September 2023 News from the Center

|

High Holiday Sermons – Inclusive and Not-so-inclusive

Rachel Timoner, senior rabbi at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brookly, gave an incredibly inclusive Rosh Hashanah sermon. In discussing parallels between religious issues dividing Israelis and dividing American Jews, she describes her congregation as “a prime example of the other liberal Judaism: the progressive, multiracial, interfaith, pluralistic, justice-focused, thriving Judaism.” I loved the sound of “interfaith” modifying “Judaism” along with “progressive, justice-focused” and all the other adjectives.

Rabbi Timoner eloquently describes interfaith family inclusion:

“We do not have one kind of look. We do not have one kind of name. We come from every race and myriad cultures. You may meet a white Ashkenazi or Sephardi Jew, a Black Jew, an Asian Jew, a Latino Jew, an Arab Jew, and no matter what we look like we might know a lot about Judaism or a little. We also include a lot of people who aren’t Jewish. The only thing you can assume – the only thing you should assume – is that every single person you meet at CBE belongs here exactly as much as you do.

Our community includes many intermarried families. Jews have been intermarrying forever. We’re the children of Moses AND Tsippora. We’re the children of Ruth the Moabite who was the ancestor of King David who is the ancestor of the messiah. Some of the most dedicated and outstanding Jewish teens of this community have been children of intermarried families. There is no such thing as a half-Jew. Jewish children of intermarriage are Jews, full stop. When we embrace the diverse families of our community, intermarriage makes us stronger.”

I was very disappointed in the Kol Nidre sermon of Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, which you can listen to here. I hate to disagree with Rabbi Buchdahl, I have been privileged to know and talk with her, and admire her greatly – she is deservedly one of America’s iconic, outstanding rabbis. And I loved the first part of the sermon, which criticizes how the Jewish community has for many years passed judgment on interfaith marriage as a negative. Rabbi Buchdahl nicely describes engaged partners from different faith backgrounds as not “b’nai yisrael,” children of Israel, but “bonei yisrael,” builders of Israel.

But the sermon veers badly off course, in my view, recommending renewed efforts to encourage those builders of Israel to convert. This is personal for the rabbi; she relates how her own mother was only welcomed as a guest, never asked if she were interested in converting.

Here are some of my questions for Rabbi Buchdahl: what do you say to those “bonei yisrael” who do not want to convert? That they can only be welcomed as a guest, whose presence is appreciated, but they can’t be included in Jewish communities – feel that they belong – unless they convert? Isn’t it necessarily passing judgment on partners from different faith backgrounds as second class, if they’re not worthy of being included without converting?

Just before Yom Kippur, Religion News Service ran “This Yom Kippur, she’ll pray inside the synagogue, he’ll secure it on the outside.” It’s a very positive story about the “growing ranks of intermarried synagogue members.” It says ,“the liberal Jewish movements have come a long way in welcoming non-Jewish spouses and encouraging their involvement” and that “religious intermarriage, which once carried a stigma, is now commonplace and is reshaping the contours of Jewish belief, practice and community.” It quotes Len Saxe of the Cohen Center as saying “The future of the Jewish people turns on whether we’re going to educate the children of one, as well as two, Jewish parents… That’s what’s happened in America, and it has led to an increase in the population.” I was pleased to see 18Doors prominently mentioned in the article.

The Detroit Jewish News ran a nice article about my friend Natalie Louise Shribman becoming the rabbi at local Reform Temple Kol Ami. Rabbi Shribman, whose mother isn’t Jewish, says “Throughout my career as a rabbi, I have been trying to find different ways to make interfaith families feel at home for both Jews and their non-Jewish partners.” Meanwhile, Allyson Zacharoff, who “grew up as the Jewish child of a happy interfaith marriage,” is the new rabbi at Reconstructionist Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit NJ.

The Movements

The URJ’s September 12 “Inside Leadership” email newsletter featured a blog post titled “Interfaith Inclusion in Our Communities.” I was told that a version had been available for several years and that there is a similar resource on the URJ’s website, “Interfaith Inclusion in Our Congregations & Communities.” These resources very cautiously address issues of terminology, as well as leadership roles and ritual participation by partners who are not Jewish. They do say that “the general trend has been expanding eligibility for leadership positions,” but that ritual participation is “usually determined by [clergy] working alongside lay leaders.”

