The Jewish tradition of welcoming began with Abraham and Sarah, who kept their tent open on all sides. In our modern Jewish community, we must continue this tradition of welcoming since we don’t know who will come seeking entry into our lives, worlds, or sanctuaries. Today, not everyone is going to marry within the Jewish religion. We need to be proactive and welcoming.
If done correctly, the children that come of these marriages can become valued members of the Jewish community. If we do not accept this reality, the alternative is to lose them. Experience has borne this out. Nationally, only 30 percent of interfaith couples raise their children as Jews. In Boston, which for many years has had an active outreach program to intermarried couples, the rate is 60 percent. This shows us that when a community makes a concerted effort to be welcoming, to emulate Abraham and Sarah, it can engage interfaith couples and embrace their children into our communities.
What does it take to educate and encourage a family to be prepared to share in the obligation and joy of raising Jewish children? What does it take to raise these children to value Torah and mitzvot?
Through the collaborative efforts of Shalom Baby, a program of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative, and Temple Beth Or in Washington Township a group of interfaith couples met earlier this month to address these very topics through shared conversation. The program was designed to explore how one creates a positive Jewish identity in an interfaith family.
The discussion centered on understanding the importance of parents presenting a united front in dealing with the possible stress of extended-family issues. The key to begin to engage as a family is to create lasting memories and establish normative moments. One of the key moments was the discussion of making the celebration of Shabbat a regular event in the lives of the interfaith family.
The conversation will continue on Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Temple Beth Or, when the discussion will focus on holiday celebrations in an interfaith family. What we have discovered is that there has to be an ongoing conversation, and there is no one size fits all answer.
For information on upcoming programs contact Cheryl Averta, (201) 820-3900, ext. 320, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org