Circle of friends

Circle of friends

Non-Jewish mothers of
Jewish children set to meet

TEANECK – When Jodee Fink shows up at the Temple Emeth library at 10 a.m. on Sunday, for the first meeting of the synagogue’s Mothers’ Circle for non-Jewish Mothers of Jewish Children, she’s hoping to find others like herself: a Catholic committed to raising her children as Jews. "I want to find other women I can relate to, people with whom I have a lot in common, to see how they are pursuing their own faith journeys while raising Jewish children," said Fink. The initial hour-long meeting, she said, will gauge interest within the community for a group of this sort and explore potential programming.

Temple Emeth’s Rabbi Steven Sirbu believes the time is right for a local initiative supporting women he calls "an important part of the Jewish future."

"The core idea," he told The Jewish Standard, "is that non-Jewish mothers have religious and social needs. I hope that Temple Emeth will be seen as a place for anyone who is part of the Jewish community, and I see these women as part of the Jewish community. [The group’s] primary function is that non-Jewish mothers understand they are supported in a synagogue context and can learn about the important roles they have in raising Jewish children."

Sirbu said he intends to support the group in any way he can, although he will take his cue from participants, waiting for them to identify needs and interests. He indicated that he will be responsive to the group’s evolving dynamic, and invited the Standard to track the progress of the Mothers’ Circle. "Hopefully, in three to four months, the group will have a direction [plotted], and you can do a follow-up story," he said.

The genesis for the Mothers’ Circle, Sirbu explained, was a reinvigoration of the synagogue’s Outreach Committee that has been taking place over the last year. This was one idea of several that the committee hopes to implement under its new chair, David Zatz, whose wife of 13 years is Presbyterian. While she has no interest in converting to Judaism, Kate Zatz has been the driving force, said her husband, behind the family’s involvement at Temple Emeth, and they already have a date for 10-year-old Zoe’s bat mitzvah. When the Zatzes met 15 years ago, Kate Zatz recalled, she felt strongly that their children have one firm identity. Because their two faiths have the Five Books of Moses and the rest of the Hebrew Bible in common, Zatz said, she believed it would be logical for the household to follow Jewish practice.

Looking back, however, she realizes that she was "a little na?ve about what it meant to [raise children] in a Jewish home. It’s not just about the religion, but also about the culture, learning a new language, and the fact that they [the children] [are entitled to] dual citizenship [in the U.S. and in Israel] in their lives.

"Fortunately, you grow up with your children, and we’re fortunate to be in a temple that offers a support system and opportunities to learn," said Zatz, a vice president of student development at SUNY-Rockland and chairman of the board of the American Public University System.

David Zatz, a private consultant in organizational development and survey research for business change who grew up attending a small Orthodox shul in Highland Park, is equally grateful to Temple Emeth and the Reform movement for making him and his family welcome in the Jewish community. Before they joined Temple Emeth about six years ago, he said, his experience with local congregations in other streams of Judaism was not positive. One rabbi, he said, suggested that he reconsider his marriage — "not a possibility."

"Rejection has not stemmed intermarriage," noted Zatz, expressing support for the Reform movement’s commitment to outreach to the intermarried as a way to draw in such families "so that we won’t lose as many as we used to [by rejecting them]."

Zatz and his committee have a busy schedule of events planned for the upcoming months, hoping to attract unaffiliated interfaith families along with those who already belong to Temple Emeth. He enumerated several events already on the calendar: "On Dec. 3, we’re doing ‘The Tree Thing,’ a look at the Christmas tree conundrum; on Jan. 31, we’ll hold ‘Ritual for Beginners,’ followed by a ‘Taste of Judaism’ in February. We’ll also do something for Passover and Shavuot."

The Mothers’ Circle, he explained, is just one facet of this full-blown outreach effort, designed to create a homier, more intimate feeling of support for the many who he believes are out there and in need of this service. Referring to Jewish men married to non-Jewish women, whose children are not recognized as Jewish by Jewish law, Zatz contended, "There are such a large percentage of people marrying out. It’s crazy to say to people, ‘You’re Jewish, but you’re not allowed to pass it on to your children.’"

For more information about the Mothers’ Circle, call Temple Emeth at (’01) 833-13”.

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