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One of the highlights of my participation in the PLP ThinkTank3 Conference last week (as blogged about here) was the opportunity to meet and serve on a panel with Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. During our session on intermarriage and interdating, Rabbi Jeret offered many important messages about creating a welcoming Jewish community for intermarried families—including the suggestion that we redefine our answers about “what is a Jewish household” around Jewish values rather than simply based on the lineage of household members.
The fact that Congregation Ner Tamid is affiliated with the Conservative movement, yet is able to welcome in a huge number or intermarried households, shows that even as the movement leadership struggles mightily with issues of intermarriage, innovation is occurring on the local level. We hope others in the movement (and the community at large) will draw lessons from Rabbi Jeret’s inclusive message and methods.
One of Rabbi Jeret’s messages that struck me as particularly important, both for its words and its timing, came this past Yom Kippur—the biggest synagogue day of the year—to an audience of over 2,000 congregants. And it came at a particularly emotion time, right before Yizkor, the memorial service for those who have passed away. Rabbi Jeret gave us permission to reprint it in full, and we will also post it to our Think Pieces and Testimonials Page of BigTentJudaism.org once that part of the site goes live:
A Special Thank You To Non-Jewish Spouses of The Congregation Ner Tamid Family
My friends, we are about to begin the journey into our collective and respective memories of all of those who have come before us. For some of us, in some instances, our relationships with those whom we remember were simple and sweet. I have found, as I am sure that you have found, that this is not always the case. As well, the breadth and depth of our memories of individuals are as limited as our relationships with them were complex and even complicated at times; none of us can fathom the entirety of another’s existence. Our loved ones’ more complete interaction with this world and contribution to it is truly beyond our grasp.
Therefore, on this day of remembering, we ask God to remember. We ask The One Who Records and Keeps All That Has Been to remember today the grandest scope and the most personal intimacies of the lives lived by our loved ones. By recognizing God’s role as the repository of all that has been, we gain strength as we reach toward greater truths and deeper lessons to be gleaned from those whom we loved and those with whom we struggled, from those who loved us and even from those who caused us hurt while loving us.
However, as our memories are indeed incomplete, there is yet another reason that we call upon our Creator this day to remember souls departed from this world. We do so in the hope, as well, that the remembrance achieved this day is indeed the remembrance that is rightly due to our loved ones. We are not alone. The burden and opportunity of remembering is one we share with God.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, I will share with you at this time, just prior to the Yizkor Service on this day, the holiest and most important day of the entire year for our People, a message that every one of us must hear and must repeat to others. These are quite likely the most important words that I will share with you throughout this entire day.
There are Jewish souls, some long departed from this world and some more recently so, who, while alive, might have looked today at this sanctuary with rage and shame. They would have seen that some of us gathered here today are Jewish men and women partnered in loving relationships, married, and even raising children with men and women who are not Jewish themselves. They would likely have felt a sense of betrayal that their heritage, one struggled for and even died for, would not be carried forth with its splendor, strength, and wisdom unto future generations.
What they would have missed while looking from the past to the present is that so many of those who are not Jewish in this room have committed themselves to building Jewish households and raising Jewish children. What they could not have known is that so often, in our era and in our community, it is the non-Jewish spouse who cares for his or her children’s Jewish identity and development even more so than our loved ones’ Jewish descendent! They would not have understood the tremendous acts of love and generosity to the Jewish People offered by those of you in this room today who have not chosen to be Jewish yourselves but have shared your children with a People who needs you so very much and needs your children to be a part of our future. They could never have imagined the personal sacrifices that you have undertaken, often forgoing meaningful moments derived from the traditions of your own families in support of a faith common to your spouse and his or her family. In their condemnation of their Jewish descendents, these Jewish souls of the past would have missed one of the kindest and most selfless acts of love and generosity ever known to the Jewish People.
Today, there are 13 million Jews in the world. That’s right; there are almost three times as many citizens of the State of California than there are Jews in the entire world! We struggle each year and each decade to maintain our numbers and to keep our average age from increasing! Know that as sure as we cannot remember our loved ones for the entirety of who they were, our loved ones could not have begun to imagine the commitment and generosity for which we thank you — the non-Jewish spouses in this sanctuary today who have chosen to raise your children Jewishly, to participate in our community, and to participate in building Jewish homes and a Jewish future. We thank you today for perpetuating and strengthening our People. Your gift of time, energy, and commitment must not go unnoticed any longer.
As God is my witness today and as I know with certainty in my heart, each departed soul of every family remembered today by those gathered in this sanctuary joins with every Jew in this space today in thanking you for all that you do for and give toward the future of our People. Looking from the past, they couldn’t have known of your gift to their People’s future. Looking from eternity — from above and beyond — they see you for who you are and for all that you do. You and your children are a blessing unto all of us and our love and gratitude knows no bounds.
Now, my friends, let us all remember our loved ones …
Copyright Â© 2007 Rabbi Isaac Jeret & Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay. All rights reserved.
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