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As the Jewish New Year starts, the issue of promoting conversion is prominent once again. As we noted in last Friday’s post, Rachel Zoll, an excellent AP religion writer, wrote a problematic article about Jews encouraging conversion.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two days writing letters to the editor of every newspaper that I think published Rachel’s article. It’s an eclectic list, ranging from major papers in major media markets like the Washington Times, the Miami Herald, the New York Post, and the Chicago Sun-Times, to much smaller cities, like Jackson Hole WY, Lincoln NE, Daytona Beach, El Paso, Portsmouth NH, and many in between.
Why bother? Because I’m very concerned about the reactions interfaith couples will have to the story.
So my letters to the editor are part of InterfaithFamily.com’s advocacy efforts to move the Jewish community to be more welcoming to interfaith families. I know that letters to the editor aren’t nearly as effective as the original articles, but they are the least we can do to try to get a message to those interfaith couples we’re concerned about that there are significant parts of the Jewish community that are much more interested in welcoming them as they are, and much less interested in pushing conversion.
I don’t know yet whether the letters have been published, except this one, which appeared in the Washington Times:
I need to say one other thing about conversion. A few months ago I was at a confernence and ran into an excellent reporter for the New York Jewish Week. She greeted me with, “Why are you so against conversion?” She was referring to our most recent essay on the subject, Enough is Enough. I asked her, “didn’t you see in that article where we said that conversion was a wonderful personal choice?” She said “yes, but … why are you so against conversion?”
The issue of how the Jewish community should approach conversion of non-Jewish spouses and partners is a very nuanced one. Unfortunately it is very hard to convey a nuanced message in sound bites. We have always, consistently said, and say again: we are not against conversion. Conversion is a wonderful personal choice. We are delighted is any of the resources provided by InterfaithFamily.com help anyone along the path to conversion. But our number 1 goal is to maximize the number of children who are raised as Jews in interfaith families. We are convinced that that will happen more if interfaith couples and families are welcomed as they are, than if conversion is promoted too aggressively.
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