Progress is in sight on the other side of the Atlantic: an Orthodox day school in England is admitting non-halachic Jews as students (children whose father, but not mother, is Jewish). Perhaps the school recognizes that these students are not non-jews, but non-halachic Jews, something we at JOI have been emphasizing for years. With the Conservative movement in the United States now encouraging patrilineal Jews to attend Ramah camps and supplementary schools (if they are under 13), we are making some progress toward JOI’s goal of developing an inclusive, “big tent” Jewish community.
Currently, and certainly for the school in England, moves to widen the tent are demographically motivated. Hopefully, community leaders will realize that we need not worry about a “shrinking community” if we include the diversity of people who are already in our midst. And while this philosophy also answers demographic concerns, it first and foremost speaks to our belief that Judaism has the power to deepen people’s lives, and that is why it should be made accessible. We must reach out and welcome in, and we look forward to the day—may it come soon—when the interest in these children and their parents is motivated by ideology rather than demography.