The word is out. The Conservative movement has spoken once again, this time at its annual assembly. All of us who are engaged in one way or another with the Conservative movement were looking forward to the announcements about inclusion, particularly of interfaith couples, since we had been reading about the conference and its new program in the press for weeks (see our blog entry of November 30th here). Alas, what we get is a new approach to conversion. As someone said at the JOI conference held in Atlanta this week—a woman who is not Jewish but is active in synagogue and community—”Don’t you think that I have thought about conversion before?” While there are many who may be looking for an opportunity to be asked, that is not what they are waiting for. Some may just be waiting for a warm and welcoming community that they can call home. While we of course promote the option of conversion for those already on the inside, it is important to note once again that it is not an outreach strategy.
There are those in the Conservative movement that are grappling and have been leading the way. I didn’t hear their voices. Where is the voice of Rabbi Chuck Simon of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs who has been doing this work and who issued its own statement some months ago? And where are those on the West Coast who participated in the project that led to the publication of A Place in the Tent, the Tiferet Project that “welcomes intermarried households into Conservative Judaism.” This should be the main goal, yet it was overshadowed by this notion that we should push conversion first.
Even if the Conservative movement quadruples the number of annual conversions to Judaism—a highly unlikely goal (and note that no numeric goals were actually set at their biennial)—it would only represent a tiny percentage of the intermarried households already out there. More importantly, from whom are they going to draw these potential converts? They continue to avoid the real issue: that in most cases they have failed to create welcoming places for the intermarried households in their midst.