Breaking Down Walls

Part of a growing trend around the country, a new “synagogue without walls” is opening in Cleveland, according to the Cleveland Jewish News. Called simply “The Shul,” it will cater to unaffiliated and interfaith families, especially baby boomers.

The rabbi of this new congregation, Edward Sukol, has clearly done his research. He’s not centering the congregation’s spiritual life around Shabbat attendance. He is getting rid of Sunday school and doing family education instead, where the whole family learns about Judaism together (an approach that Stepping Stones in Colorado has perfected over the years). Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah services will be tailored to family’s needs. And one of his most radical ideas will see Sukol and a local minister running a joint study session for interfaith families:

“We will talk about the similarities and differences of shared symbols within Judaism and Christianity such as wine, water and bread,” he says. “We will discuss the ethical and moral differences of these two religions and let interfaith families articulate for themselves how they want to express their religious identities in their homes.”

This approach touches the third rail of the Jewish community’s response to intermarriage: letting families decide for themselves how to raise their children. As tolerant and sensitive as outreach organizations try to be, most of us have a not-so-hidden-agenda: we want interfaith families to make Jewish choices. It’s exceedingly rare to see a rabbi, especially one trained in the Conservative tradition, willing to share information about other religions with interfaith families.

We wish him the best of luck.

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