Where Are All The Experts?

There has been a wealth of articles recently from Conservative Rabbis, as well as the secular press about the question of whether or not to officiate at interfaith weddings. The difficult question of officiation within the movement will eventually be answered, whether through a policy change or individual rabbis making the decision to follow their own convictions. No matter the outcome, I would argue that the question of officiation is a bit of a red herring as it takes away from the conversation of working with interfaith families after the marriage; helping parents to raise their children to educating families. What is clear is that intermarriage is a reality of the American Jewish landscape and an avenue to building relationships with families. As Jewish educators we are witnesses to intermarriage and therefore have an obligation to study and invest in learning about interfaith families. No longer talking about “should we welcome”, but “how do welcome”. We have experts in Jewish Law, History and Liturgy, why not engagement?

This is in no way conflicting with investing in Jewish Education as a whole, on the contrary it is an additional level of understanding that is necessary to better serve the entire Jewish community. Some will argue that this is a waste of time and money on a group who has turned their back on Judaism, others believe that we should be spending money on building up our synagogue youth groups and camps to “combat” intermarriage, as if it was disease with a cure. The blessing of camp and youth groups will continue to give Jewish children a love of Judaism that will never leave them, unless we push them aside.

In 1934 Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan in his magnum opus “Judaism as a Civilization” understood the role of intermarriage as reality for American Jews. He wrote that when intermarriage takes place “and children are born, the more vigorous civilization will be the one to which the children will belong.” [Kaplan, Judaism As A Civilization, 418] Kaplan saw the ground shifting below him, yet he believed that Judaism was and still is a religion that can compete in the market place. We change the culture of Jewish educators from being fearful to being proud of Judaism by equipping our education.

My understanding of intermarriage has come along way. That transition has taken place for a number of reasons, yet my journey required a certain level of education that I have been blessed to receive through Hebrew College in the Interfaith Families Jewish Engagement program.

This past week I have had the honor and blessing of sitting around a table with 6 incredible Jewish educators and innovators from across the spectrum of Jewish life. Individuals who want to be experts in understanding the Jewish community of 2017 and beyond. The Jewish Institutions that will exist in 2025 and beyond will be ones that welcome and understand the blessings and challenges of the entire Jewish community and have the education and grounding to engage them all.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Abraham came to Beth El as Assistant Rabbi in July of 2011 and was named Beth El’s congregational Rabbi in August of 2013. He is the father to two beautiful children, daughter Naama, and son Leor. He graduated from the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he also received an M.A. in Jewish Education. Before attending JTS, he earned his B.S. in Business Management from the University of Baltimore. Most recently, he earned a Certificate in Interfaith Families Engagement program at Hebrew College. In college and rabbinical school, Rabbi Abraham was actively involved with USY as a group leader on multiple summer programs, including USY on Wheels and Summer in The City, and staffed NATIV. Rabbi Abraham currently sits on multiple local and national boards. He is a member of the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands, the National Board of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Israel Bonds National Rabbinic Advisory Council, is a founding Board Member of The Nebraska Religious Council for Reproductive Freedom and was recently selected to be a member of Leadership Omaha Class of 43.
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