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By Rabbi Robyn Frisch and Rabbi Malka Packer
Just like the approach of the secular new year, the approach of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year,Â is a great time to reflect on the past year and to make resolutions about how you can be better in the year ahead. (Click here to read how Jewish new year resolutions are different from secular new year resolutions.)
We propose that synagogues use this time to take stock of how theyâve been welcoming and inclusive to interfaith couples and families over the past year, and how they can be even more welcoming and inclusive in the year ahead. One way toÂ do this is to participate in InterfaithFamilyâs Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative (IILI). But even for those not participating in IILI, this is a great time of year to come up with an action plan of how they can be more welcoming and inclusive. Below are suggestions based on a webinar on âLanguage and Opticsâ that we are presenting to IILI participants. These suggestions are the combined work of a number of InterfaithFamily staff members over the years based on our vast experience working with interfaith couples and families. What is your synagogueâs response to each of the following questions? Based on your responses, you can see where you have work to do.
Hopefully these questions can help guide your synagogue in institutional cheshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul) at this time of the year and encourage an action plan for becoming more welcoming and inclusive of interfaith couples and families in the year ahead.
To learn more about InterfaithFamilyâs Interfaith Inclusion Leadership Initiative click here.
Between the announcement that Chelsea Clinton and Marc MezvinskyÂ are expecting a baby and an interfaith xoJane article about a Catholic mother choosing to raise her sons Jewish, mothers who arenât Jewish but are raising Jewish children have been receiving positive press and gaining visibility in recent weeksâitâs about time! And well-timed too, considering we celebrated Mother’s Day earlier this month. (There are, of course, fathers who arenât Jewish raising Jewish children as well. My âJew-ishâ father having been one.)
Rabbi David Regenspan wrote a piece for InterfaithFamily that beautifully described non-Jews he aptly calls sojourners:
âThey are models for the rabbi’s sermon about how to lead a good Jewish life. They light Sabbath candles and send their children to Hebrew school. They attend adult education classes on Jewish subjects. They sing boisterously at Jewish services and know the Hebrew words of every prayer. They serve on synagogue committees; they even become synagogue officers. âŚAnd they are not Jews.â
There are many non-Jews who fit this description, yet amidst the panicked communal conversation about the âshrinking Jewish population,â these dedicated individuals and parents are often overlooked, not only in the communal conversation, but also in day-to-day religious life in synagogues all over the country.
Iâm heartened by the many interfaith outreach initiatives in the Greater Boston area. In particular, the efforts made by Dorshei Tzedek, a growing Reconstructionist congregation in West Newton. The measures theyâve taken to be an inclusive community embodies their name, which means âseekers of justiceâ in Hebrew. âWe seek to engage all of our members, whether Jewish or not, in our activities and the life of the congregation,â Dorshei Tzedek Rabbi Toba Spitzer shared with me.
A few years ago, the congregation committed to a year-long study and discussion process around inclusion. One of the results was a brochure the congregation gives out to new families that is posted on their website. It states: âSome of the values that inform our approach to welcoming our non-Jewish members [are]: inclusivity, diversity, commitment both to shared values and to Jewish tradition. While there are non-Jewish partners of our Jewish members who choose not to become involved in the congregation, there are also many non-Jewish members who participate actively and meaningfully in the life of the community. The purpose of this guide is to help clarify what it means to be a non-Jewish member of a caring and inclusive congregation that is dedicated to Jewish practice and learning.â
Interfaith families are also represented in other areas of Dorshei Tzedekâs website, including this wonderful set ofÂ Shabbat videos.
What makes Dorshei Tzedek such a model for inclusion is not only their interfaith brochure and website, but the communal process that produced them, which goes well beyond simply providing lip-service. Theyâre making it happen. Inclusion and sensitivity, like all values, only serve their purpose when practiced and tailored to address the needs of the people we seek to include.