It’s unfortunate that there isn’t more bold leadership by the movement on these issues, and that there is little attention explicitly given to them. There probably is not bold leadership because, as exemplified by the different sermons of Rabbi Timoner and Rabbi Buchdahl, some rabbis recognize that full inclusion of unconverted partners is necessary, while others want them to  convert. This may also be what stifles discussion; the URJ is celebrating its 150th anniversary in December, but it doesn’t appear from the information available on the event’s website that engaging interfaith families even will be a specific topic of discussion.

On the Conservative side, Daniel Stein, the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, writes for the J that he wants to officiate at weddings of interfaith couples. Rabbi Stein says that in the Conservative congregations he’s served, interfaith couples “contribute in remarkable ways… their presence enriches our community.” Referring to the movement’s decline, he asks, “How much richer would our Conservative Jewish communities be if rabbis like me could seriously engage with couples at the outset of their marriage?” He concludes by saying that “non-Jews who love Jews … should be welcomed and loved as a vital part of a new Jewish future. Hopefully, the leadership of the Conservative movement will embrace the spirit of the moment before it is too late.”

The Religion News Service story about Yom Kippur focuses on one interfaith couple and welcoming changes that have been made at their Conservative synagogue, Beth Mayer, in Raleigh NC led by Rabbi Eric Solomon (who would like to officiate at weddings of interfaith couples if he could).

(In the August newsletter, I misspoke about the date of the “Can We Talk About Patrilineal Descent” program at the United Synagogue’s convention – it’s in December.)

Europe

My understanding is that local Jewish communities in Europe are highly organized and controlled by Orthodox authorities. This month there were two stories that indicated challenges to that hegemony and possible future liberalization.

New synagogue in Dresden plans to operate outside of Germany’s Jewish mainstream” describes a new “egalitarian congregation” that has some 200 members and “is officially open to Jews and their non-Jewish partners – something that sets it apart from most synagogues in Germany.” The founder told JTA “We don’t need anyone’s authorization to be Jewish or to have our own community, and we don’t accept the Central Council as any authority about how Jewish life should look.”

Meanwhile in Calabria, in southern Italy, a Reconstructionist synagogue founded by Rabbi Barbara Aiello includes descendants of Sephardic Jews, who were forcibly converted to Christianity and are not halachically Jewish, and accepts same-sex and interfaith marriages. As a result, Orthodox communities do not recognize or include Rabbi Aiello’s community.

At our May 2023 Radical Inclusion program, UK Rabbi Guy Hall spoke compared the status of interfaith inclusion in the US and in Europe — watch here.

Missed opportunity

Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback is the senior rabbi of a major Los Angeles synagogue, Stephen Wise Temple, wrote “Big Tent Judaism” for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. He argues that American Jews have a stake in and should be willing to fight for gender equality and inclusion in Israel.

Rabbi Zweiback cites a recent Haftorah portion in which “the prophet Isaiah invites us to imagine a more expansive Jewish community, one that makes room for every person: ‘Enlarge the site of your tent, Extend the size of your dwelling, Do not stint! Lengthen the ropes, and drive the pegs firm.’ (Is. 54:2).” He is proud that his synagogue community is committed to egalitarianism and LGBTQ+ inclusion, a big tent where there is “room for Jews of all beliefs, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, and levels of observance,” in which “our whole community is included – along with our friends, allies, and beloved guests.”

This is a fine piece. I just wish that Rabbi Zweiback explicitly referred to interfaith couples, and in particular partners from different faith backgrounds, as being included in the tent – made to feel that they belong – and not just welcomed as “beloved guests.”

Also in the Media

Amy Beth Starr, whose husband is not Jewish, wrote very poignantly for Kveller about living in an area where there are very few Jews and sending her son to a Jewish summer day camp where she hoped he’d make some Jewish friends. While he loved the camp, sadly there weren’t many  Jewish kids there and he didn’t make any Jewish friends.

My Google alert on interfaith couples picked up an entry on J Station X – a blog by a video gamer – titled “What Role Did a Rabbi Play in the Process” (I have no idea what game the entry is about). Part of the entry asked “Can a rabbi marry interfaith couples?” I thought the answer was very fair: “It depends on the rabbi and their denomination. Some rabbis are willing to officiate interfaith weddings, while others may have specific guidelines or restrictions.”

