Last week, JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky presented a lecture and book signing at the Highland Park Conservative Temple – Congregation Anshe Emeth. Speaking to an audience of about 70, he used the opportunity to show how his own Jewish journey – from a segregated high school in St. Petersberg, Floriday to a synagogue pulpit and beyond – has enabled him to guide others into the rhythm and ritual of Jewish life.
Writing in The Jewish State, Jacob Kamaras describes an evening of not only personal anecdotes, but also how Olitzky regularly uses his background to inform the work he does today. Attending a racially segregated high school forced Olitzky “to write about the value of more inclusive cultures.”
Such an experience helps Olitzky as he works towards creating an open and welcoming Jewish community, where those who “marry in” are made to feel comfortable and valued. This model, Olitzky said at his lecture, is what will lead to a stronger and more vibrant Jewish community, adding that “the community needs to be welcoming because the end of Jewish continuity is when interfaith families stop raising Jewish children, not when interfaith couples marry.”
It’s also interesting to note that Olitzky was delivering this speech at a synagogue described by some as “Conservadox,” a branch that lies somewhere between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. “He wasn’t speaking to the choir here,” said one lecture attendee.
But his message was enthusiastically received nonetheless. Everyone is beginning to realize that making a more concerted effort to welcome and engage all those on the periphery is what we need to inspire others to embrace their Jewish heritage and participate more fully in Jewish life.
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