April 11, 2012
As a future Conservative rabbi, my goal is not just to serve Conservative Jews. My job as a future leader of the Jewish people is to serve all Jews. While I identify closely with the Conservative movement, study at a Conservative institution and attend a Conservative synagogue, I am not only a Conservative Jew. I am Jewish. Period.
I am a Conservative rabbinical student who, like many Jews today, struggles with what it means to be Jewish. How do we define what it means to be Jewish when there is not one, two or even three "types" of Jews? How do our institutions and synagogues accommodate and meet the needs of the evolving Jewish population? While I do not pretend to have all of the answers, I do believe that the key to embracing all types of Jews is through inclusive and meaningful learning.
I struggle at times with some of the negative ramifications presented by normative Jewish institutions (those that cater exclusively to a particular denomination or a particular "type" of Jew that fits within the specific ideals and mission of that institution). I believe the central problem is that normative Jewish institutions often exclude fellow Jews who fall outside the particular normative structure. This too often includes Jews who are in interfaith relationships, raise children in interfaith homes or are of patrilineal Jewish descent.
I believe that all Jews deserve meaningful and serious Jewish learning. Why should the type of synagogue you belong to, or the parent through which your Jewish identity passed, inhibit the type of learning and community into which you are welcomed? By depriving a Jewish person raised in an interfaith family of meaningful Jewish learning and a sense of community, are we accomplishing anything other than turning them away from Judaism?
This article is not the forum to delve in-depth into the debate of matrilineal versus patrilineal descent. The Jewish community is like one large dysfunctional family: while there are issues we may not agree on, just as a family may fight during Thanksgiving or Shabbat dinner, at the end of the day we all need to love and embrace one another or else we will not make it through dessert.
Every Jewish generation faces challenging questions and issues that they must choose either to work hard to address or simply ignore. One of the most challenging questions facing today's generation is how the religion embraces Jews who are in interfaith relationships, raise children in interfaith homes or are of patrilineal Jewish descent.
My mission as a future rabbi is to create an environment and community in which all Jews can engage in and experience supportive and meaningful Jewish learning regardless of their familial background. As part of this mission, I co-founded MyBarMitzvahTutors.com with my sister Marisa. We have created an online interactive hub of meaningful Jewish learning and bar/bat mitzvah preparation that approaches Jewish learning in a brand new way. Instead of taking the well traveled path of functioning as a typical normative Jewish institution and only catering to a particular denomination or "type" of Jew, we have opened our arms to those who felt the doors were shut in their faces, for one reason or another, when they tried to engage in Jewish learning or community. If we, as the Jewish people of this generation, turn a Jewish person away and do not make them feel welcome because one of their parents is not Jewish, where will they go? It is my hope that interfaith families will feel that they have a home for Jewish learning online with MyBarMitzvahTutors.com. While MyBarMitzvahTutors is only the beginning of my mission to push American Judaism toward inclusive "open tent" Judaism, it is a step in the right direction.
While our endeavor is only a year and a half old, Marisa and I have already opened the doors and welcomed many interfaith families into the folds of traditional Jewish learning. In the next year we hope to reach out to more interfaith and interracial Jewish families to let them know that they have an avenue through which they can feel supported, comfortable and embraced by Jewish learning. Learning should not be fracturing the Jewish community, but rather bringing us closer together. MyBarMitzvahTutors is the first stop on my personal mission of Jewish outreach and inclusion. I will graduate from the Jewish Theological Seminary next year and look forward to a career in the rabbinate that is welcoming and open to the diversity that is the Jewish community. I am Jewish, you are Jewish, and now it is time for all Jews to come together as a community.