I want to commend JTNews for its Viewpoints page, which featured a debate on the issue of outreach to the intermarried (“Stop sugarcoating intermarriage,” “Don’t write off the intermarried,” Feb. 16). As founder of an independent outreach organization for the Seattle area, Panim Hadashot – New Faces of Judaism, I have grappled with the issues of how to approach intermarried families and couples (which I call intercultural).
While acknowledging Cohen’s findings, I reject his approach. There are significant numbers of intercultural families that greatly value Judaism or are open to doing so and raising their children as Jews. The job of good outreach is to present Judaism in a compelling manner that sparks interest and appreciation. I have endeavored to simply offer the best educational and celebratory experiences of Judaism to whomever I reach, including many intercultural households.
I would ask your readers and community leaders to heed the advice of both sides of the debate. Both call for vigorous outreach, including what Cohen cites as a need for “community rabbis dedicated to helping prospective converts embark on Jewish journeys.” Case and Sachs have even more specific suggestions on outreach initiatives and the need for independent outreach organizations.
I have tried to set an example in the community of a model of pluralistic outreach which embraces these suggestions. Sadly, my experience has convinced me that our community does not yet see Jewish outreach as a priority, even with the reality of an 80 percent unaffiliated rate in the Seattle area.
Rabbi Jonathan Sachs, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, wrote a beautiful piece which should ground all Jewish outreach and conveys my own approach to a vigorous attempt to bring Judaism to the public square:
“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others. Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying, ‘if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.’ Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”
Jewish outreach is the act of saying, “if this speaks to you, then please take it as a gift.” Supporting outreach is supporting the giving of Judaism to others as a gift and a joy.