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  • 11 Mar 2019 12:05 PM | Deborah Schmidt (Administrator)

    Religious life in America is going through a most significant transition. As many Americans are seeking new faith communities, switching religious traditions, and creating new communities of spiritual and religious engagement, Jewish leaders and their institutions need to be cognizant of these major transitions, open to working with religious seekers and young Jews who are exploring with their future mates and partners ways to move forward on their spiritual journeys. Today, we find many younger persons defining themselves as “religious nones”. As they move away from formal religious practices or question various traditional ideas about faith, our leaders must remain open to their concerns, questions and criticisms.

    One of the goals associated with 21st century American religion ought to be about breaking down silos of denominationalism in favor of building cross-institutional partnerships and programs. The Jewish community ought to model such collaborative behaviors as a way of assisting new Jews in finding their place and voice within Jewish life. Our communal and religious institutions must be open to welcoming and embracing those new participants who are seeking to become a part of our community. How we receive and engage individuals and couples will be a critical test of our own resiliency and openness to the stranger. We need to acknowledge in this current environment that the different models of Jewish expression and religious practice afford seekers multiple options. The availability of religious choice and the presence of a culture of experimentation are abiding features of the current Jewish scene.

    How we prepare and introduce Jews by choice to the Jewish communal roadmap will be another critical first step in helping these new Jews find their way within our community. Our institutional and cultural diversity ought to be seen as a key strength, as it demonstrates the multi-layered character of American Jewish life.

    How we manage the opportunities and appropriate roles for those individuals who at this time do not elect to become formally a part of our community, yet who are partnered or married to Jewish spouses, raises some important and challenging issues. Our fundamental goal ought to be focused on welcoming and including wherever possible these individuals within the life cycle experiences of their spouses, children and extended family.  Giving clarity and attention to the functions and roles that these folks can play represents another opportunity to demonstrate our community’s flexibility and openness.

    Professor Steven Windmueller, summary of talk  on delivered at Trustee Giving Circle Lunch, 2/26/2019

  • 2 Jan 2019 6:52 PM | Robin Podolsky

    At the end of the secular year, Christmakah (or Hanumas) celebrations have become, if not the new norm, at least common in the U.S.  While it is undoubtedly pleasant to celebrate festive occasions on an interfaith basis of good will, intermarriages – where neither of the parties convert, and accounting for more than half of American Jewish marriages now -- have become the elephant in the room in rabbinic circles. The underlying fear, of course, is Jewish assimilation. Will the children and grandchildren of intermarriage be Jewish? Who will fill the pews at our Temples and synagogues? How do you pass on a hybrid, “interfaith” religion? Or no religion at all, let them decide for themselves when they are older?

    Are American rabbis permitted to marry couples where conversion to Judaism has not – or not yet – taken place? For many Reform rabbis, and for trans-denominational rabbis as well, the decision is an individual one. Some rabbis ask for certain conditions: that the non-Jewish spouse must commit to bringing up any children of the marriage in a Jewish home where Jewish values and learning are valued. In other words, “Give us your children. Teach them, at least, to be Jewish.”

    Many rabbis optimistically believe that, with repeated contact with Shabbat candlelighting, with the joyous festivals, the Jewish way of life with its value of community and tikkun olam, and with a growing understanding of the whys and hows of the Jewish moral code, non-Jewish partners will eventually choose to convert. By that time, they will be well immersed and, today, well accepted in the Jewish community.

    For conservative rabbis, however, the choices available are very different. Until recently, they have not been permitted to officiate, let alone attend, intermarriages. However, now, in a move facing the reality of so many modern Jewish marriages, the Conservative movement has decided to allow their affiliated rabbis to attend intermarriage ceremonies. Not to officiate, mind you – perhaps that decision will follow – but for now, they will at least be able to attend the simcha.

    In a recent article in the Forward (“Conservative Movement Gives Rabbi Green Light to Attend Intermarriages,” 0ct. 22, 2018), writer Ari Feldman commented: “It is a long-awaited, welcoming gesture. Until now, conservative rabbis could not even hover in the back row if they wished to remain in the conservative movement.”

    So maybe the elephant is already out of the room. Perhaps now that we can talk about it together, we can find some useful solutions. In the meantime, Happy 2019!

    ©Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

  • 9 Nov 2018 2:16 PM | Robin Podolsky

    A decade ago (2008), Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky offered his own thoughtful and enduring article, written from a conservative point of view, on the subject of conversion — which he considered a preferable and potentially transformative alternative to intermarriage. “At a given moment,” he wrote, “a non-Jew is transformed from ‘outsider’ to ‘one of us.’ What changed that person?” What is the transformative moment?


    Kalmanofsky suggested that the prospective convert may have passed through one or more “doors” [inserted numbers mine}:

    1. “What doorway did s/he pass through, so that the s/he now counts in the minyan?

    2. Was it a religious doorway?

    3. An ethnic one?

    4. An intellectual affirmation.

    5. A faith act?

    6. A mark on the body?

    7. An orientation of the spirit?

    8. Does conversion depend on one’s self-definition?

    9.   Or upon decisions by others, like rabbinic courts?

    10. Or perhaps upon the informal willingness of Jews to recognize someone as family?”

    Those of us who are born Jews may also reflect on the multiple

    stages we pass through during the pathways of our lives?

    Do we find enriching moments — our own transformative doorways — along the

    way? Do we continue to grow spiritually? Or do we take the fact of Jewish birth our

    spiritual citizenship — for granted?

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