An article in a secular paper, the Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram, focused on the findings in recent demographic studies of Long Beach and of nearby Los Angeles that many Jews don’t feel a sense of belonging in their Jewish communities. While not about interfaith families in particular, the article notes that a vice president of the Long Beach federation said that “though she is part of an interfaith family, her children were welcomed into a local Jewish preschool with open arms.”

June 2023 News from the Center

|
Re-CHARGING Reform – More Silence and Missed Opportunities

There was an important conference May 31-June 1, Re-CHARGING Reform Judaism. More than 300 rabbis and lay leaders attended, according to JNSand Religion News Service accounts. I wasn’t invited, but have watched several of the sessions on youtube, including the keynote by lead organizer Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch (which you can also read here) and a panel of Reform movement leaders offering their vision of the future.

An important motivation for the gathering, as the JNS story puts it, apparently was “lagging Reform synagogue attendance and declining revenues.” I continue to be astonished when Jewish leaders do not emphasize the imperative to be more inclusive of more interfaith families as key to reversing declining engagement – but that’s what happened at this gathering.

Coincidentally, the New York Times had a fascinating opinion piece on “dechurching” – the decline in people regularly attending houses of worship which the piece says is particularly prevalent among Jews. It notes that people are looking for new spiritual communities that are “less exclusionary than the denominations they were raised in;” one, who was raised Jewish but “became disillusioned when I could not find a rabbi who would conduct an interfaith marriage ceremony,” joined and now leads the Interfaith Families Project in the DC area.

Any lesson about not being exclusionary was not reflected in the movement leaders’ session at the Re-CHARGING Reform conference. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the URJ, did say that “our numeric strength is largely due to our inclusion of interfaith families who have felt our loving embrace… an embrace that has been transformational.” He continued that those not yet connected “still include many interfaith families” – but said nothing about what could be done to connect more of them.

Rabbi Hara Person, head of the CCAR that serves rabbis, said nothing about helping them engage and include interfaith families; she did mention the importance of the CCAR’s resolutions – which still include an exclusionary one that says “we do not condone mixed marriage” and “the ideal toward which we rabbis strive, teach and lead is that Jews should marry Jews.” (Coincidentally, a Tablet article on Reform rabbis seeing “an increase in conversion – much of it coming from the LGBTQ+ community” notes that the CCAR “runs year-round programming supporting the LGBTQ+ community and clergy, such as training for inclusive worship life cycle events.”)

Andrew Rehfeld, head of HUC, referred to the smallest entering classes at the Reform seminary in decades – with no mention of its exclusionary policy not to admit or ordain rabbinic students who are in interfaith relationships.

Rabbi Hirsch in his keynote said we need to figure out how to engage the unengaged and to attract many more people. It made me nervous when he emphasized Jewish particularism and the particularistic covenant of the Jewish people, because that could mean circling the wagons and including only those who are Jewish (including those who convert) and not also those who do Jewish – an exclusionary approach that will not attract or engage interfaith families.

In another missed opportunity, the Jewish Federations of North America announced their priorities for the coming year, which include (in addition to Ukraine, security, antisemitism, and Israel) expanding their equity, diversity and inclusion initiative – an effort that focuses on Jews of color and not on interfaith families.

The silence of Reform movement and federation leaders on including interfaith families fails to counter the continuing Orthodox voice in Israel that denounces any inclusion of interfaith families at all. There was an awful diatribe in Arutz Sheva by an Orthodox rabbi and professor, Dov Fischer, who contends that many of those reported to be Jewish in the 2020 Pew report aren’t “in fact” Jewish because they don’t meet Orthodox standards. In a previous piece, Alan Cooperman, principal author of the Pew report, aptly explained that like all other surveys, Pew is based on self-reporting of identity, and that Pew didn’t take a normative position on the question “who is a Jew?” That’s something that our movement and communal leaders need to do.

More Studies

The Cohen Center released another Jewish community study, of Portland OR. This summer I’m hoping to update my analysis of the Cohen Center’s studies to include the most recent ones. In the meantime, I noted that 63% of married couples are intermarried, and that while 51% of inmarried respondents feel some or a great deal of a sense of belonging to the local Jewish community, only 14% of intermarried respondents do.

In Other News

  • There were not one but two articles about parents disinheriting children who intermarried.
  • Another celebrity with intermarried parents, basketball’s Amari Bailey, identifies as Jewish.

