One of the things I could say I was proud of in being raised in Conservative Judaism was that we didn’t proselytize. I say could because, unfortunately, I can say that no more. Amidst another article, peppered with commentary about the need to engage more Jews, is the story of Pete Stein, a new Conservative Rabbi who hits the streets of the Upper West Side, an area I’d definitely say is not lacking in engaged Jews.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand more, it’s being imposed upon over and over by people on the street, saying Jesus will save–save me–save us all. With any religious entity, I rarely find this an engaging or motivating technique that brings me closer to their message. The rise in, not only discouraging the embrace of interfaith couples, but proselytizing, demonstrates once again the true unease many are feeling within institutionalized Judaism about the fact that they are no longer seeing their image in the eyes of those before them, that the power and pulpit they have held so dear, may not remain.
I have to say, as someone who loves many elements of the religious practice, this does little to scare me. What scares me more is the idea that proselytizing on the street is a positive step for building religious movements, identities and institutions. I appreciate Paul Golin, ED of JOI‘s sentiment that it is not productive to think that people will just come to them, but meeting people where they are at doesn’t mean talking “to”–it means, at the very least, listening with, and respecting how Jews are building meaningful engagement in multiple communities that may no longer look like you.