HOW TO ORGANIZE A CONGREGATIONAL
KERUV (OUTREACH) COMMITTEE
One significant contribution congregations can make to attract, train, and welcome converts to Judaism is to have a keruv, or outreach committee. Keruv is a Hebrew word meaning to "draw in." Keruv seeks to draw interested people to Judaism without changing Jewish standards. Keruv is used by here instead of the word "outreach" because reaching out may be interpreted as modifying Judaism in order to attract outsiders, whereas keruv clearly means that Judaism remains the same as it welcomes those who wish to join it. Obviously individual committees can choose the name that they believe best suits them. For the purposes of this material, the terms are interchangeable.
Keruv, or outreach, is meant not only for unconverted gentile partners in an intermarriage, but also for others, such as those who have already converted, and for all those with a spiritual interest in Judaism. Interestingly, many born Jews benefit greatly from keruv because, as they welcome non-Jews, they learn more about their own Judaism.
A congregational keruv committee can have several purposes. It can: (1) be a support group for converts; (2) help to integrate new converts into the congregational community; (3) serve as a source of information about conversion to Judaism for those in the congregation who are intermarried and are not Jewish; (4) develop educational programs about Judaism and conversion for the congregation and the wider community. There are, of course, many other possible purposes. A keruv committee needs someone to initiate it, either a rabbi, a congregational leader, or a congregant. That person needs to meet with the rabbi and other interested people. The rabbi's support is, of course, vital.
If you wish to organize such a committee at your congregation, talk with all the leaders of the congregation to seek ideas and approval. Then simply ask various people about who might be interested in such a committee. Use word-of-mouth to find five or six people. Call these people and ask if they would be interested in attending a meeting with the rabbi and other needed people. The first meeting is important. It is vital to determine the specific purpose and structure of the group. Of course, a group can have several interrelated purposes. It is useful to have either one leader or a rotating leadership. It is also important to determine the eligibility for membership in the group. For example, you might decide that your group will be open to converts, their spouses, born Jews interested in the subjects, and even anyone outside the congregation who wished to learn about conversion or discuss it. (Obviously, this is a way ultimately to attract new members). A keruv committee can undertake a variety of projects depending on the interests and goals of the group. Many activities can be free or low cost. That is, keruv need not take monies from other vital programs within the synagogue. It is also a good idea to start with only one project, carry it through, evaluate it, and learn from it. It is also crucial that a keruv committee's members be clear in their own feelings about the importance of conversion and express this view publicly when they discuss keruv. There are many possible activities for a keruv group. Here are some of them:
(1) Simply meet and discuss the experiences, joys, and difficulties of conversion, such as relations with parents, children, and the born Jewish community. Telling and hearing stories is helpful and fascinating.
(2) Discuss those experiences in a public forum. You can send out news releases to newspapers and cable tv stations which may print and broadcast notice of the meeting for free. You can also decide to place advertisements in a local newspaper.
(3) Have lectures by a group member with a special story, or bring in an outside lecturer on the subject.
(4) Establish a keruv center in the library, with books and articles on the subject. If your synagogue sells books, have some titles on conversion available.
(5) Meet with the synagogue staff about responding to questions about conversion.
(6) Write articles about the group for the synagogue bulletin.
(7) Support or establish an Introduction to Judaism program aimed at Gentiles who wish to learn about Judaism and explore the possibility of conversion.
(8) Establish a host family program for new converts. In such a program, synagogue members show new Jews how to live Jewishly. Some areas of help might be in prayer, keeping a kosher home, keeping Shabbat, cooking, preparing a seder, and so on.
(9) Work within the congregation to provide congregational members with reliable information about conversion. Ask the rabbi to include discussion of conversion in a sermon. Plan and hold public conversion ceremonies for those who wish it. Meet with students in the congregational school to discuss conversion and answer questions about it. Ask congregational men's and women's organizations to hold meetings on the subject.
(10) Develop a package of materials for Gentiles who ask about conversion to Judaism. Keruv committees in each congregation would enrich and strengthen Jewish life.