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December 6, 2013

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 6, 2013 T Conservative synagogues wrestle with non-Jews in the pews By Uriel Heilman NEW YORK (JTA)--To an outsider, the battles might seem to be Over trifles--in some cases, just a few feet. Where may a non-Jewish parent stand in the synagogue during his child's bar mitz- vah? Can a non-Jew open the holy ark? Should non-Jewish synagogue members have voting rights? Such questions have been pushed to the fore by the growing percentage of Con- servative homes that include non-Jewish family mem- bers-more than one-quarter of them, according to the recent Pew Research Center survey. For many Conservative synagogues, the issues are not trivial. They cut to the heart of a philosophical and practical debate about how open they should be toward the non-Jews in their midst. "For a variety of reasons, my colleagues are being challenged to rethink posi- tions that in the past we accepted almost as dogma," said Rabbi Charles Simon, who as executive director of the Conservative movement's Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs organizes seminars for Conservative synagogues on how to be more inclusive of non-Jews. "It doesn't me'n that the standards of Conser: vative Judaism are changing. It means that my colleagues are metaphorically learning they have to broaden their own tents." In some ways, the dilemma is not unique to Conservative Judaism; the Reform move- ment has grappled with some of the same issues. But Reform synagogues are not bound by Jewish law, and the movement accepts intermarriage--two key distinctions from Con- servative Judaism. On the BUYER Orthodox side, the line against non-Jewish participation is pretty clear; many strictly Orthodox synagogues won't even allow the Jewish partner in an interfaith marriage to lead services. Conservative synagogues are navigating the parlous middle, wrestling with how to adapt to an era of increasing non-Jews in their ranks while still adhering to Conservative principles of Jewish law that among other things forbid intermarriage. The discussions also come at a time of serious decline for the Conservative movement, whose share of the American Jewish population has fallen to 18 percent, according to the Pew study. "Since such a large percent- age of our younger families include interfaith marriages and relationships, we want very much to keep our chil- dren as loyal and involved Conservative Jews, and we realize that in order to do so we need to be welcoming to their partners and spouses and families," said Rabbi Ra- phael Adler of the Woodbury Jewish Center in New York. "Many in our,congregations are not willing to give up our children and our families to Reform synagogues or to no congregation at all. It seems wrong." The ways Conservative Jewish Museum of Florida-FlU CONFESSIONAL COMICS BY JEWISH WOMEN How did women contribute to the history of comics, and in particular, to autobiographical comics, a genre they helped birth? This exhibit explores topics from intermarriage to children to views on Israel, through the deeply personal stories of 18 artists. Curated by Michael Kaminer and Sarah Ughtman. Traveling exhibition developed by Yeshiva University Museum curator Zachary Paul Levine Sponsored by The Forward and Funding Arts Network Fng of Citrus" HANS SACHS and groves three times the I--'t/. ,-f-  f- size of Manhattan, to sixth I1 %.,// I- generation dairy farmers, COLLECTION Growers, Grocers & j Gefilte Fish spans nearly THRU DECEMBER 15, 2013  200 years of Florida Jews This poster collection, the largest and most A Gastronomlc Leek in the food industry, with significant in the world, was confiscated by at FIo Jews & Food artifacts figures and Nazis 75 years ago and finally returned to the nhoto,r=nhs Sachs family this year. Come see select works Thru Oct. b, 2Ul 4 ,  . W" _ from this rare and stunning collection. upening went SpOnSCcS: ongregation Betll Jacob ano MnS & Hn levitt 6 Pam,ies  m n o a c  's N York Additional support ncludes: Pulix Supe Markets Charities; Southern Wi & Soirits ete Sachs and Fa ly i honor of the Legacy f H Sa hs Coudesy Guem y , s-Ei' l ] Also see MOSAIC" Jewish Life in Florida, visit the llq in for Z for 1  . " . . 1 ,.iion , OrovRz Museum Store for one-of-a-kind gifts and LiP, HN.. _ _ _ J have a snack at Bessie's Bistro! ii-li I!1  ] Jewish Museum lii00 I of Florida 301 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach Open daily 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. P 305-672-5044 J  Except Mondays and Holidays I! I1 " MIAMIBEACH The Musc4Jm Is su ed irtvidual contributions, foundations, memberships and grants from the State of Flor;(la, Oepadment of Stale, Dvislon of I ............ tlte lla Ceu ............................... ty .......... p ......................... ty ........ r"i MLHI [ 1 Cu;turl Affairs and the CutiuraJ AIflr Council, the Miami-Oade Cnty Mayc and Board of County Commisskners and the City of Miami Beach, Cutiural / lff J  Affairs Pgram, Cultural Arts Councg. Konstantin Goldenberg / Shutterstock Among the issues Conservative synagogues are debating is whether a non-Jewish parent may stand near the Torah during his child's bar mitzvah. synagogues are adapting varies widely. Many offer non- Jews the honor of reciting the English prayer for the govern- ment, Israel or peace. Some allow non-Jews voting rights but bar them from board po- sitions. Others exclude them from membership. Forebbie Burton, who was married to a Jew and raising her kids as Jews but wasn't Jewish herself, exclusion from synagogue ritual roles never really bothered her until her daughter's bar mitzvah, when she was told she could not speak from the pulpit of her Chicago-area synagogue. "It was the first time that I had ever felt that Iwas excluded from a minyan activity because I was not Jewish," Burton, a professor of mechanical engineering at Northwest- ern, wrote in a 2010 essay for "I was hurt to feel prevented from publicly sharing my thoughts on the occasion of a Jewish milestone of my child. After all, even though I wasn't Jewish, I had played an important role in my children's Jewish education and upbringing." Burton told JTA that the ex- perience prompted her to push for changes in her synagogue's policies, though in the end she didn't require the changes for herself because she converted. During life-cycle events, many Conservative syna- gogues now offer non-Jews a place of honor, but with limitations. At the Wood- bury synagogue, non-Jewish parents may join their Jewish spouses when receiving an aliyah to the Torah during a bar mitzvah service, but the non-Jew must take a couple of steps back when the bless- ings are recited. A non-Jewish grandparent may offer an English blessing composed by the rabbi, but only from his place in the pews, not from wedding in an adaptation of the traditional Shabbat "aufruf" celebration that precedes a Jewish wedding. Alpert also presents the interfaith couple with the same synagogue gift bestowed upon Jewish couples. "We should be as open and inclusive as possible within the parameters of Jewish law and the Conservative move- ment," she said. "It's not that the congregation is advocat- ing intermarriage, but I think there's alittle bit of acceptance that this happens, and don't we want our children and the next generation to feel com- fortable in the synagogue?" Alpert says she finds it painful to have to explain to interfaith couples why she cannot officiate at their weddings. Though the Con- servative movement also bars its rabbis from attending intermarriages, the rule often is ignored. Like many Conservative clergymen :in Canada, Rabbi Jarrod Grover of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto consid- ers intermarriage a breach of Conservative Judaism. At Beth Tikvah, non-Jews are barred from membership. Synagogue mail sent to interfaith homes omits the name of the non- Jewish spouse. The synagogue does not allow blessings for interfaith unions. "We do not recognize the validity of intermarriages-- period. There's no simcha, there's no aufruf," Grover said. He believes the best way to welcome non-Jews and encodrage them to raise a Jewish family is to lower the bar for conversion. "The danger of making the shul too welcoming for the in- termarried is that there stops being any reason to convert, and I don't want that," Gro- ver told JTA. "I want to push conversion because the right way to raise Jewish children is with two Jewish parents." Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Los Angeles rejects that approach. "Parents who have made a commitment to raise a Jewish household "and they don't convert, I think they're heroes," Vogel said. "I think they deserve our praise and recognition. Instead, what do they get? At best, a feeling that they're accepted." Vogel's synagogue doesn't just welcome interfaith fami- lies but celebrates them. On "anniversary Shabbats,"when couples celebrating anniver- saries are acknowledged in shU1, intermarried couples are honoredalongwith everybody else. At bar mitzvahs, the non- Jewish parent is invited to be part of the tallit presentation but must step back when the blessing is recited. Vogel even offlciates at funerals for non-Jewish con gregants, noting in his eulogy that the deceased was not Jew- ish butwas an"ohevyisrael"-- a lover of the Jewish people. Vogel's synagogue also allows non-Jewish spouses who have lost their Jewish spouse or divorced to remain a member of the congregation. "Some of my most com- mitted congregants are non- Jewish congregants," he said. Vogel says he initially was resistant to many of these changes, but his attitude shifted over time. "My actions have been changed by the personal interactions with congre- gants and seeing how with a change in attitude we can really inspire them Jewishly," he said. "Someone who might otherwise turn away is now validated and sanctified. It's so affirming." the bimah. Adler saysreactiontothe 4 8 5 7 1 2 6 9 3 changes has been mixed: Some membershavethreat- 6 7 9 5 3 8 2 1 4 ened to quit if certain changes are adopted. Rabbi DavidBoothofKol 3 2 1 6 4 9 8 7 5 Emeth in Pale Alto, Calif., recently begangivingnon- 7 4 3 2 9 1 5 6 8 Jews in his congregation a stand-alone ritual role uncon- nected to .fe cycle events: 5 1 6 3 8 7 9 4 2 opening the ark. Last month, the eonservativemovement's 8 9 2 4 5 6 7 3 1 Committee on Jewish Law and Standards formally endorsed the practice. 1 3 7 9 2 5 4 8 6 At Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, 9 5 4 8 6 3 1 2 7 N.Y., Rabbi Jaymee Alpert of- fers a public blessing to inter- faithcouplesrightbeforetheir 2 6 8 1 7 4 3 5 9