Edgar Bronfman’s Tent

Edgar Bronfman’s December 17 opinion article, “Opening Our Tent,” perfectly reframes the issue of intermarriage.

Jewish survivalists continually preach from a defensive and guilt-ridden posture that unless our Jewish children marry other Jews, Jewish identity is headed toward extinction. But Jewish outreach can no longer follow the old model because younger Jews are no longer listening. Instead, they are marrying those with whom they fall in love.

The way to reframe outreach efforts is to engage Jews and non-Jews of all backgrounds and trust that Judaism can stand on its own. From a place of inclusiveness and trust, Judaism can engage, inspire and renew.

Edgar Bronfman’s call for a new openness to the intermarried is hardly different from the decades-old and ineffective strategy of “open tent Judaism.”

His description of Abraham and Sarah as the prototype of a welcoming community tells only half the story. Abraham and Sarah did more than simply welcome people into their tent and accept them. Our tradition, as understood by some of our greatest sages, tells us that they also taught their guests about God, and that they even made converts.

Obsessing about the open tent will never be successful because being welcoming is a prerequisite, not the end game. Far more important than the tent’s door is what is inside, and that we know why the tent is important in the first place. If the inside touches people’s hearts and souls, they will beat down the door to get in.

I know this firsthand, as someone who has traveled from the margins of Jewish life to become a federation executive director, and whose wife went from being a Christian and church professional to become an observant Jew. There are thousands who have made similar journeys. We were not drawn to the “I’m okay, you’re okay” Judaism of the tent door, but to the transformative Jewish life we found across the threshold.

The writer is a former executive director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.

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