Outreach as a Verb

“The stranger who resides among you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love such a person as yourself for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34)

Reform Judaism is known for opening its doors to those who might have otherwise felt unwelcome in a Jewish context. In 1983, the Reform movement ruled that people who were born to a Jewish father anda Gentile mother can be considered Jewish–a departure from the traditional teaching of matrilineal descent.

The movement also welcomes gay and lesbian Jews. The Central Conference of American Rabbis affirms a rabbi’s rightto perform same-sex commitment ceremonies. The Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, has ordained gay and lesbian rabbis since 1990.

Outreach to interfaith families is another hallmark of the movement. As intermarriage rates rose in the 1970s, the Reform movement instituted an outreach program. At the time, the goal was to keep intermarried Jews involved with Jewish life in some form. Today, that outreach endeavor has evolved in response to a more complex set of issues facing the movement.

According to the URJ, the face of Judaism in North America isn’t changing; it has changed. Consider these statistics: 

  • 43% of Jewish households are made up of singles (NJPS).
  • Between 1996-2001, 47% of Jews who married, married someone not Jewish. (NJPS)
  • Only 23% of Jewish households consist of a married couple with children at home (NJPS).
  • 10% of Jewish families are gay/lesbian (J Family Concerns)
  • Up to 10% of American Jews are non-white (Tobin, 2003)
  • 15-20% of children being adopted by Jewish families today are non-white (Tobin, 2003)

But just what is Outreach? And where did it come from?

The term “Outreach” refers to programs which respond to the needs of:

· Individuals converting to Judaism
· Intermarried couples
· Children of intermarriages
· Those interested in learning about Judaism

We Need to Do More

These kinds of programs were first started in 1978, at the urging of the President of the UAHC, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who established Outreach as a priority for Reform Judaism. Since that time, Outreach programs have been developed in Reform temples all over the United States.

With the face of Judaism continuing to change and evolve, outreach as a concept is also expanding to be more than just another committee or series of programs within the synagogue that attempt to reach the non-Jewish population.

It is true that since inception, Outreach, with its message of welcome to all and its invitation into deeper Jewish learning and engagement provided vital impetus to the surge of growth of Reform Judaism in this country. And the initial goal was to keep intermarried Jews involved with Jewish life in some form. However, today, we recognize that outreach as a verb needs to respond to a more complex set of issues facing the movement.

Outreach is Alive and Well at RTR

At The Reform Temple of Rockland, we are blessed with the colorful and rich diversity of our community represented by interfaith families, Jews by Choice, Gay and Lesbian couples and families, as well as those considering converting to Judaism. Addressing the needs of our community through a broad range of workshops, events, forums, and support resources is the goal of the Outreach committee in our synagogue.

Ever since its inception, one of the central goals of the URJ-CCAR Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach and Synagogue Community has been to provide Jewish education and support for interfaith couples, their children and extended families.

Now, 25 years after the birth of Outreach, the Commission, working in close cooperation with HUC-JIR and the CCAR offered a second Fellows Certification program to train lay people to work in partnership with rabbis to counsel small groups of interfaith couples on issues of common concern—decision-making, acculturation, family matters. Previously, the Commission offered the Outreach Fellows Program for Conversion Certification.

Here at RTR, the Outreach Committee is reborn with a new and exciting mission to meet and support the needs of our community by offering new programming and resources that address the diverse challenges facing families today.

We begin with our Introduction to Judaism class.

  • Are you in a mixed marriage? Have your children intermarried? Help us learn from one another, make meaningful Jewish choices, and integrate our families into our Jewish community with or without conversion. Please contact Outreach Committee for more information about resources available.
  • Conversion: If you were not born a Jew, have you considered actually converting to Judaism? For an informal talk or to find out how to go about it, contact our Clergy.

Albert Einstein, it is reported, once said he was sorry he had been born a Jew because he was denied the opportunity and personal satisfaction of independently choosing Judaism. What a great privilege it is to share our love of Judaism and enthusiasm for Jewish life and to be open about how positively another person might feel about Jewish life!

RTR’s Outreach Committee is here to provide support to those who are seeking to know more about Judaism, or who are wanting to establish a connection to Judaism, or who are hoping to find ways to address the needs of their interfaith family.

If you are standing on the sidelines, wanting to have some sort of participation in a community of friends, but are wondering where to start, I urge you to join us! The Outreach Committee intends to plan and implement some interesting and fun events for the upcoming year that you won’t want to miss!