Shul reaches out to intermarrieds

Shul reaches out to intermarrieds

Is a Christmas tree out of the question? Should the family spend Christmas with her mother or Chanukah with his mother? And just how should the kids think about December holidays?
These are just some of the issues interfaith families face during the winter holidays and Temple Emeth in Teaneck is going to tackle them head on. The synagogue will begin a series of outreach programs on Sunday, Dec. 3, with "The Tree Thing," to look at the dilemmas of an interfaith family during the winter holiday season. Other events heading into the spring will include "Ritual for Beginners" and "Passover-Easter."

Although they are open to all members, the programs are aimed at Emeth’s interfaith families, as the shul responds to the results of the ‘005 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study, which found that almost 60 percent of children in interfaith households in Boston are raised as Jews. The numbers reported in the survey indicate that outreach efforts are more successful in getting people to raise Jewish children than was earlier believed, said Emeth’s Rabbi Steven Sirbu.

"Reform Jewish outreach has always been a strong part of the Temple Emeth identity," said Sirbu. "We understand the importance of welcoming interfaith families in congregational life."

December poses some of the most difficult questions for interfaith families, Sirbu said, which is why the first discussion will focus on the holidays and the emotional issues surrounding Christmas trees.

"We have a membership committee to reach out to people in general, but the outreach committee is aimed at interfaith couples," said David Zatz, the committee’s chair. These discussions will become regular events after the committee sees what works and what doesn’t, he added. He would like to see the committee focus on the positive things interfaith families are doing, rather than just the obstacles they face.

Striking the right balance in interfaith programming can be a challenge, Sirbu said. Are interfaith families looking for a synagogue that will accept them like everybody else? Are they looking for special programming to help them understand what it’s like being in an interfaith family? Or do they want something completely different?

"Our outreach committee has scheduled several programs meant to be educational in terms of what do particular holidays mean [with regard to] rituals, in discussion groups, so that families can talk about issues that are unique to them," Sirbu said.

Dr. Robert Staffin, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Teaneck, will lead a discussion during "The Tree Thing." He is not an expert on interfaith families, he told The Jewish Standard, but can share what he’s learned about how families relate to each other and experience conflict.

Many interfaith families face the same issues, Staffin said. "This is an opportunity for the group to share with one another successful solutions."

It is important to recognize what is at the root of a family difficulty, he said. Is it a religious or interpersonal issue? The goal is to broaden the focus of discussion so both parties can arrive at a better understanding of the issue, Staffin said.

As these programs progress, Sirbu hopes Temple Emeth, and synagogues in general, can become a resource for interfaith families.

"It’s really important for a synagogue to be a resource on these questions and issues. That way interfaith families know when they have questions, they can turn to the synagogues for support just as Jews have done throughout the ages," Sirbu said.

For more information on "The Tree Thing," call Temple Emeth, (’01) 833-13”.

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