Every few years, I try to repeat the message in this column, and the time has arrived again. It is directed to those of you who are part of the extended family of our congregation but are not Jewish, and it is offered with the deepest respect for your spiritual integrity.
Intermarriage is a continuing concern for the Jewish community as a whole, but in your microcosm of the “whole” it is simply the daily reality. Our congregation continues to uphold the approach of Conservative Judaism: membership is open only to Jews (defined by Jewish law as a person born to a Jewish mother or converted according to halakha). But family members who are not Jews are always welcome in the synagogue, and on their own terms; we will never attempt to dissuade you from your own faith commitments.
Some folks, however, have no particular convictions when it comes to identifying with a faith community. Either they are disaffected from their community of origin or have simply neglected a spiritual affiliation. Many feel drawn to the practices of their Jewish family members (a particular situation during bar or bat mitzvah preparation) or admire the qualities that make their spouses attractive partners. My experience has been that many such people are shy on this subject, especially since a loving spouse may give them impression of indifference by not raising the possibility of embracing Judaism.
If I have described you, then here is an open invitation: call me and we will talk about whether studying Judaism is a good step for you. In our tradition, conversion occurs only after “informed consent,” so there is no presumption of a decision either way until many months down the road. And since I have nothing to gain (or lose) by your decision, I promise not to pressure you to become a Jew or not for any reason other than one – it is the right decision for you.
If, on the other hand, you are happy and engaged in your own faith (or lack thereof!), then I celebrate the relationship you have with God on those terms. You are still and always welcome at Agudas Achim as an honored and respected guest.
One postscript, which is not insignificant. If you have children whose mother was not Jewish when they were born and who have not been formally converted to Judaism by immersion in a mikvah, then they must go through that formality to continue through bar or bat mitzvah training in our congregation. It is a very simple process for kids, but better completed earlier than later. Call me and I will confidentially discuss that matter with you.
A family’s spiritual life and identity can be a source of great strength and meaning. If we can help to enhance yours, please take advantage of this window of opportunity.