This past weekend Rabbi Eric Yoffie spoke to 4200 Reform Jews at the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial convention. Among the various things he said was that synagogues have a responsibility to encourage the conversion of non-Jewish spouses who are among the members of the over 900 URJ member congregations. This is something that we have heard before from the platform of the URJ, especially from Rabbi Alexander Schindler of blessed memory who was a pioneer in reaching out to intermarried families.
We encourage conversion and we believe that the community should make it easier not harder for people to convert to Judaism by lowering the same barriers to conversion that have been erected around other programs too. But we hope communal professionals will not confuse Yoffie’s exhortation as an outreach strategy.
People who have joined synagogues have taken major steps in joining the community and casting their lot with the Jewish people. They are raising Jewish children. It is easy to catch people, so to speak, when they are running in our direction. Their rabbis will know them personally — and know where they are in their lives and in their spiritual journeys — before even broaching the subject of conversion. Those on the periphery however, especially those who are intermarried, are not going to be motivated to “dip a toe in the [Jewish] water” if they believe that what we are really interested in is their conversion. Part of being a warm and nurturing community is understanding people’s needs at different points in their lives, and providing meaningful experiences at every point along the way. If conversion is part of that journey, terrific. If not, there’s still a place in our community for warmth and growth without judgment or coercion.