Researchers report that fully 22 percent of American Jews say they have no religion – a figure that jumps to 32 percent among those born after 1980. The National Council of Young Israel is hoping to do something about that by launching an outreach program, “One Community,” headed by a rabbi who honed his skills working for decades for Aish HaTorah, widely known for its skill at "kiruv."

Rabbi Yakov Couzens, 46, who has worked in Aish HaTorah branches in Moscow, Rusia and Johannesburg, will head One Community. After serving as executive director at Aish Philadelphia for many years, he was the director of Special Projects for Aish International.

“I think the walls between the frum [observant] and non-frum community have come down significantly outside of New York – and inside too – because I think the Jewish community is now open and warm to doing ‘kiruv’ (outreach) – and that is a major shift over the last 20 years,” he said.

Farley Weiss, Young Israel’s president, said the 130 Young Israel synagogues would be working with the major Jewish outreach organizations so that they can be most effective.

“I want the unaffiliated to realize that Orthodoxy is not just for rabbis but for people who have all different kinds of jobs and businesses,” he said. “What the unaffiliated don’t have is a community. Because we have to walk to shul, we live near each other and if one of us has a tragedy or a simcha” we are there for each other.

“I have met people who are not part of a community and when they have a tragedy, it is brutal,” Weiss added. “Having a community makes it easier to get through such things.”

He said the Pew Research Center’s findings about the level of observance in the Jewish community that were released last October did not come as a surprise. But at the same time, he said he is convinced that the “average American Jew is looking for community and a place to belong.”

stewart@jewishweek.org