As members of the Jewish community settled into their seats recently at Yom Kippur services, everyone had a pretty good idea of what to expect. It’s the annual spiritual cleansing, dedicated to recognizing a long list of human failings — from jealousy to gluttony to gossip.
But in many Reform synagogues across Chicago and the nation, the faithful heard something that had nothing to do with atonement and everything to do with celebration: a blessing for non-Jewish spouses.
“We want to tell you how much you matter to our congregation and how very grateful we are for what you have done.”
With that one line, sleepers suddenly snapped to attention.
A recent Chicago Tribune article looks at blessings offered, during Yom Kippur services, to non-Jewish spouses helping raise Jewish families. Wow.
At synagogues large and small, the myriad paths traveled were recognized. “Some of you are living a Jewish life in virtually all respects,” the blessing continued. “Some are devoutly committed to another faith. Some of you do not define yourself as religious at all.”
But by agreeing to raise Jewish offspring — “giving up the joy of passing your own religious traditions down to your kids” — the non-Jewish parent ensured a future for a very small tribe, the tribute said.
The blessing also cited other contributions: Driving Hebrew school carpool, nagging kids to get up on Sunday mornings, learning to make kugel (a noodle pudding) and latkes (potato pancakes), and even trying to like gefilte fish (an acquired taste, exempt from any marriage vows).
“With all our hearts, we want to thank you for your generosity and strength of spirit in making the ultimate gift to the Jewish people.”
It’s wonderful to hear such a public thank you as blessing!
“You should have told me that I was going to need Kleenex,” Lauren Kern told Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, after services at B’nai Yehuda Beth Shalom in Homewood. Back in 1985, when she married her lapsed Christian husband, John, neither could have envisioned such inclusiveness.
Tears were also on hand at Oak Park Temple, where Rabbi Max Weiss led the congregation in paying tribute to some 75 to 100 spouses. The morning after, Weiss received a flurry of email. “I doubt that spouses make this commitment with the expectation or even the need of thanks,” wrote one woman. “And that’s what makes it even more important.”
Has your congregation thanked non-Jewish spouses in a similar way? Does your community have other ways of showing thanks and inclusion? Let us know!
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