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Keruv – Reaching Out Together As a Movement

August 2009 – How do we as a movement reach out to intermarried families?

It’s one of the most controversial and potentially divisive questions in the Jewish world just now, and also one of the most unavoidable. Demographics show that large numbers of Jews marry non-Jews; very few of us come from extended families with no non-Jewish members, a fact we shouldn’t, can’t, and won’t ignore.

People of goodwill have been arguing with each other for decades about how best to reach out. In the Conservative world, until now each organization, congregation, community, and school has ventured out on its own, putting together the programs and using the language that suited its own needs best. There has been a shared bedrock belief in the importance of welcoming non-Jews, with the hope that they will feel comfortable in our communities and at the least raise their children as Jews, but not necessarily shared vocabulary or resources.

Now, though, things are different. Working together, the 16 organizations that make up the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism have compiled a statement of six principles; they are available in a brochure written by a six-member LCCJ subcommittee and accompanied by a users’ manual that lists a number of successful keruv programs and includes advice for transferring them to other communities.

“This work was done by a group of people from various parts of the movement who took seriously the responsibility of coming up with a consensus opportunity for the whole movement,” Rabbi Paul Drazen said. Rabbi Drazen, United Synagogue’s chief program development officer, was our representative on the committee. “What’s new is that we are showing on a movement level what has been true for our congregations for a long time – that we welcome people of diverse backgrounds and interests. Part of the goal was to make sure that people know that as a movement we’re really opening the door and welcoming you. And it provides two things. First, it’s a brochure that each shul can brand, put on its website, or print out and leave in a stack by the door at all times. People could see it as a sign both of welcome and of unity – congregations across the continent all are using the same thing.

“Second, it gives an idea of programs that are working in different congregations. Every congregation is different, and each is in a different place in terms of experience and practice. We wanted to give each one an idea of the hands-on working programs in other places.”

Many of the program ideas came from applications for the Solomon Schechter awards that we give out at our biennial convention; others came from anecdotes, ideas that committee members had seen themselves or heard about through their own networks. Committee members also asked lay and professional congregational leaders for their own experiences with outreach.

How best to reach out to the intermarried, to welcome the non-Jews who live with us and love us, is a huge and constantly changing goal, but the new initiatives from the LCCJ and its subcommittee are a large step in the right direction.

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