One of my closest friends is a Jewish woman whose father was raised as a Catholic. At a recent service, her rabbi presented a sermon about the importance of welcoming the stranger and embracing non-Jewish spouses in their community. He announced he would be offering a basic Judaism class that could serve as a conversion course and invited non-Jewish spouses to convert if that was a choice that made sense for them. The rabbi also spoke about a variety of legitimate reasons why conversion might not be the best choice for an individual and affirmed these reasons as valid.
While we at JOI believe conversion is an option for those who choose that path, we don’t want those from other backgrounds who are intermarried feel that it’s required for participation in the Jewish community.
My friend’s father was delighted that the rabbi mentioned non-Jewish spouses in his sermon. Since the rabbi spoke about conversion in a gentle way, her dad did not feel pushed or pressured, although it is very possible that others may have felt that way. It is difficult to determine how, when, and where to mention conversion to spouses who grew up in other faith traditions. The pulpit may not be the best place. However, by thanking and acknowledging the spouses who help raise Jewish children, my friend’s rabbi made her family feel welcomed and motivated to increase their involvement in the Jewish community. In the spring, her dad will explain to coworkers—as he has done for many years—why he is eating matzah sandwiches for lunch every day. We will have to wait to see whether he does so as a new Jew-by-choice or as someone who has been practicing Judaism for years. Nevertheless, it is good to hear that his community has finally acknowledged his contribution to the future of the Jewish community by raising two Jewish children.
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