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April 20, 2014 | 20th Nisan 5774

Ask a Specialist

Outreach Specialists Rabbi Victor Appell, Arlene Chernow, Stephanie Fink and Vicky Farhi answer questions about supporting interfaith members of your congregation.

Outreach SpecialistsOur congregation is very welcoming to interfaith families. How do we let the community know how welcoming we are?

Many congregations pride themselves on how welcoming they are to interfaith families. All too often, however, this is their best kept secret. Make sure your temple prominently displays the "welcome sign" for these families with these simple steps.

  1. Often, prospective members will visit your temple's website to learn if they will be welcome in your congregation. Would an interfaith family looking at your website know if they would be received warmly? Visit the websites of Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ, and Or Ami in Calabasas, CA, to see how they have addressed the concerns of interfaith couples and families right on their websites.
  2. What happens when an interfaith couple or family calls the temple's office? Do those who answer the telephone know how to respond warmly and accurately to inquiries regarding membership and participation? Perhaps your staff could benefit from some guidance. Beyond Shalom, Your Synagogue's Office Guide to Connecting with Warmth and Welcome, a joint project of the URJ and the National Association of Temple Administrators (NATA), can help your temple staff begin the Outreach process from the first ring of the phone.
  3. Let interfaith couples and families know they are welcome as soon as they walk in the door. Our brochure, Intermarried? Reform Judaism Welcomes You, helps visitors to your temple feel at home and answers many of their questions. Keep these brochures in your temple lobby, office and religious school office.

We'd like to review our policies for integrating interfaith families into our congregational community. How would you recommend we begin?

Part of the welcome we offer interfaith families is a clear guide encouraging both parents involvement in the community as well as letting them know where there are boundaries. URJ Outreach Specialists are happy to work with your congregational leadership on defining the role of the non-Jew in the synagogue, and we offer this publication from URJ Press. Years of experience have shown that if a congregation plans to embark on this process, it should be representative of the congregational community. In fact, the process is just as important as the decisions the congregation will reach. A process that explores texts, Jewish tradition, invited input from all demographics in the congregational community and maintains a steady communication with the congregation will have a better chance of succeeding than a one-meeting discussion and decision. Contact a URJ Outreach Specialist to discuss your congregation's desire to begin exploring this process.

We would like to ensure our teachers are sensitive to the children from interfaith families, or with extended interfaith families, in the classroom. Do you offer a program that would help us with that?

It's so important for children with interfaith parents or extended interfaith family to feel accepted as full members of our Jewish community. And with 50% of the children in our religious school classrooms coming from families in which one parent was not born Jewish, we have many interfaith relatives in our communities! "Four Children in Our Classrooms" is a workshop designed for religious school teachers to clarify questions and comments that children from interfaith families bring to the classroom. The workshop provides teachers with strategies to respond in a way that is sensitive to each child, values all members of the child's family and promotes a strong Jewish identity. Most of the children come to the classroom with confused messages and a lack of clarity regarding family decisions and how they fit in the Jewish world. They may also be testing to see if they will be welcome if they celebrate a holiday that is not taught in a Jewish religious school. We suggest that teachers keep three words in mind: support, respect and refocus. Support the child; show respect for the family; and, refocus: "today we are here to learn about..." To schedule a Four Children in Our Classrooms webinar, please contact Arlene Chernow, Outreach Specialist, at achernow@urj.org.

How do we explain Jewish identity to our child, while respecting the religious identity of the non-Jewish parent?

Judaism teaches respect for parents and love of family and that is true for both intermarried and interfaith families. It is so important for our children to understand their Jewish identity as part of their family identity. To assist children with the development of their identity, a parent must first have a clear understanding of his or her own identity. Sharing conversations about Jewish identity and discussing Jewish identity—with both parents comfortable—during family meals, outings and other informal occasions establishes clear direction for the child. Children want to know two things: who they are (in this case Jewish) and that their Jewish identity is supported by his/her parents.

Help children understand their connection to all members of their extended family by having honest conversations about the different faith identities in the extended family. Always affirm that it is ok to be Jewish and have non-Jewish family members. After all, Moses did! Think in terms of saying things such as, "We are going to help Grandma and Grandpa celebrate their holiday, and we are going to celebrate Jewish holidays in our home."

The URJ now offers a new Outreach brochure, Talking to Children about Jewish Identity in an Interfaith Family. Get a free downloadable copy today.


For more information, contact a URJ Outreach Specialist

 


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