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Dear Rabbi Yoffie,
On behalf of the leadership of Beth El Temple Center in Belmont, Massachusetts, I would like to add our voice of strong support of the Regional Outreach Coordinators. We are tremendously disappointed with the recent resolution of December 17, 2002, which would eliminate their vital grassroots positions. This letter carries both the endorsement of our leadership, as well as a personal story that I hope will make a difference in the reversal of the December resolution.
The face of Outreach is changing, and we need people at the grassroots level to work that change. While it is easier to see the tremendous impact that the Outreach Movement has had on interfaith families and on helping families make Jewish choices, it may be much more confusing to recognize the daunting task that lays before us as the mission of Outreach within Reform Judaism shifts its paradigm. At the last two regional council meetings for the Northeast Region, I heard clearly the widening mission of the Outreach Movement to reach the unaffiliated, younger individuals or families in their 20s and 30s, gay and lesbian families, and others. As anyone who has been involved with outreach efforts knows, promoting the importance of inclusiveness is relatively easy. Changing a culture that will actively and tirelessly include and celebrate the diversity of our Jewish family, is much more difficult.
In the Executive Summary of the study, Outreach Families in the Sacred Common: Congregational Responses to Interfaith Issues, one of the most important points reads:
Decisions regarding Judaism tend to be more affective than intellectual, and are often motivated by relationships and social needs. Thus emotions and personal connections have a stronger effect on Jewish engagement and conversion than does Jewish learning.
I am a gay man in my thirties. My partner and I joined our congregation 3 years ago. Our Outreach committee was left without leadership when the prior chairperson left to start her Rabbinic Training at Hebrew Union College the year before. I was asked by our Temple leadership to chair our non-existent committee. The help I received not only from our Temple leadership, but most importantly, from Ava Harder, our Regional Outreach Coordinator, was invaluable. Her skill in giving advice, support, motivation and friendship is astounding. Most importantly, over the last two years, she has slowly changed my own culture within a mainstream congregation. She has convinced me of the importance of ritual and pride in lifecycle events. She has elevated the importance of full acceptance of gay and lesbian families, overtly, into the mainstream of our Temple community. Last September, Rabbi Jonathan Kraus and Cantor Geoffrey Fine officiated at our traditional Jewish wedding, which took place in our synagogue. The overwhelming support from the community was touching to both of us. Older couples, which have belonged to the Temple for 50 years, wrote and called us with their congratulations. People sent donations in our name to the Outreach Fund. I believe, the event was also a transforming experience for our wonderful Rabbi, as this was his first time officiating at a same sex union.
These experiences donÕt happen by correspondence from a New York office. They happen because of relationships between people at a local, grassroots level. Eliminating the regional Outreach coordinator positions will not change the mission of the Outreach Movement, but it will render it ineffectual by its lack of reach.
Ricardo Wellisch, M.D.
First Vice President, Beth El Temple Center
Chair, Outreach Committee
With the endorsement of:
President, Beth El Temple Center
On behalf of the Board of Trustees