Some 30 years ago, Rabbi Alexander Schindler challenged Reform Jews to reach out to interfaith families and to welcome them into our midst. The past 30 years have proven the extent to which a vital Jewish future relies upon the continued involvement of non-Jewish members of Jewish families.
Rabbi Schindler understood that even in Biblical times, Jews met and fell in love with non-Jews. Take Moses, for example, who marries Tzipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest. Even then, the non-Jews who dwelled among us referred to Biblically as gerei toshav, or resident aliens were the support and help that made Jewish existence possible.
Have things really changed? Consider: How often is the non-Jewish partner the one who maintains the rhythms of the Jewish homes? Whether lighting candles for Shabbat or a holiday, wrapping Hanukah packages, preparing Haroset for a sedar, planning the details of a baby naming or bat mitzvah or driving the carpool it is often the non-Jewish partner in the proverbial drivers seat.
That so many choose to contribute to Jewish continuity is astounding, and a blessing we ought not take for granted. Even more, the gerei toshav in our midst sometimes do so at great personal sacrifice. They often forgo sharing the holidays and traditions that marked their childhoods. They even sometimes put their relationships with their own families at risk.
Sometimes, such gerei toshav decide to formally convert to Judaism. Its certainly not discouraged. Yet there are many reasons gerei toshav choose not to convert, even as they actively participate in the Jewish community. Sometimes its not wanting to lose a part of their identity they value.
Even so, its clear that the gerei toshav in our congregation, and other Reform congregations everywhere, have added immeasurably by their presence and participation. After losing so many during the Shoah (the Holocaust), every Jewish family, every Jewish child, is precious. To those gerei toshav who have made this possible, we owe the highest debt of gratitude. Lets not take this blessing for granted. Lets make sure the gerei toshav in our midst feel as welcome as they should.