How should synagogues and Jewish communities in general welcome interfaith families? Julie Wiener wrote a blog post about the article we featured today, Debbie Burton’s “Speaking as a (Non-)Jewish Parent”–about not speaking at her daughter’s bat mitzvah. Wiener wrote:

Not allowing non-Jewish parents, particularly ones who’ve been supportive of their children’s Jewish upbringing, to participate in their children’s bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies just seems mean-spirited to me. Do people think it will actually discourage intermarriage and encourage gentiles to convert in hopes of getting better treatment?

Wiener points out that Conservative interpretations of halachah do provide some wiggle-room for congregations that want to honor non-Jewish family members. She cited as an example a piece by J.J. Goldberg about a Conservative movement bar mitzvah in which the non-Jewish dad of the bar mitzvah boy was honored.

We saw that piece, too, and Ed Case blogged about it–and last night, Rabbi David Schuck, the rabbi who led that service commented on our post to say,

I actually only called the mother (who is Jewish) of the bar mitzvah boy up to the bimah for an aliyah. Her husband, who is not Jewish, stood next to her, but we was not called up to the Torah. Mr. Goldberg seems to imply that the non-Jewish father had an aliyah, which of course, would be a violation of Halacha, of Jewish Law. As a Conservative synagogue that functions within the limitations of Jewish Law, we do not do this. I believe we in the synagogue are as inclusive as possible within the framework of Halacha, but this still leaves a number of significant limitations for the parent who is not Jewish.

To this I have to say: have some non-dairy frozen dessert. What? OK, say you keep kosher, you ate a meat meal, you really want some ice cream afterward? It used to be, if you wanted ice creamy sort of stuff after meat, you made something not-that-great out of whatever is they put in non-dairy creamer. It gave you the form of ice cream but didn’t violate the prohibition on mixing milk and meat. But today, we have some fantastic flavors of non-dairy frozen dessert, so you can have a totally kosher meat meal and have great, credibly ice-cream-like-stuff afterward. (Thank you, vegan foodies!)

Rabbi Schuck apparently figured out a work-around to made everyone feel welcome and part of the occasion at this much-discussed bar mitzvah. How? We all want to know that. We know it’s not only the form of the welcome but the content that makes a difference. Tell me about your community–how are you doing with welcoming non-Jewish parents?

One thought on “Work-Arounds”

  • I told Ruth when I submitted my story that I was worried that it made my minyan sound unwelcoming. Clearly it did to Julie Weiner. Her comments about “mean-spiritedness” are simply completely wrong in the case of my minyan. I suspect that as an intermarried Jew herself, she is sensitive about this subject. I have seen the nasty comments people have made about her and surely those comments hurt.

    My minyan welcomed us incredibly warmly. It only treated intermarried spouses/parents in a less than understanding way in that there was no membership category for a non-Jew, and in this “speaking from the bima” prohibition. Otherwise, I had been made to feel a valued and loved member of the community.

    Note also that this policy was not actually enforced by anyone but myself. No one told me that I could not speak. It might not even have been challenged had I ignored what I knew and played dumb about it. I’m betting that only the founding members or members who were around when that document about bnei mitzvah policies was produced (pre-dating our our 15 years wit the minyan) would know about this point. I haven’t seen the document for at least a decade.

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