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September 3, 2014 | 8th Elul 5774

The Unfinished Outreach Revolution

SUBMITTED BY THE PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE COMMITTEE
HOUSTON, 2005

BACKGROUND

Rabbi Alexander Schindler’s greatest legacy to the Reform Movement and to the Jewish world was the outreach revolution. We are now nearly a generation into the revolution and have seen great progress, yet the outreach revolution remains unfinished.

Many non-Jewish spouses become involved in the activities of the synagogue, offer support to their husbands’ or wives’ Jewish involvement, attend Jewish worship and, most importantly, commit to raising Jewish children. They take on responsibilities that by any reasonable calculation belong to the Jewish spouse. And very often they do all of this without recognition from either their Jewish family or their synagogue. For all of these reasons non-Jewish partners deserve a warm welcome and our profound thanks. A significant number of our congregations have extended their embrace and formal appreciation to these spouses and parents and have found how powerful it can be both for the individual and for the synagogue.

Even as we thank and applaud these heroes of Jewish life, we must not forget that it is an important mitzvah to assist a potential Jew become a Jew-by-choice. We believe that an intermarried family becoming a fully Jewish family with two adult Jewish partners does not denigrate those who find religious truth and practices elsewhere. Yet there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that interest in conversion has waned in our congregations. The reason perhaps, is that by making non-Jews feel comfortable and accepted in our congregations we have sent the message we do not care if they convert. That is not our message.

We recognize the need to show support and respect for those who practice another faith tradition but have involved themselves in temple life. However, we must become more proactive in inviting individuals already engaged in synagogue life to become part of our covenantal community through formal conversion.

THEREFORE, THE UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM RESOLVES TO:

  1. Encourage congregations to express appreciation to non-Jewish spouses who support the Jewish involvement of their family members through formal ceremonies of recognition, such as:

    1. Designating a special Shabbat service in their honor;

    2. Inviting them onto the bimah for a special blessing; and

    3. Acknowledging them during an Outreach program in the synagogue; and

  2. Urge congregations to perform the mitzvah of helping a potential Jew become a Jew-by-choice by:

    1. Encouraging individuals already involved in synagogue life to formally embrace the richness of Judaism and our covenantal community; and

    2. Reaffirming a commitment to conversion ceremonies during regular worship services, thereby enabling the entire congregation to be witnesses of welcome to new members of our religious community.

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