I have ruminated on the question of unaffiliated Jews in the Las Vegas since I got here. There were always rumors of thousands of folks with a Jewish background in the city who were simply “in hiding” with no interest in Jewish life. I sometimes imagined them diving into bushes as I passed by or turning their lights off and peering furtively through the curtains as I knocked on their door. This year I would like to get out into the community alongside our Cantorial Soloist Heather Klein and our Educator Sharon Knafo and touch the lives of people who have never heard of Temple Sinai. In Jewish terms this work is called “kiruv”, from the Hebrew to do with closeness. In other terms, we will be trying to bring people closer to Jewish living.
Kiruv, of course, is more commonly associated with groups such as Chabad which specifically attempt to bring Jews closer to observance of the mitzvot/commandments. This can be part of our kiruv as well but it is wider than that. It’s about bringing people into community, giving them social support, exposing them to holy words and sweet ideas.
Why is this so important? Why can’t we just leave those unaffiliated folks alone? They seem happy! For me, some of the people who shy away from organized religion can be interesting because of their non-conformity. In other words, the very stance they take towards the Jewish community – non-engagement, is the very thing that makes them interesting to that community. People who don’t accept easily the traditional community frameworks might have a higher chance of contributing towards making those frameworks more dynamic, creative and forward thinking. That’s not to say we want to “tame” them but rather we need them to help us develop and grow.
The next question is: where do I find these unaffiliated Jews? I’m really not sure but I want to try things out. If you’re interested in doing a service at the First Friday arts and culture event in Downtown, let’s make it happen. Don’t be surprised to see me near Pesach time giving out matzah at a local Farmer’s market or lighting a chanukiah outside the local Smiths. I welcome ideas of where we should go together to find Jewish people in Las Vegas who might really add something to our congregation. The weirder the better (the places not the Jews)!
Lastly, this idea of kiruv, bringing people closer to Jewish life, can also apply to ourselves. What will we do this year to bring ourselves and our families closer to G-d, closer to each other and closer to our tradition? I look forward to seeing you soon, at shul or out and about!
L’shana tova tikateivu/May you be inscribed for a good year
Rabbi Malcolm Cohen, Sarah, Elijah & Rachel