The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, which will meet in Boston for its biennial meeting Dec. 5 through 9, released the report two decades after the movement first officially launched an "outreach" to interfaith families. The study by a team of researchers at Brandeis University examined the work of six synagogues in the Northeast and Southeast, looking to find programs that worked well and areas that needed improvement.
The study focused on non-Jewish spouses and converts to Judaism, and found that synagogues by and large receive them warmly. However, the report cautions that converts "fear" that their non-Jewish roots will be discovered, and many never feel completely and totally accepted. "A delicate balance needs to be struck between making non-Jewish members feel comfortable and welcome within the congregation and motivating them to try out new avenues of Jewish practice," the report said.
Leadership by individual rabbis is crucial for successful outreach to interfaith families, the survey found. Even rabbis who will not perform interfaith marriages are critical in creating a hospitable environment. "What stood out for the congregants was not the rabbi's refusal to officiate but instead the concern and support they offered to the couple as they prepared for marriage."
Echoing guidelines passed by Reform rabbis earlier this year, the report calls for ongoing education and programs for converts to the faith. "Like Rome, Jews are not built in a day," the report said, recommending mentoring programs with older adults. Outreach to young interfaith families is especially important, the report said. Part of that responsibility falls on older, experienced "baby boomer" families who too often "do not model a vibrant and engaged Judaism that can be emulated by non-Jewish members."
"It is hard to fault non-Jewish parents for not taking Jewish home rituals seriously when their Jewish spouses and peers appear indifferent."