More Negative, More Positive

|

Before getting to the recent news: I’ll be speaking at the Shames JCC on the Hudson in Tarrytown, NY on Sunday, November 4 at 9:30. The Rivertowns Jewish Consortium is sponsoring this community conversation; if you are in the area, I hope you’ll participate in the discussion of these questions: Why do some interfaith families engage with the Jewish community more than others? Are there identifiable barriers that need to be eliminated to encourage engagement and to enrich communal life for all? RSVP to RJC@shamesjcc.org.

Israel

Over the years I’ve regularly described how negative pretty much every comment coming out of Israel is about intermarriage. It’s happened again, with news of the wedding of Israeli Jewish actor and Fauda star Tsahi Halevi to Israeli Arab news anchor Lucy Aharish. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said it was “not the right thing to do” and that “assimilation is consuming the Jewish people.”

Likud MK Oren Hazan suggested Aharish had “seduced a Jewish soul in order to hurt our nation and prevent more Jewish offspring,” and Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich said that Halevi would become “one of the lost Jews who had given in to assimilation.”

Even more temperate politicians who criticized these responses said they opposed interfaith marriage, including Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Culture Minister Miri Regev. Most Israeli politicians either don’t get the message, or don’t care, that their nasty comments about intermarriage are off-putting to the increasingly intermarried American Jewish community.

In a very positive sign, however, Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy wrote that the narrative that interfaith marriages are an existential threat, that assimilation means destruction, is “deeply rooted,” “racist,” and “nationalistic.”

Is the struggle against assimilation a struggle to preserve Jewish values as they’ve been realized in Israel? If so, then it would be best to abandon that battle. The gefilte fish and hreime (spicy sauce), the bible, religion and heritage, can be preserved in mixed marriages as well.

The Jewish state has already crystallized an identity, which can only be enriched by assimilation, which is a normal, healthy process. Lucy Aharish and Tzachi Halevy may actually spawn a much more moral and civilized race than the one that has arisen here so far.

New Book

Jack Wertheimer, one of the most prominent critics of intermarriage, has written a new book, The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today. I haven’t finished reading it, but Wertheimer’s continuing distaste for intermarriage is evident. When he talks about “evidence of considerable weakness and vulnerability in Jewish religious life,” the first thing he mentions is “rates of intermarriage have spiraled up.” (at 3)

Wertheimer  quotes a rabbi who “in a moment of cynicism” defined the bar/bat mitzvah as “the wedding parents are able to control as a Jewish occasion,” lamenting that “most non-Orthodox parent have no assurance their child will… wed a Jewish person.” (at 47-48) He reiterates the old chestnut of ambiguous religious identity “discernible in the blurring or religious practices, if not outright syncretism, such as the celebration of both Hanukkah and Christmas, or Passover and Easter in [intermarried] households.” (at 60)

While begrudgingly complimenting the Reform movement for having “cornered the market of intermarried families seeking synagogue membership,” Wertheimer describes that outreach as “fraught with complications” and asks “are we to believe that their religious practices are unaffected?” (at 113, 117). He criticizes that “Non-Jewish parents who devotedly bring their children to services and classes are now publicly honored as ‘heroes’.” (at 118) And he expresses concern about Conservative synagogues “moving toward what they see as greater hospitality” to interfaith couples. (at 140)

I’ll have more to say about the book at another time.

Conservative Movement

While Jack Wertheimer expresses concern about Conservative synagogues “moving toward what they see as greater hospitality” to interfaith couples (at 140), there is a really excellent article by Ilana Marcus on Tablet, “Members Only,” about Conservative synagogues moving to include partners from different faith traditions as full members of the congregation.  Bravo to Laura Brooks, one such partner, who spoke at a congregational meeting about membership after reading in her synagogue newsletter that one reason to send children to Jewish camp was to make it more likely that they would marry a Jew:

She considered what that might mean, she told the group. She wondered if people in the community didn’t approve of her mixed-faith marriage. She worried about the message her sons were getting about their family after all she had done to nourish their Jewish identities and create a Jewish home. And she worried her kids might question their status as Jews, even though they had been through conversion as infants and even though she took them to and from Hebrew school every single week, just like all the other parents.

As Brookes spoke, she heard gasps. Afterward, members of the community came up to express their dismay. No one had imagined what it might be like for a non-Jewish mom raising Jewish kids to read a blurb about that particular feature of Jewish summer camp.

Bravo also to Rabbi Joshua Rabin, director of innovation at the United Synagogue, who is helping congregations reflect on the best ways to serve interfaith families.

