Hear Our Voice

The Congregation Shma Koleinu Blog.

Fences May Make Good Neighbors, They Also Keep People Out

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In response to this Torah commentary, I wrote the following:

With regard to intermarriage, the American Jewish community’s approach over the last 50 years has been a disaster and more than anything, the Rabbis and he synagogues are to blame. As a Reform Rabbi who has been performing marriages between Jews and non-Jews for the last 18 years, I know that Egon Mayer was right when he said, “Arguing against intermarriage is like arguing against the weather.” Where might we be today if Conservative and Reform synagogues and Rabbis hadn’t been saying, “No!”, wringing their hands and making our children and the non-Jewish loves of their lives not feel at home in our holy places? I know that for me, while the relationship with an engaged couple may only begin when they seek me out, I do everything in my power to ensure that this is the very beginning of a long-term relationship with me and my synagogue. “Some of my best congregants are intermarried!” Their children attend Day Schools, attend Jewish summer camps, visit and live in Israel – precisely because we welcomed them in.

I do understand and completely believe in the power and value of boundary drawing. However, there comes a point when “herding cats” requires a different kind of approach. We can draw and redraw our boundaries all we want – the reality is that our problem isn’t intermarriage. Our problem is that the experiment has failed – we have been drawing boundaries over and over and over again with the understanding that this is what you must do to be “in.” 50 years later, much of the previously affiliated Jewish community has taken us at our word, and have therefore chosen to be “out.”

“As a community abandons use of the word “should” in its vocabulary, it will lose much of its power to religiously inspire. Such a Judaism will no longer be a source for moral agitation and personal growth, but will instead serve only to confirm ideas and values already held.”

Rabbi Hoffman is correct that any philosophy of life isn’t worth much without its “shoulds.” Its just that the “shoulds” of which he speaks no longer resonate, at least not today. So we can stand on our heads all we want and claim and reclaim these shoulds, but all our children hear is, “Despite the fact that you feel in your soul that you have found your soul-mate, we’re telling you you’re a bad Jew who doesn’t care about the future of the Jewish people.” Right, wrong or indifferent, this is not the slogan of a people with a winning franchise.

If we wish to inspire with “shoulds” that will resonate with the millennial generation and all the rest, let us speak of obligations for truth, transparency, honesty, humility and forgiveness. Judaism has always had a foundational and important way to shine a light onto the world and what it needs. Let us not retreat into the fear inherent in survival as its own reward but instead recognize that the midbar wasn’t a place we were ever meant to entirely abandon – rather, it is an open and boundary-less place we carry in our hearts in order to inspire us when complacency takes hold.

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