Welcoming those who are not Jewish…
“My House Shall be Called a House of Prayer for all Peoples” (Isaiah 56:7)
Our Temple Family is a welcoming community for intermarried couples and their families. These couples and families often have similar concerns and questions. We hope the following will assist in answering such queries.
May a non-Jewish spouse be a member of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am?
Yes! Our by-laws state quite explicitly: “Any person of the Jewish faith or any person not a member of another faith…who wishes to associate with the Jewish faith, may be elected to regular membership on approval of his or her applications by the Board of Directors.” What is the purpose of our Temple? It is to “worship God according to the faith, doctrine and tenets of Reform Judaism and to promote Judaism in all relations of life by means of public and private worship, by the maintenance of a school for the teaching of the same and by such other means as shall serve to convey the teachings of Judaism.”
We invite you to become a member of Old York Road Temple-Beth Am as part of your extended Jewish family. Our Temple is governed by an elected Board of Executive Officers made up of its members working through a series of committees. Membership on the Executive Board as well as the Board of Directors and the Chairpersons of committees are reserved for those who are Jewish. Non-Jews may serve on any committee of their choice but may not be elected to any office on such committee(s). Non-Jews are strongly encouraged to participate in the programs of the Temple and are welcome to be part of our many Temple affiliates such as Sisterhood, Brotherhood, Social Action, and Caring Community.
Are our children Jewish?
Reform Judaism recognizes that the child(ren) of one Jewish parent (mother or father) is under the presumption of Jewish descent. Their Jewishness is established by giving the child a positive and exclusive Jewish upbringing within the context of Reform Jewish thought and practice. This upbringing includes life-cycle events such as brit milah/child naming and giving the child a formal Jewish education leading to Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation. We do not believe it is appropriate to raise and formally educate children in two religions.
How might a non-Jewish spouse/parent participate in a child’s life-cycle event?
It is very important to us at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am that non-Jewish parents be acknowledged and be offered the opportunity to participate.
- Baby Naming: When your child is given a Hebrew name, both parents are on the Bimah (at the pulpit) for this beautiful ceremony. There is a prayer in English that both parents can recite expressing gratitude for new life and the intention to link this child with the Jewish parent would acknowledge this special occasion by reciting the “shehechiyanu” blessing in Hebrew. (Both spouses recite the English translation.)
- Bar/Bat Mitzvah: When a child celebrates becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, the participation of both parents is crucial for the youngsters see both parents as standing behind the decision to raise them as Jews in order to reinforce their Jewish identities.
- Candle Lighting:The Bar/Bat Mitzvah, parents and siblings are on the bimah for both candle lighting and kiddush. At the Erev Shabbat Friday night service, the Jewish parent lights the Shabbat candles. (The blessing is then sung by the Congregation, led by the Cantor.)
- The Passing of the Torah: During this dramatic ceremony, the Torah is passed from one generation to the next signifying the continuity of our Jewish heritage through the generations. While it is only Jewish relatives (and the Jewish parent) who physically pass the Torah, non-Jewish relatives and/or the non-Jewish parent may be on the bimah at the same time for the opening of the Ark.
- The Aliyah to the Torah: The blessings both before and after the Torah are recited or sung only by those of the Jewish faith. This blessing is an essential statement of Judaism: “who has chosenus from all peoples by giving us the Torah…thereby implanting within us eternal life.” The non-Jewish spouse may, if he or she so desires, stand alongside his/her Jewish spouse while the latter chants the blessings. Non-Jewish relatives and friends can be given the honor of opening and closing the Ark during the service.
- The Parents Prayer: Both parents are encouraged to compose their own suitable prayer or select an appropriate prayer from a booklet of suggested prayers distributed to families of upcoming b’nei and b’not mitzvah.
What is our approach to interfaith weddings?
Here at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am, the Clergy recognizes the needs of an evolving Jewish community, while remaining authentic to Jewish tradition. We have created a specialized marriage preparation program designed to meet the specific needs of interfaith couples who have chosen to create a Jewish home. Rabbi Shoshanah Tornberg and Cantor Elena Zarkh will be available to officiate at interfaith wedding ceremonies. Rabbi Leib is available to counsel interfaith couples, but will defer to his colleague regarding officiation. (Please note that our Clergy do not co-officiate with Clergy of other faiths.)
Conversion to Judaism
At Beth Am we celebrate those members of our community who have chosen Judaism as a way of life. Our clergy welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your prospective Jewish journey and the process of conversion. For those who embark on this path, the process often begins with a period of intense study through the “Introduction to Judaism” class administered by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and incorporates additional private study sessions with one of our clergy. This time is accompanied by exploring Judaism in daily life, participating in community activities at Beth Am, and talking with other members about being Jewish and choosing Judaism. After the candidate has successfully completed the “Intro” class and has met all other requirements, a date is set for him/her to sit before a Beit Din (a clergy court to adjudicate the sincerity and intent of the candidate in wanting to embrace the Jewish faith) and immediately thereafter immerse him/herself in the Mikveh (Jewish ritual pool). A public ceremony of conversion follows during which the candidate’s Hebrew name is conferred for the very first time, marking his/her formal entrance into the Covenant and the Community of Israel.
Should you have any questions concerning the role of the non-Jew at Beth Am, please do not hesitate to speak with any member of the clergy. We are delighted to welcome you into our Temple family; we will do everything possible to ensure for your comfort and integration into our very special and sacred community of faith and fellowship.