A Growing Voice for Inclusion

The voice of the Conservative movement is really beginning to solidify in terms of its approach to intermarried families. Just a few days ago we blogged about a Rosh Hashanah sermon from Rabbi Gil Steinlauf in which he advocated for doing more to include and welcome intermarried families. Now, we have an op-ed from Rabbi David Lerner in the (New York) Jewish Week explaining how his congregation – Temple Emunah in Lexington, Mass – is working with interfaith families to find ways “within Jewish law to embrace those families who wish to journey with us.” He writes:

Over time, I have come to appreciate more and more the devotion of the dozens of intermarried couples among our 535 families. Those couples with children often work hard to provide their children with a strong Jewish identity and education. Giving of their time, resources and energy, they donate to the community on many levels — serving on committees and making the choice to raise their children as Jews. My experience with these families has convinced me to reconsider my own approach to intermarriage.

Why should we push away those who want to be a part of a Conservative synagogue? Rather, given the shrinking numbers of American Jews in general and Conservative Jews in particular, should we not find ways to accommodate those who want to share in our vibrant Jewish communities?

Rabbi Lerner said his congregation has found ways to include the spouse of another religious background in life cycle events like baby-naming and b’nai mitzvah celebrations while remaining faithful to halacha (Jewish law). He even wonders if there is a way to “create a ceremony to recognize intermarried couples who commit to raising their children as Jews.”

As part of the Big Tent Judaism Coalition, Rabbi Lerner and his congregation exemplify what we are trying to achieve with BTJ, which is to engage, support and advocate for all those seeking a welcoming Jewish community. Our shared goal of encouraging intermarried/interpartnered families and unaffiliated Jews to make Jewish family choices won’t happen, though, if we don’t provide the opportunity for these folks to discover the value and meaning of Judaism.

“If Conservative Judaism is to remain a relevant and dynamic mainstream movement, it must confront these issues more openly and forthrightly” he writes. It’s for this reason that JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky has been, for the first time, invited to speak at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism biennial convention in December. This shows that the Conservative movement understands its outreach strategies have to change if the movement wants to continue to serve the growing diversity of today’s Jewish community.

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