Welcome Back, URJ!

|

The Reform movement made a very important announcement last night, the launch of RJ Connect, which has the potential to engage many more interfaith couples and families in Jewish life.

The Reform movement originated what used to be called “outreach” to interfaith families back in the 1980s. The movement had a pioneering outreach department that at its high point had a part-time regional outreach director in the movement’s fourteen regions around the country. The outreach staff were exceptionally warm, embracing, talented and hardworking ambassadors who helped congregations to be more welcoming and to offer programs, including the Yours, Mine and Ours workshop that helped new couples learn to talk and make decisions about having religious traditions together.

Sadly in 2003, the outreach department was dismantled, reportedly for financial reasons. I heard at the time a view that if interfaith families were going to join synagogue, they would gravitate towards Reform synagogues, so no special outreach efforts were needed.

In 2007 InterfaithFamily started an officiation referral service to help interfaith couples find rabbis to officiate or co-officiate at their weddings. In the ten years since, InterfaithFamily responded to probably more than 15,000 referral requests. In 2011, InterfaithFamily launched its Your Community initiative, with staff rabbis in communities around the country offering a range of services and programs, including workshops/discussion groups/meet-ups for new couples.

It is very affirming to see the Reform movement come back with its huge resources to once again offer services and programs explicitly aimed at reaching and engaging interfaith families. RJ Connect will apparently include an officiation referral service that will help couples – including but not limited to interfaith couples – to find rabbis and cantors – limited to Reform rabbis and cantors – to officiate. RJ Connect will also in some fashion offer the Yours, Mine and Ours program for interfaith couples. These are very promising initiatives and a welcome addition to existing efforts that include and reach beyond Reform clergy and congregations.

The URJ announced that Rabbi Julie Zupan will be RJ Connect Director – I want to personally congratulate Julie, who has done a wonderful job as director of Reform Jewish Outreach Boston. I send her very best wishes for success in her new very big job with very big potential.

A New URJ President and the Reform Commitment to Engaging Interfaith Families

|

We want to congratulate Rabbi Rick Jacobs on being chosen as the next president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

When the retirement of the current president, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, was announced, I wrote about my mixed feelings. While I applauded many of Rabbi Yoffie’s initiatives, the Reform movement’s record on engaging interfaith families during his leadership was disappointing due to reductions in staff dedicated to helping Reform synagogues attract and welcome interfaith couples and families.

I’ve read everything I can find about Rabbi Jacobs since the announcement this afternoon and haven’t seen any mention of his involvement with the Reform movement’s past outreach efforts or his personal practices with respect to people in interfaith relationships. At this point I can only hope that Rabbi Jacobs will be receptive to my respectful suggestion when Rabbi Yoffie’s retirement was announced: that the number of intermarried couples that would be in a Jewish framework would be far, far greater if the Reform movement gave engaging them the priority it deserves.

We certainly wish him well as he prepares to take on this very significant responsibility.

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.

Reflections On Rabbbi Eric Yoffie Retirement

|

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Reform movement (Union for Reform Judaism), announced on June 10 that he would retire in two years. You can find the text of his prepared remarks on eJewish Philanthropy and articles with more analysis by Josh Nathan-Kazis in The Forward and by Jonathan Sarna also in The Forward.

I have to confess to having very mixed feelings about Rabbi Yoffie. He exercised leadership on many matters that I personally applaud greatly. I personally agree with positions he has taken on Israel, on domestic social policy and justice issues, on interfaith dialogue, on efforts to re-invigorate Reform Jewish worship services, on emphasizing text study, and more.

My problem relates to what I care about most both professionally and personally — engaging interfaith families in Jewish life. I find it somewhat telling that in his prepared remarks — which admittedly are not his final comments, those will come at and after the next URJ biennial in 2011 — that in discussing some of the future challenges facing the Reform movement, and some of the specific work that needs to be done in the next two years — there is no mention of engaging interfaith families.

The Reform movement’s record on outreach to interfaith families under Rabbi Yoffie’s leadership is disappointing. Prior to 2003, the movement had an outreach department with some headquarters staff and a half-time regional outreach director in each of its fourteen regions; all of these people were outstanding dedicated professionals who did amazing work helping congregations welcome interfaith families and attract them to Jewish life. In 2003, the movement eliminated most of the positions, reportedly because of financial pressures. InterfaithFamily.com initiated a campaign that helped to preserve some of the positions.

