March 14, 2006
Because of an unprecedented flurry of recent news about intermarriage--including a front page Sunday New York Times story, Reform Jews Hope to Unmix Mixed Marriages --we decided to offer this special issue of InterfaithFamily.com's Web Magazine on "the outreach debate."
The Times article reports that the head of the Reform movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, recently called for Reform synagogues to increase their efforts to convert non-Jewish spouses. The article aptly notes the risk of that approach by quoting a non-Jewish partner who anticipates no longer going to the synagogue if she feels pressure to convert. We've heard similar comments from other interfaith couples, which causes us great concern.
To frame the debate, we offer two featured articles. First is the latest statement of my own views, The Next Big Thing is Now, reprinted from the New Jersey Jewish News. I call for more genuinely welcoming attitudes and less promotion of conversion, extensive offerings of outreach programs, and addressing a largely ignored frontier in the outreach field: the difficulties interfaith couples have in finding rabbis to officiate at their weddings. On the other side is Real Realism on Intermarriage, a September Forward op-ed by Jack Wertheimer and Steven Bayme, two of the leading ideological proponents of promoting in-marriage and conversion.
In addition, we offer:
Letters to the Editor
of the Forward
responding to the Wertheimer and Bayme op-ed, from me, Sherry Israel of the Hornstein Program at Brandeis, and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin of the Jewish Outreach Institute;
What Rabbi Yoffie actually said about Welcoming Non-Jewish Spouses and Converts
in his November sermon at the Reform movement's Biennial. In addition to calling for new efforts to encourage conversion, Rabbi Yoffie said that non-Jewish spouses raising Jewish children are "heroes of Jewish life" who deserve not merely welcome, but profound thanks--something the Reform movement regrettably has not publicized as much as the new conversion effort;
Gary Rosenblatt's latest editorial, When Intermarriage Hits Home
, where he renews the suggestion of an interim status for non-Jewish partners.
What do you think? Please join our online discussion on the topic: What is the best way to encourage more intermarrying couples to connect with the Jewish community and raise Jewish children?
Going beyond the theoretical, we offer two news stories about outreach "on the ground." The Conservative movement has also called for new efforts to encourage conversion of non-Jewish partners--click here to read about that--but some synagogues are taking a different approach, as told by Johanna Ginsberg in Conservative Synagogues Join Forces to Welcome Interfaith Families. And Dinah Spritzer describes how European Jewish Leaders Confront Questions of Apathy, Intermarriage.
Finally, today is Purim--a holiday that commemorates the rescue of the Jewish people by an intermarried woman, Queen Esther--and Rabbi Rayzel Raphael offers Purim and Intermarriage.
Don't miss our next issue on Passover and Easter, on March 28.
Edmund Case, Publisher
Write for Us!
For our forthcoming issue on Jewish Identity, we're looking for writers. If you are the child of intermarried parents, do you struggle with your religious identity? If you do, how much is that because of the way you feel you are perceived by the Jewish community? How much because of your own feelings of divided loyalties?
If you want to write about this topic, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Connections In Your Area--Featured Organization
The Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia is a social service organization dedicated to enriching the life of the individual Jew and of the Jewish community. The JCC is a membership organization devoted to activities with Jewish content. Its programs are permeated with the spiritual, cultural, and ethical values comprising the Jewish way of life on the American scene.