For Conservative Jews, Few Inches Raise Vexing Questions on Interfaith Families

Where Can Non-Jewish Parent Stand at Child's Bar Mitzvah?


By Uriel Heilman

Published November 14, 2013.
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“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 encourage them to raise a Jewish family is to lower the bar for conversion.

“The danger of making the shul too welcoming for the intermarried is that there stops being any reason to convert, and I don’t want that,” Grover 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 families but celebrates them. On “anniversary Shabbats,” when couples celebrating anniversaries are acknowledged in shul, intermarried couples are honored along with 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 officiates at funerals for non-Jewish congregants, noting in his eulogy that the deceased was not Jewish but was an “ohev yisrael” – 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 committed 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 congregants 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.”


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