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By Jordyn Rozensky
When I asked my partner who is not Jewish if we could start visiting synagogues in hopes of finding a formal Jewish home for our worship and community, he agreed immediately. Â His first step was to clear Sundays on his calendarâ€”until I reminded him that while church meets on Sundays, Shabbat services are Friday nights and Saturday mornings in the Jewish community.
We started our search with Reform synagogues within a 20-30 minute drive. We wanted a synagogue with leadership that included women, whether in the form of a rabbi, cantor, executive director or board, and we were hoping for a community where a young(ish) couple like ourselves could find community.
I turned to a rabbi friend of mine to ask how to visit a new synagogue when youâ€™re thinking about membership. His advice:
â€śFolks should set their first visit inÂ accordanceÂ to what they think they will use as members. If they don’t plan on going to Shabbat services regularly, going to Shabbat services is not a great first visitâ€”too much potential for alienation.Â
Â If they are looking forÂ religiousÂ school, go to the education director.Â
Â If they are looking for fellowship, contacting the membership committee, the sisterhood or the executive director is a good start.Â
Â If the rabbi is really important, make a meeting.Â â€ś
Still a bit overwhelmed with the idea of setting up meetings, we began our research at home with a list of values we needed in a Jewish setting. Well aware that this was just the tip of the iceberg, we placed disability accessibility and inclusion, LGBTQ equality and inclusion, and the full welcoming of interfaith families at the top of the list.
Knowing that inclusion and equality is more than a yes or no answer, we put together a list of questions for the synagogue. Youâ€™re welcome to use the questions in your own search for a synagogue, but I also encourage you to think beyond these questions and identify issues that may be important to youâ€”such as how a synagogue embraces social justice or the environmental policies of the synagogue.
We also came up with a list of questions that needed to be answered that touched on more of the tachlis or details:
Armed with these questions and a better idea of what we were looking for, we were ready to start our search. From here we found several synagogues in driving distance of our home that appeared to share our values.
Weâ€™re excited for our next steps: sitting down with leadership, observing a Shabbat service and imagining ourselves as active members of the synagogue.
By Elizabeth Vocke
When my husband and I first started dating I was what you might call a serial monogamistâ€”I had a string of long-term relationships that never really went anywhere. So when we met, I decided to change things up and ignore some of those relationship â€śmilestonesâ€ť that Iâ€™d sped toward in the past.
First on this list was meeting my family. I love them dearly, truly I do. But, weâ€™re a large group that some (i.e. my husband) may call intense. Iâ€™d had previous boyfriends feel overwhelmed by the number of family events and obligations.
Second was religion. My husband is not Jewish and I am, and while Iâ€™m OK with that, I didnâ€™t know how he felt.Â Now, this isnâ€™t a conversation I typically rush into. Iâ€™m not the most observant Jew. I donâ€™t keep kosher or go to synagogue regularly. But, I do go to services during the high holidays and celebrate all the holidays with my family, and Judaism is definitely a part of my upbringing.
So, I decided these milestones could wait.
Until they couldnâ€™t, and both converged just a few months into our relationship.
Passover was coming up and my sister was planning a big seder with all our family at her house. That meant my parents, sister, brother, in-laws, nephews, niece and more would all be in town just a few miles away for a big, raucous Jewish family event.
My husband (boyfriend at the time) knew I was going but I had already decided not to invite him. Who wants to meet a big family of another faith at a religious event that includes taking turns reading out loud, singing and speaking Hebrew? Apparently my husband.
As Passover neared I could tell that he actually wanted an invitation. That should have been my first sign that he was a keeper. But I resisted until it finally became more awkward not to invite him. And? It was great. He met my entire family at our Passover seder and the rest is history. So what did I know?
What I do know, now, is the importance of communication. While I initially waited to bring up the conversation about religion, we eventually did talk, long before we got engaged, then again once we were engaged, many times throughout the wedding planning process, again when planning our family and after, and we continue to have these discussions today.
We talked about what religion meant to us as individuals and as a couple, and most important, as a family. We made decisions early on, before we were married, about how we would raise our children. We talked about if and how this would impact our extended families, and what that meant to us as a couple. Mostly, we both felt strongly about respecting each otherâ€™s beliefs and needs.
We are lucky. Our religious backgrounds are widely different, but what is important to us about religion is the same. For us, itâ€™s first and foremost about family. Then, tradition, history and heritage; and those are things we both respect and believe in regardless of the formal aspects of the religions.
We decided early on to raise our daughter with aspects of both religions. My parents disagreed, thinking it would be confusing, but my husband and I had already discussed this and felt strongly about our decision.
We believed that our daughterâ€™s generation would be filled with kids from different faiths, races and combinations and that she would fit into this evolving world. And so far that has proven true.
Now, our daughter is 8 and we need to make decisions about joining a synagogue, Hebrew and/or Sunday School and a bat mitzvah. We also continue to celebrate Christian holidays and make that religion available as well. Because weâ€™ve already talked about much of this, those decisions are easier to make and typically in line with our shared beliefs.
This is what works for us.Â I will not tell you that an interfaith marriage or a mixed religious upbringing is right for everyone. And Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll face obstacles and have to redefine our thinking and our plans. But, the best advice I can offer is advice that will fare well in any aspect of a marriage or relationship: Communicate openly; communicate often.