Drawing Close: New Community Organization Engages Unaffiliated Jews

By Adam Grobman

According to the Pew Research Center’s recent study, Jewish Americans in 2020, more than a third of American Jews are unaffiliated with a congregation. Yet, the vast majority are proudly Jewish.

A new organization in our area is helping to address the needs of these Jews who yearn for connection.

KEIRUV, an independent 501 (c)(3) established by Rabbi Marshall Klaven with funding from Ohev Sholom Congregation (York) and individual donors, offers spiritual, educational, and emotional support for those who have Jewish needs but aren’t engaging through traditional Jewish communal life.

“We recognize holes in the Jewish community support,” says Rabbi Klaven. “We’re coming in to fill that need, and to do that collaboratively.”

The word keiruv is Hebrew for “drawing close,” and Rabbi Klaven says that while congregational life may not be for everyone, his organization can help to bring Jews closer to practicing in their own way.

“Whatever way your Judaism best exhibits itself, we can be creative to fit the moment,” he says. “We want to support you in any way that you need.”

Services that the organization can offer include baby namings, b’nai mitvah training, funerals, enrichment classes, pastoral care for people in hospitals or prisons, and more. All services are offered on a donation-basis.

“A big barrier that keeps people away from being engaged is that financial hurdle,” Rabbi Klaven says. “We have a pay-it-forward model so that the next individual, couple, or family in need won’t have that barrier between them and the services that they rightfully deserve.”

Although the organization is still in the formation stages, it has already connected with about twenty individuals and families in need of attention.

One of those is the family of Andi Liss, a Ohev Sholom Congregation member whose granddaughter, Maya Hermine, was born this spring. The family worked with Rabbi Klaven to hold a baby naming ceremony.

“It was an opportunity to have rabbinic help and spiritual guidance without the usual conduit of a congregational membership,” Andi says. “We are evolving – we have to be open to coming up with new models and the more we can do, the more people can stay connected.”

Rabbi Klaven says that the guiding principle of the organization is the Talmudic phrase Kol Yisrael arevim, zeh bazeh.

“All of Israel is responsible for one another,” he says. “That initially meant that we are responsible for preventing one another from creating sin. Over time, that expanded to making sure that every Jew has access to basic sustenance – physical, emotional, spiritual. No Jew should be falling through the cracks.”

He describes the project as “an experiment,” with a three-year initial partnership with Ohev Sholom Congregation of York.

“We know that there a large number of unaffiliated Jews in the area and we felt that there was a role for Marshall to play in engaging them,” says Leon Janus, a longtime Ohev Sholom board member and gabbai who was instrumental in getting the project off the ground.

“We hope that this will make a positive impact on the unaffiliated Jewish community. For people who are not feeling attached to their Judaism or have let it lapse – that this will engender positive feelings toward Judaism and being involved in the community.”

For more information, services, or to donate to KEIRUV, contact Rabbi Marshall Klaven at rabbi@keiruv.org or 717-850-3335. Website launch coming soon at www.keiruv.org.