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And not only Christians married to Jews. Increasingly, it seems to me, there are more and more Christians, some on the path to conversion and some not, who are among the most frequent attendees at Shabbat services.
Probably the first question most Jews-from-birth are thinking right now is: Why? Why would anyone choose to be Jewish?
Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on that reaction. If there’s any question why the Jewish Nones are on the rise, why “Jews of No Religion” are increasing, and why well-funded and well-intentioned outreach efforts seem unable to stem the tide, surely this outmoded and pathetic self-loathing, ubiquitous in Jewish community, is a big part of the reason. It’s like we’re saying, ‘Come be Jewish! But Oy, why would you want to do that to yourself.’
Now let’s get beyond the inferiority complex. Actually, there are many reasons why non-Jews would be interested in Jewish community – and you see them more and more clearly the more time you spend in liberal churches. I’ve been to many. The mainliners say all the right things, but they tend to be a little soft. Evangelicals get you in your kishkes, with the intense relationship with Jesus, the fiery sermons, and the unnerving zeal of the most fervent. Catholics have the ritual – “smells and bells” to those who love them. But both often come with side orders of bad politics and bad theology.
Liberal Judaism offers a combination of thick spiritual practice – sitting shiva when someone dies, lighting candles on Friday night, studying rich and varied texts – together with progressive values. It’s that mixture that makes it appealing – not the lox on Sunday or the latkes on Thanksgiving (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s the combination of a strong community, a thick spirituality – by which I mean transpersonal bonds of connection, meaning, and inspiration – and a commitment to justice. It can offer depth without the dogma.
Now, if it’s this combination that makes liberal Judaism appealing, then the right response might be the opposite of Jewish cultural affirmation. Possibly, we might want to soup up, rather than dilute, the Jewish stew.
Nor is culture necessarily “it.” Rabbi Brent Spodek, who heads Beacon Hebrew Alliance, one of the congregations where I saw a lot of non-Jewish folks in the crowd, said that his community includes “people of a nominally Christian background who are looking for community, looking for a way to seek and celebrate the Divine, who are looking to learn and grow and reflect do sometimes find their way to us and we welcome them.”