This past week, Rabbis around the world gave some of their most important sermons of the year—if measured by the size of their audience. The High Holidays present rabbis with the opportunity to speak to many more congregants than usual, and we are always appreciative when they take the opportunity to address issues of Jewish engagement, intermarriage, and conversion, the most important conversations for 21st Century American Judaism. How do we welcome in interfaith families? How do we extend a hand to Jews-by-choice?
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth El in Charlotte, NC, gave a beautiful sermon last week that focused on welcoming intermarried families and Jews-by-choice, as well as Jews of color, LGTBQ Jews, and Jews by birth looking for deeper meaning and a more enriching experience with their religion and heritage. He spoke candidly of his own experiences, and also cited some great stories of how we as a community can be welcoming to all those who wish to be Jewish and/or raise Jewish families:
Every time someone comes to speak to me, I have the opportunity to open the door to Judaism for them. I work to welcome everyone through that door. Any discussion any of us have may be their first step into our community, or, God forbid, as it was with my grandmother, their last step away from our community and all of Judaism.
Rabbi Freirich is setting an example that synagogues should consider following: one of inclusiveness through an overall change in how the Jewish communities welcome those they see as “outsiders.” It is Rabbi Freirich’s belief that these “outsiders” may actual hold the future of the Jewish people, helping to raise Jewish families and keeping the traditions alive.