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The Chancellor of the Conservative Movementâ€™s Jewish Theological Seminary wrote a recent article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled â€śWanted: Converts to Judaism.â€ť In the article, Eisen writes, â€śI am asking the rabbis of the Conservative movement to use every means to explicitly and strongly advocate for conversion, bringing potential converts close and actively making the case for them to commit to Judaism. I am asking Jewish leaders to provide the funding needed for programs, courses and initiatives that will place conversion at the center of Jewish consciousness and the community’s agenda.â€ť
I can just see it now: When you enter a Conservative synagogue, there will be billboards that will say, â€śHave you considered conversion to Judaism?â€ť Partners who are not Jewish but are part of a Jewish family and raising children with Judaism may want to run the other way or hide for fear of being encouraged to convert when they have not expressed a desire or openness to do so.
Today I spoke with someone whose husband describes himself as â€śJew-ish.â€ť He has no other faith or religion in his life today in his mind or heart or soul. He is raising a Jewish son and is enjoying the journey immensely. He leaves work early each month for a family Shabbat experience at our local JCC. He already dreams about his sonâ€™s bar mitzvah. He does not want to convert at the present time. He feels that it would hurt his family to become a different religion. He feels it is too much of a break from his family of origin and too drastic. He loved his upbringing and feels close to his extended family and this seems like it would cause unnecessary pain to them.
Instead of using â€śevery means to explicitly and strongly advocate for conversion,â€ť why not explicitly and strongly say that when an interfaith family joins a congregation, then the partner who isnâ€™t Jewish has become a â€śmember of the community.â€ť Being a â€śmember of the communityâ€ť would be a status granted because this person is making a statement that the majority of American Jews are not making any more. That statement is that Judaism is best lived in community and that for the community to exist we need structures that can house and support learning, worship, life cycle events, pastoral care and social justice work. When an interfaith family joins a congregation, the surveys indicate they behave similarly to in-married families.Â The synagogue is a vehicle for Jewish behavior and Jewish continuity.
When someone becomes a â€śmember,â€ť he or she will hopefully be enticed to want more learning and may even want the spiritual experience that most liberal Jews have not enjoyed of immersing in a mikveh. I would encourage any liberal Jew to immerse in a mikveh when they as adults have chosen Judaism by supporting a congregation or raising children with Judaism.
Joining a congregation can be a prohibitive financial pursuit and thus there are people who want to join who canâ€™t. Our money should be going to creating different synagogue financial structures, not toward funding programs aimed at conversion. This looks at people in only two categoriesâ€”Jewish or not Jewish. The statement Eisen is making is that we want all those in our community to be â€śJews.â€ť This doesnâ€™t take into account that for a partner who is not Jewish to join a congregation, it means that they are more than â€śnot Jewish.â€ť And they donâ€™t need to be changed in order to live as Jews and to enrich the Jewish community.