One of the hardest things I've done in my life is walk through Temple Beth El' s doors for the first time, almost three years ago. Having been raised as a Christian, I was not sure what to expect. However, I had three reasons for going to services that night: I had never been to Friday night services before, I had recently become engaged to a Jewish man, and I didn't want my wedding to be the first Jewish service in which I participated.
Attending services for the first time was actually the tangible expression of a discussion between my husband and me that began when we first started dating, and continues to this day. We had decided early on in our relationship that if we had children, we would raise them as Jews; this decision was actually reached years before I walked through the doors of the Temple for the first time. We had continued this discussion through issues such as: will we have a Jewish wedding? Will we join a Temple? Will I convert? Will we be observant? How observant? I must admit that none of these decisions have come easily.
Reform Jewish Outreach is a set of programs aimedat helping couples, individuals, and families find answers to these type ofquestions. According to materials published by the Union of American HebrewCongregations, the goal of Outreach is to:
Welcome and provide education for those who seek to investigate Judaism
Integrate new Jews-by-Choice fully into the Jewish community
Welcome intermarried couples to take part in Synagogue life and encourage them to explore and study Judaism, thereby fostering a comfortable relationship with Judaism
Encourage and support the efforts of interfaith couples to raise their children as Jews
Assist young people in strengthening their Jewish identity and in examining the implications of interdating and intermarriage for themselves
Educate and sensitize the Jewish community to be receptive to new Jews-by-Choice and intermarried couples
Actively encourage people to make Jewish choices in their lives
In other words, the intent is to help people feel comfortable with Judaism (even if they do not choose to be Jewish). Another goal of Outreach programs is to increase the awareness and acceptance of the diversity within Judaism, recognizing that while we come from different backgrounds, we still have a common bond.
At this time, our Temple already offers a number of adult education courses to people seeking information about Judaism; for example, the Holiday Workshops and the Adult B'nai Mitzvah classes are both excellent ways to become more familiar with Judaism, whether you were born Jewish or not. I am hoping to add to this wealth of resources by addressing the specific needs of those who attend services but were not born Jewish.