There has been discussion in the community with regard to the burial of a non-Jewish spouse in the context of a Jewish interfaith marriage. We have blogged about it here. And there has been discussion about the raising of Jewish children following a divorce among an intermarried couple, particularly when the divorce is acrimonious and the children are used as religio-political pawns in the battle for control. But there has been little said about what happens to the non-Jewish spouse in a Jewish community when the Jewish spouse dies. This is particularly challenging for someone who has raised Jewish children, made the Jewish community his or her home and then finds him/herself alone as someone who is not Jewish, as someone who may not be entitled to membership in a particular organization (especially a synagogue) as a single (with grown children). What should be done as a community to reach out and welcome in this individual who has already been in our midst for a long time, who has raised Jewish children, who has demonstrably contributed to the Jewish future but for reasons of his/her own, has chosen not to convert to Judaism?
Just as the issues that have arisen concerning burial have accelerated as the population of interfaith couples grows—and grows older—it is time that we address this issue. For us at JOI, the issue is quite simple. Let’s just open our tents wide enough to make sure that these folks who have been part of our community all along are not pushed out or pushed away. Let’s make the changes in membership policy now to include them.