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Rabbi's Message: Reach Out to Interfaith Families

This article, reprinted with permission, is an edited version of a sermon that was then published in the Bulletin of Temple Aliyah of Needham, Massachusetts.

Do you know any interfaith families? Of course you do! We all do! It will soon be the case that most Jewish families (that is, those who identify themselves as Jewish) will include one or more individuals who aren't Jewish. Most of us already have non-Jewish members in our extended--if not nuclear--families.

Do you know any unaffiliated interfaith families in our community? Probably. Although there are a number of interfaith families who are have joined our congregation, there are far, far more who have not.

Most interfaith families do not join synagogues. Most children being raised in interfaith households in which one of the parents is Jewish are not being given a Jewish education.

We can do something about that. If you know unaffiliated interfaith families in our community, you can do a mitzvah (commanded good deed): Invite them to shul. Introduce them to me at the kiddush (blessing over wine). Invite them to your home to share a Shabbat (Sabbath) meal. Show them how fulfilling it can be to make Jewish choices in their lives. Talk with them about the appeals of becoming involved with the Jewish community by affiliating with a synagogue.

Not every interfaith family will respond to your efforts to draw them near. But some might. Sometimes, that is all that's necessary: to be inviting. Many interfaith families feel (rightly or wrongly) excluded from the organized Jewish community. We can help them realize that they may be able to find a place for themselves, if only they seek it. Some may ultimately affiliate here; others may decide that, given their sensibilities, predilections and priorities, they wish to affiliate elsewhere. That's fine. What's important is that we communicate our openness to those who might wish to join us.

I'm often asked, "What can a non-Jewish partner (parent, sibling, spouse) do in our service?" With all due respect, that isn't the right first question to ask. If we ask, "What can we offer non-Jews who wish to explore the way we practice Judaism?" the answer is, quite a lot. We have a message--a compelling message--for Jews and for others who might find Judaism appealing. Some of the most active members of our community were not born Jewish. Some of the most religiously sensitive members of our congregation did not go to synagogue in their youth; instead, they went to church. Although at times Jews have been reluctant to proselytize--quite understandably, considering that the punishment for proselytizing, during the Middle Ages, was death--we should no longer be so bashful. Judaism is a wonderful way of life--for those who were born Jewish and those who choose to embrace it.

Here are some organizations that offer programs which you may wish to bring to the attention of your friends in interfaith households:

Local Jewish Community Centers offer programming for intermarried families, and the Jewish Family & Children's Service sponsors the Interfaith Family Resource Center, which provides speakers, programs, and counseling for interfaith families.

The Conservative Movement has hired an outreach coordinator, Rabbi Judith Kummer (kummer@uscj.org), who heads the Jewish Discovery Institute which offers courses teaching basic Judaism that can lead to conversion. Rabbi Kummer also heads the Keruv initiative that helps link interfaith couples and families with Conservative congregations.

Finally, interfaith couples and families may find www.InterfaithFamily.com of interest. This is a web-based magazine, published every two weeks, containing many first person accounts of interfaith families "making Jewish choices." It's worth recommending.

Whatever you do, don't ignore interfaith families. Within them are Jews (and non-Jews) waiting to be invited to share in the delights of Jewish life.

Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. Hebrew for "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "going up," it refers to the honor of saying the blessing over the Torah reading. It can also refer to the act of immigrating to Israel. (e.g. "After falling in love with Jerusalem, Rachel and Christopher made aliyah.") Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "bringing close," a term meaning Jewish outreach. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. Yiddish for "synagogue."
Rabbi Carl Perkins

Rabbi Carl Perkins is the rabbi of Temple Aliyah, a Conservative congregation in Needham, Mass.

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