Outreach, from Reform to Orthodox

There seems to be a real uptick in attention to outreach programs lately.

Last week’s issue of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles had a story from Adam Wills about a community scan that the Jewish Outreach Institute did in the West San Fernando and Conejo Valleys. A community scan works like this: workers from the New York-based JOI anonymously call and email synagogues and community agencies in a particular area pretending they’re unaffiliated and Jewishly unknowledgeable to determine how welcoming a particular community is. They also look at websites of local community institutions and interview local Jewish communal professionals. According to the Jewish Journal story, the West Valley/Conejo Valley area was the second most-welcoming community JOI has scanned, with a 77 percent favorable response rate.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Standard, one of the most Orthodox-leaning mainstream Jewish pubs in the country, recently had an article on the formation of a program for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children at Temple Emeth in Teaneck, New Jersey. The program is called Mother’s Circle, and it’s one of numerous new Mother’s Circle programs popping up around the country.

The chair of the outreach committee at Temple Emeth, David Zatz, grew up in an Orthodox synagogue but nonetheless married a Presbyterian woman 15 years ago.

“Rejection has not stemmed intermarriage,” noted Zatz, expressing support for the Reform movement’s commitment to outreach to the intermarried as a way to draw in such families “so that we don’t lose as many as we used to [by rejecting them].”

Speaking of the Orthodox, Eternal Jewish Family is sponsoring a conference in Boston Oct. 29-31 on “adopting standards for universally accepted conversion in intermarriage.” The conference will include discussions by numerous noted rabbis, including, according to the ads, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and the Head of the Yeshiva at Yeshiva University.

I don’t expect the Orthodox will ever come around to IFF’s way of thinking on intermarriage, but it’s encouraging that the Orthodox are creaking open the door just a little bit to the intermarried.

In the past Orthodox rabbis wouldn’t convert non-Jewish spouses married to Jews because they didn’t consider accomodating one’s partner as a serious enough reason to convert to Judaism. But in the last year or so, Eternal Jewish Family has been holding events in the Orthodox community that are aimed at finding some small opening for intermarried families. To get into that opening, the non-Jewish spouse has to be willing to undergo a rigorous Orthodox conversion and show a commitment to living a religious Orthodox lifestyle, but it’s better than nothing.

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