REFORM FELLOWS TRAINED TO ASSIST CLERGY IN CONVERSIONS;
LEADERS HELP MEET EVER-GROWING INTEREST IN JUDAISM
The fifth class of Reform
Outreach Fellows recently completed a five-day training program, the first step
in a yearlong program to certify Outreach Fellows to help rabbis meet the
growing demand from non-Jews interested in converting.
Since the Reform
Movement established the Outreach Fellows Program for Conversion Certification
in 1998, almost 90 people have completed the program, which certifies lay people
to work in partnership with rabbis, counseling small groups of prospective Jews
on authenticity, acculturation, and family concerns. With the 30 men and women
who began the program this summer, trained fellows are now working in every
region of the country.
"The Outreach Fellows
Program is a wonderful opportunity for lay leaders to play an important role in
welcoming Jews-by-choice into Judaism," said Kathryn Kahn, associate director of
the UAHC's Department of Outreach and Synagogue Community. "The Torah teaches us
to welcome the stranger, and, by helping integrate converts into synagogue life,
graduates of the program help fulfill this important mitzvah."
Equally important, it
enables rabbis to handle the ever-increasing number of people who, after taking
the Reform Movement's introductory courses about Judaism seek to become
Jews-by-choice. "I was amazed at the three women who came back [to my
congregation] from the first Fellows program," said Rabbi Aryeh Azriel of Temple
Israel in Omaha, NE. "They immediately rolled up their sleeves and became very
involved with the practical steps toward conversion, providing information,
guidance, and inspiration."
The Outreach Fellows Program
is sponsored jointly by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Central
Conference of American Rabbis, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of
Religion. The training, held on the HUC-JIR campus in Cincinnati August 7-11,
covered topics such as the history of conversion to Judaism, contemporary
conversion requirements, dealing with difficult issues such as anti-Semitism,
Jewish identity, and relating to Israel, and family issues.
Reform scholars teaching
classes at the Outreach Fellows Program included Professor Mark Washofsky, who
conducted a seminar on conversion during the rabbinic era, Professor Michael
Meyer, who taught about Israel and Zionism, and Professor Samuel Joseph, who led
a class on the ways that adults learn.
Participants were also able
to work with a panel of Jews-by-choice from a variety of backgrounds, and had
the opportunity to work with a group of potential converts before returning to
their home congregations.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations is the
central body of Reform Judaism in North America, uniting 1.5 million Reform Jews
in more than 900 synagogues. UAHC services include camps, music and book
publishing, outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, educational
programs, and the Religious Action
Center in Washington, DC.