Would you like to be a Jew?
Convert, religion mixer
Reform Jews Hope to Unmix Mixed Marriages
By MICHAEL LUO
Published: February 12, 2006
LARCHMONT, N.Y. — In this age of potpourri spirituality, Anique Olivier-Mason, 25, classifies herself generally as a Christian: she grew up Catholic and often attends a Presbyterian church near her home. But on a recent Friday night, she was attending Sabbath services at Larchmont Temple.
Mrs. Olivier-Mason's husband, Joshua, is Jewish, and the couple became members of the synagogue, in Westchester County, last summer, committing to immersing themselves in the 800-family congregation. On this night, she stood by gamely as her husband, 25, bobbed, swayed and sang in enthusiastic Hebrew with others in the temple.
With intermarriage so common, Reform synagogues like Larchmont Temple embrace interfaith couples. For the most part, concerted efforts to encourage non-Jewish spouses to convert have been frowned upon. Now, however, in what would be a major shift of outlook for Reform Judaism — the largest and most liberal of the three major streams of American Judaism, with some 1.5 million members — that may be changing.
Concerned about what intermarriage is doing to American Judaism, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the organization of the country's Reform Jewish congregations, recently called for Reform synagogues to increase their efforts to convert non-Jewish spouses. By welcoming and accepting gentile spouses, Reform congregations have "perhaps sent the message that we do not care if they convert," Rabbi Yoffie said at the union's most recent conference, in November.
"But that is not our message," he said.
"The time has come to reverse direction by returning to public conversions and doing all the other things that encourage conversion in our synagogues," he said.
Now, Reform congregations across the country are wrestling with how to respond. The push, which is accompanied by materials and initiatives on "inviting and supporting conversion," treads on emotionally fraught territory for thousands of interfaith families.
It also clashes with a longstanding aversion among many Jews to anything resembling proselytizing. "I have the inherent Jewish struggle," said Rabbi Jeffrey J. Sirkman, leader of the Larchmont congregation. "It's that inner struggle of knowing that we want to reach out there as much as we can. At the same time, we don't want to appear to be the Lubavitch," referring to the Orthodox sect of Hasidic Jews known for its aggressive outreach programs, especially focusing on nonobservant Jews.
"I'm not going to be standing at the corner," he added, "asking people if they are Jewish."
In some ways, because the Olivier-Masons do not yet have children, they are prime candidates for the kind of encouragement that Jewish leaders are pitching. Yet they also embody many of the challenges. The couple's current plan is to raise their children steeped in both religions, a practice most Jewish leaders oppose.
"We intend to instill in our children a feeling of spirituality in the sense that they can feel comfortable both in a Christian church and in a Jewish synagogue," Mrs. Olivier-Mason said.
So, when the Southern Baptist Convention tries to convert Jews, we're all outraged at the offense, but when the Reform Jews try it, it's supposed to be OK?
No matter how nicely it's put, conversion is conversion, and this has the potential to divide families.
Jen here. As a child of a mixed marriage--and semi-observant Jew--I have a lot to say on this subject. I would type more, but I'm in the thick of helping one of my best friends prepare for his mother's funeral on Valentine's Day (remember the wedding I went to in Ohio where I almost got busted for wearing my John Fluevogs on the plane? That was his). On top of everything else, due to the airport closures, there's a real issue as to whether they will even be able to get his stepdad and Mom's casket on the originally-scheduled flight. If I get a chance to, I will post more, but please forgive me if I can't.
Let me say this: Most Reform temples are not of the same stance depicted above. Also, this story is the oldest shit in the book. Rabbis have been harping on the whole mixed marriage issue since forever ago, and some are more welcoming than others.
Gotta run--will try to be back later. In the meantime, I have to go see if I can make it out to the Greek shop to get something nonperishable for the shiva call.
posted by Steve @ 12:02:00 AM