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The Big Tent Judaism Blogcontaining up-to-the-minute news about the efforts of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition and other programs and events within the Jewish community that open our tent...
As we continue to conduct one-on-one, personal follow-up with the nearly 250 Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders that attended our conference in Washington DC last month, I wanted to post two more articles that resulted from the gathering.
The first is a profile of conference co-chair Adam Bronfman, who gave a rousing keynote speech on the first evening of the conference. JTA reporter Sue Fishkoff caught up with him afterwards and wrote a great piece about this communal leader, whose focus on meaning and values over raw demography is, we believe, the best approach toward creating a Big Tent Judaism:
Bronfman is more interested in encouraging Jews and Jewish institutions to treat newcomers with warmth than in counting “which percentage of the Jewish world does X.” Outreach, he says, should be used to help Jews find more meaning in their lives. As a philanthropist and a person, that’s more important to him than bean counting.
Great volunteer leaders must work toward their vision in partnership with great Jewish communal professionals, which is why we were also gratified to read a terrific first-person account of the conference from conference participant Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg in the St. Louis Jewish Light newspaper, in which she wrote:
We had gathered together, participants from all walks of Jewish life, to discuss outreach and what it means for the Jewish community of the present and future. There were a variety of workshops ranging from the “how to’s” of innovative outreach methods, to understanding how we can be inclusive of the LGBT Jews in our communities, to hearing first-hand accounts from those who are Jews by Choice, those who are intermarried but raising Jewish families, and those who are intermarried and raising interfaith families. Following every workshop session there was a “buzz,” as conference participants discussed what they just learned and how these outreach opportunities might work within their own communities.
We are now working to maintain that “buzz” even as we transition to the behind-the-scenes efforts of outreach programming, rolling out the communal welcome mat to all those who would join us.
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.
â€śNowhere in the Torah does it say that Abraham and Sarah asked their guests to join the synagogue.â€ť Rabbi Larry Bach of Temple Mount Sinai in El Paso, TX, made this statement to his congregation a few weeks ago during Shabbat (Sabbath) services. At the Jewish Outreach Institute, we encourage the welcoming in all who wish to cast their lot with the Jewish community, regardless of whether these individuals plan to pay membership dues to our institutions. And we are thrilled that a growing number of synagogue lay and professional leaders are joining us in this belief.
In his dâ€™var Torah (commentary on the Torah), Rabbi Bach announced the creation of JOIâ€™s Big Tent Judaism Coalition and commended his congregants on their already welcoming practices while urging them to further widen their tent:
For hospitality to be genuine, it must be offered without condition. We, who are so used to the idea that â€śthereâ€™s no such thing as a free lunch,â€ť are sometimes confused by such hospitality. A year doesnâ€™t pass that I donâ€™t hear from some newcomer these words: â€śNo, really Rabbi, how much are your High Holiday tickets?â€ť
I am so proud that this synagogue has maintained the practice of offering its High Holiday services to all who choose to enter. I am proud of our partnership with the Jewish Federation which allows us to present Youth and Family programming to the entire Jewish community. I am proud of our special outreach to soldiers and their families. I am proud of our efforts to welcome Jews-by-choice, intermarried families, and Jews from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. At Temple Mount Sinai we know that there isnâ€™t merely one way that Jewish families look, or act.