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When I became a rabbi, my own rabbi at home told me that the most important thing I had as a rabbi was my integrity and Iâ€™d have little left to offer if I ever let that go. I think about that almost daily and certainly when tough decisions come up. Yet what I find the most difficult about maintaining integrity is not knowing what my boundaries are, what I believe in, stand for and represent but rather how to express and enact all those things. Sometimes itâ€™s easy and the choices are obvious but more often than not, the nuance and shades of gray make integrity anything but easy to maintain. Moreover, while integrity can and should be a constant, it does not preclude evolution of practice, thought and boundaries nor does it give us the right to be judgmental or unkind.
I meet with a wide variety of interfaith couples on a regular basis, whether through a simple email exchange or a series of in-person counseling sessions. By far, the most common story I am told breaks my heart every time. It usually starts with the joy of an engagement and ends with the sting of rejection and judgement, whether from family members, community members or more often than not, clergy.
I have the utmost respect for those rabbis and cantors whose integrity, ideology and sense of purpose precludes them from officiating at interfaith ceremonies. I have seen the struggle amongst my colleagues and the true thoughtfulness with which so many make their decision. But I also see the struggle of so many interfaith couples who are less likely to engage in Judaism not simply because a rabbi said no to marrying them but because of the way in which a rabbi said no.
In an effort to practice what I preach and acknowledge the gray, I of course recognize that there will always be a certain number of couples who will only hear the no, no matter how kindly it is given, and will feel rejected. This is our reality. But I think we can do better for those who come to us, wanting a connection, no matter how tenuous. We owe it to ourselves, to our integrity and to the greater Jewish community, to express first the joy, purpose and possibility of Judaism rather than just the boundaries. We know Judaism has so much to offer: Why else would we want to protect it and cultivate it? Why else would we have spent years learning in order to make it our lives work?
Why not start with words of yes even when we have to say no? Â
In the face of what we donâ€™t understand, practice kindness.
Toward that which makes us uncomfortable or worried, practice kindness.
To those who make different choices than we do, practice kindness.
To those who yearn to belong, practice kindness.
The United Synagogue Youth (USY), the Conservative movementâ€™s youth group, recently re-evaluated the rules for its national and regional teen board members on dating. We shared the JTA story, and realized immediately that you, our readers, were interested in this news. From the number of clicks on Facebook to the comments you shared in favor of this decision, itâ€™s clear this is a story that matters to you.
Why? I think a lot of us were unaware that USY prohibited its teen board members from dating outside the faith in the first place and found this news a little shocking. And the fact that the Conservative movement is supporting the dropping of this policy for its youthâ€”the future of Judaismâ€”is also a bold statement. In the JTA article, Rabbi David Levy, the professional director of USY and director of teen learning at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, explains that the original USY â€śconstitutionâ€ť was written by teens themselves and â€śit always has been their prerogative to change them.â€ť
But the recent decision these teens made has been backed by the Conservative movement. Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the USCJ said â€śâ€¦we canâ€™t put our heads in the sand about the fact that we live in an incredibly free society, where even committed Jews will marry outside the faith. If they do, we must welcome them wholeheartedly and encourage them to embrace Judaism.â€ť
Rabbi Levy is also quoted in the article as saying, â€śWhile we maintain the value that dating within the faith is key to a sustainable Jewish future, we want to be positive and welcoming to USYers, many of whom are from interfaith families.â€ť
I commend the teens of USY and the USCJ for this decision, and I hope it leads to a more welcoming space for their members and potential members. Iâ€™d like to know what you thinkâ€”please sound off below.