Difficult Decisions

Greetings InterfaithFamily.com readers! I wanted to share with you all a very interesting experience I had the other night. Quite often, my position here at InterfaithFamily.com as the Community Connections Coordinator intersects with my “real life” outside of work – as evident in the story I’m about to tell you. Outside of working here, one of my volunteer hats is to be the Social Action chair of my synagogue board. Part of this role is to attend the monthly temple board meetings to give a report. Monday night was our monthly meeting, however, it was like no other meeting I had ever attended. The rabbi of our congregation is retiring after over 30 years of service to the community, and our congregation has the daunting task of finding a new rabbi to be the spiritual leader of what is a small, but very warm – and extremely diverse – Reform congregation. Our search committee and long range planning committee brought a candidate to meet with us at our monthly meeting, and we had the opportunity to ask this rabbi as many questions we could come up with!

The questions started innocently enough, asking this rabbi about leadership style, generic rabbi-type questions, and even some questions about the weekly Torah portion that were used to open the discussion. The conversation turned however, when several people started asking this rabbi questions about working with interfaith families, within the religious school setting, Shabbat services, holidays, and more. Everyone kept dancing around the subject as to whether this rabbi officiates at interfaith weddings, and knowing how many of you I hear from on a daily basis, I couldn’t take it anymore and had to ask what I knew was a difficult question. I finally raised my hand and asked the officiation question, and then the rabbi started to laugh, as did everyone else – and the rabbi said, “well that’s what you all really want to know isn’t it?!?” and everyone was like, umm, yes!! What followed was a really interesting discussion about how this rabbi has never officiated at an interfaith wedding, but talked about being torn about the issue and doesn’t know if it will never be. This rabbi doesn’t currently officiate, but described to us what kinds of welcoming steps would be taken to ensure that if he were approached by a couple, that couple would walk away from the experience feeling like a relationship could be formed and that regardless of whether the officiation would take place, that interfaith couple would have a welcome home at our congregation. He said a lot more about it, but unfortunately, no one was allowed to take notes during this time so I’m doing my best to remember exactly what was said.

After the rabbi left the meeting, it turned into a much larger discussion amongst the board about how important was it for us to hire a rabbi who officiated. None of the greater Providence rabbis (where I live) officiate. Everyone on my board knows what I do here and we spent a great deal of time talking about how what a difficult decision it is for a rabbi to make. They asked me to recount what kinds of things I hear from couples, etc. – both the positives and negatives, and I truly appreciate so many of you sharing your stories with me over the past 8 months.

I don’t know what direction the congregation will go with this rabbi as I don’t actually have a huge amount of say in the final decision. But this experience taught me that while many of you are stuggling with interfaith issues, our spiritual leaders are struggling right along with us.

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