JTA. "It seems that they now have enough confidence in the strength of that group, and that that "confidence has been reinforced by the NJPS findings in such away that they can use it as a pretext to go public with a national outreach endeavor." Geffen was referring to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, which counted 300,000 fewer Jews in the United States than the previ- ous survey, in 1990. The NJPS also found that 31 percent of the nation's 5.2 mil- lion Jews are wed to non-Jews, only 27 percent of the 4.3 mil- lion Jews identified as more "Jewishly connected" said they attend a religious service at least once a month, and only about half of the more con- nected group said being Jewish was very important. At the same time, the survey showed that Orthodox Jews likely increased their number as a proportion of U.S. Jewry. The 1990 survey showed 16 per- cent of synagogue members as Orthodox, and the 2000-01 sur- vey showed 21 percent of syna- gogue members as Orthodox, an NJPS project official said. Scholars have cautioned, however, that the two surveys used different methods of See "Chabad" on page 15 photo by Don Holloway/Chabad.org Chabad emissaries from around the world gather in front of Chabad world headquarters, 770 Eastern Parkway, in Brooklyn in November 2003.