Then in 2009, the URJ did away with its regions and the remaining regional outreach positions, to be replaced by four outreach specialists who, as talented and dedicated as they are, are stretched awfully thin to serve all 900 Reform congregations. The Reform movement’s outreach department and initiative, once truly a jewel among the movement’s many programs, is in a sadly reduced state.

To be fair, we publicized excerpts from Rabbi Yoffie’s 2005 biennial speech — and those speeches are where the movement’s most important efforts are announced — highlighting two parallel initiatives, which the URJ still supports,  to welcome non-Jewish spouses on the one hand, and to respectfully encourage conversion on the other. But program materials are one thing; staff whose job it is to promote and help with use of the materials is much more significant. I believe that the outreach department was a very “sellable” program – that funding could have been attracted for it – and that the movement’s leadership under Rabbi Yoffie’s direction did not give it the priority it deserved.

The URJ’s leadership may think that the Reform movement doesn’t need to do any thing more to attract interfaith couples and families. In the New York Jewish Week, Gary Rosenblatt reported that Rabbi Yoffie said that “his movement is the largest Jewish denomination because it has an “open door, inclusive” policy. ‘We are the place for the intermarried, gay or lesbian, and disabled to explore Judaism.’” I would argue that the Reform movement and Reform synagogues could do a great deal more to attract and welcome people in interfaith relationships – and that if they did, they would see membership increases that would help to alleviate the financial pressures that apparently continue to plague the movement and its synagogues.

Josh Nathan-Kazis reported on his interview with Rabbi Yoffie the following

As for the growing impact of intermarriage among American Jews, Yoffie said that his movement is handling the challenge well. He said that the movement has “not an ounce of regret” for its 1983 decision to consider the children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers to be Jewish, which represented a break with Jewish tradition.

Regarding studies that have found a lack of affiliation on the part of many children of intermarried couples, Yoffie said, “We’d like to point out that what that means is at a time when there’s an enormous amount of intermarriage, we’re getting a third of these people into synagogues… Imagine if we didn’t have the [patrilineal descent] decision and how many of them would be in any Jewish framework. I suggest it would be far lower.”

I’m glad to see Rabbi Yoffie re-affirm the patrilineal descent decision — and want to respectfully suggest that the number of intermarried couples that would be in a Jewish framework would be far, far greater if the Reform movement gave engaging them the priority it deserves.

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.

Save Reform Outreach Again

|

The Reform movement made a public announcement today that it is closing its regional offices and replacing existing program departments in its national office with teams of specialists. Everyone who cares about outreach to interfaith families should be deeply concerned about the implications of these developments on outreach to interfaith families, which the Reform movement pioneered and has led for more than 25 years.

Prior to 2003, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ, the Reform movement) had a national outreach department and a part-time regional outreach director in each of its 14 regions around the country. Then the outreach department was combined with synagogue membership, and in 2003, because of stated budgetary concerns, most of the regional outreach positions were eliminated. At IFF we started a “Save Reform Outreach” campaign at the time, which some people say played a significant role in preserving some of the positions.

At present the URJ has a group of extremely talented professionals: a small national staff led by Kathy Kahn and regional professionals in Los Angeles (Arlene Chernow), Chicago (Julie Webb), the mid-Atlantic area (Ruth Goldberger) and the southeast (Carol Gross). These experienced and dedicated people focus on helping Reform congregations welcome interfaith families. Some people say that Reform synagogues are sufficiently welcoming, but we believe there is much room to do much more and that these professionals play a key role in making that happen. With the closing of the regional offices and the replacement of national program departments, it is not clear what will happen with these professionals and the programming they conduct.

Moreover, in Boston the northeast region of the URJ has several part-time outreach professionals who, with funding from the Boston federation, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, offer a very important, close to comprehensive set of programs for interfaith families who are not necessarily affiliated with  synagogues, as well as regular trainings for Jewish organizations and professionals. Paula Brody, Joyce Schwartz and Maria Benet do incredible work, serving more than 1,000 program participants each year; we believe they have had an enormous impact on the climate in Boston, that they have directly contributed to the fact that 60% of interfaith families in Boston are raising their children as Jews, and that their efforts should serve as a model for other communities.

We hope that as its reorganization takes shape the URJ will preserve and continue to utilize the expertise of its national and regional outreach professionals–and in particular, we believe it is critically important that the team in Boston stay together and continue with their very effective work.

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.