Honoring Non-Jews at Synagogue

JTA has a great, I mean just terrific, story today on how a number of synagogues are using the High Holidays as an opportunity to publicly thank non-Jews in interfaith families who are raising their children as Jews:

As intermarriage rates continue to rise, and more intermarried families join congregations, increasing numbers of non-Orthodox rabbis are looking for ways to acknowledge the non-Jews in their midst.

While Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis tend to be more low-key about it, Reform rabbis like [Rabbi Janet] Marder and [Rabbi Larry] Raphael have come up with a wide variety of ways to express gratitude ranging from festive meals to public ceremonies.

Many chose to do their honoring during Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur services, both because of the prestige conveyed by those special days, and because that’s when most of their congregation shows up. Marder did her first public blessing on Yom Kippur morning in 2004.

“I’d encountered so many families through the bar and bat mitzvah process where the non-Jewish partner had been so dedicated,” she says. “I thought it was important to make a public acknowledgment.”

She was concerned that some people would not want to be singled out. But the ceremony, which took place in front of thousands of people, turned out to be “a far more moving and powerful experience” than she’d expected.

These public expressions of gratitude are happening mostly at Reform synagogues, which is in large part due to a sermon by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Reform movement, at their biennial last year. In that much-publicized speech, Rabbi Yoffie said that Reform synagogues should honor non-Jews who choose to raise their children as Jews but should also not forget to ask non-Jews to consider conversion. There was nothing wrong with the message, but in the publicity following the speech–including the Reform movement’s own press releases–the second point eclipsed the first.

But now, in the first High Holidays following that speech, it appears that many rabbis are taking to heart Rabbi Yoffie’s first point. First impressions are lasting, and for many Jews–intermarried or not–their first impression of the organized Jewish community is at synagogue on the High Holidays. To use these most public of holidays as an opportunity to honor non-Jewish partners is just wonderful. We’ve had our disagreements, but thank you, Rabbi Yoffie, and all the rabbis who’ve followed his suggestion, for offering such a warm welcome to interfaith families.

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One thought on “Honoring Non-Jews at Synagogue

  1. It’s about time!

    People like my father (who is not Jewish but has been a partner in the raising of his 3 Jewish children) deserve credit and recognition, and I’m glad to see that now, in more and more places, they’re being thanked for what they’ve done to contribute to the Jewish community instead of treated as second-best for being who and what they are as non-Jewish spouses of Jews.

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