Diversity and Informal Jewish Education

Bringing activities to secular venues.

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While the immediate goal might not be to get those who attend to enroll in Hebrew school or other formal institutional programs, an interest in episodic informal education that takes place in public spaces can be the beginning of a bridge to more concentrated forms of learning--if they are designed in order to do so.
If planned in such a way, formal programs of Jewish education--those in the core of the Jewish Community--have the potential to reflect a greater diversity--a diversity that has become the real Jewish community, not just the one represented by the core community and its institutions.

Lowering Barriers Too Far?

There will be those who will say, of course, that when we adopt such an inclusive approach--in a more public context--we run the risk of lowering barriers too far. Programs that reach the masses, they say, have no depth to them. The nature of entry programs is that they are low-barrier by design but they can (and indeed are specifically designed to) lead to programs of greater depth. Few will take a leap to such programs on their own. However, outreach activities are not meant to exist in a vacuum. These low barrier entries should always be ways to get people to take the all-important "next steps" to greater engagement.

This approach also helps us as we strive to ensure that we create an environment that allows for all viewpoints to be presented rather than trying to homogenize Jewish education. Without the disagreement that often comes from a diversity of opinions, we cannot have the in-depth discussions that can lead to real learning and deeper understanding of the issues at hand. The Talmud is reflective of such diversity as it encourages insinuating a larger number of people into our community not so that differences could be glossed over but so that discussions stemming from those same differences could be used in a way that shows that God has made each person unique.

The way to create such dialogue is by making sure there is diversity reflected in each Jewish educational setting, and the way to ensure diversity in Jewish educational settings is to reach out to all members of the community--where they are. That includes those members who traditionally reside on the periphery, such as the LGBT community, the intermarried, and the children of the intermarried. In order to reach those community members, though, who spend more of their time outside the community than near its core, it is imperative that we extend outreach and educational activities beyond the walls of communal institutions.

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Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and the author of numerous books about Jewish spirituality.