An Embracing Look at Ourselves

October 5, 2018 in Rabbi Greg Harris

During the High Holidays, I enjoy looking at the kahal (community) gathered.  I clearly recall how I felt during my first Rosh Hashana at Beth El and how many strangers were before me.  Over many years  I have been invited into so many people’s lives.  In quiet moments on the bimah, I reflect on the experiences I have shared with people – high points and low points, children’s weddings and parent’s funerals, first steps of a baby and first times at the Torah.  These are the most special parts of being clergy.

One aspect of our community which I have been thinking about is how we embrace all Beth El families – ‘traditional’ families and  ‘non-traditional’ families.  Families of one adult who is a parent by choice (maybe through adoption or IVF) or by circumstance (by divorce or death of partner) or a single adult member.

For the past year and a half, I have been working with Beth El leadership to review our congregation’s practices and policies to assure they reflect our embracing values and bring clarity to our ritual practices.  This focus has been on households where Judaism and another faith is present. 

While I commented on these efforts during Yom Kippur, our community is spread across multiple locations during the holidays so I want to reflect on this on-going process.

Initially, a ‘Multifaith Task Force’ identified policies and practices in the congregation which affect interfaith families.  From the by-laws of the Board to school enrollment, this Task Force identified many areas to consider.  They submitted their survey to the Board last year.  The Board and its committees have been addressing various topics within their areas of responsibilities – Administration, Worship and Spirituality, Education, Community Building and Communications.

This has been a wonderful process of reaffirming numerous opportunities for embracing people and articulating the ritual limits for people of different faiths within Beth El.

Some changes have already been implemented such as improving the wording on membership and enrollment forms.  We have designated a new section of a Beth El cemetery for the burial of Jewish and non-Jewish family members together.  We have reaffirmed utilizing the practice of the Conservative Movement for considering one’s Jewish status (matrilineal descent).  Other areas are being considered with the sensitivities, nuances and openness characteristic of our community.

I appreciate the leadership of Larisa Trainor, Beth El President and our current and previous chairs of the Worship and Spirituality Committee, Judy Liss and Rebecca Gross respectively, for each creating considered and embracing discussions.

As I have said many times, there are many Yes’s and some No’s related to interfaith families.  We should not be opaque about our appreciation of all who embrace Beth El’s values and community. I look forward to deepening our conversation around this important aspect of our community.  Feel free to ask me any questions or share your thoughts at kiddish on Saturday mornings or over a cup of coffee.

We have so many reason to be proud of our community.  The loving and thoughtful way we are proceeding in this exploration is another example of our community embracing Jewish tradition and applying it to our modern context.