Intermarriage and Synagogue Membership

Ahavas Chesed, a Conservative synagogue in Mobile, AL, continues to make bold decisions about how to create a warm and welcoming Jewish community. It has already decided to allow intermarried couples to be buried in their cemetery, and the synagogue’s rabbi, Steven Silberman, offers a prayer of blessing over interfaith couples who are marrying. Now, according to an article in the Press-Register, Ahavas Chesed “decided to welcome non-Jewish spouses to become members of the synagogue.”

Silberman, who was inspired to make these changes after attending JOI’s conference in Washington D.C. two years ago, said the goal is simply “to offer a warm and welcoming traditional Jewish home for households that are interested in a Jewish life.” Since that conference, JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky has visited the congregation twice and has been working with them on how to best reach intermarried families.

It was during these consultations that Rabbi Silberman and the synagogue’s board realized that keeping the spouse of another background from becoming a member just didn’t make sense. “Having families make up our synagogue is necessary for our synagogue to grow and prosper,” he said.

He’s right – why would a family join if the synagogue isn’t willing to let the entire family join? Obviously these families want to be a part of the Jewish community. Throwing up a barrier is a sure-fire way to keep these families at bay. Ahavas Chesed is responding to the realities of intermarriage by opening their doors and making a great effort to include and embrace everyone in their midst.

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