Welcoming Interfaith Families: A Cantor’s Perspective



by Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut

Welcoming InterfaithA few years ago, at an oneg, I was talking to an interfaith prospective family.  The non-Jewish mother wanting to raise Jewish children but was frustrated.  She told me the following story: her husband had grown up in a congregation where his beloved childhood rabbi was still serving the congregation.  They went to see the rabbi hoping he would marry them.  The rabbi told them that he didn’t believe that they should get married since Jews should only marry Jews.  If the bride were to convert, he was happy to officiate.  If she didn’t, he wouldn’t have anything to do with the wedding.  However, once they are married, he’d be delighted to welcome them back home as members.

To say the least, this family did not join that other synagogue.  This woman wanted to know why she would want to join a synagogue at which the rabbi didn’t even believe she and her fiancé should marry even if she was committed to raising Jewish children and living a Jewish life-style.

All too often our boards and ritual committees put up obstacles for the non-Jewish partners in interfaith families without offering sufficient understanding of the particularistic rituals.  As a result, we guard our ‘Jewishness’ and miss out on exploring the many opportunities that could and should be explored that are appropriate and comfortable for engaging both the Jewish as well as the non-Jewish family members in our interfaith families.

As a cantor, I feel particularly blessed.  Music speaks to all souls and I am not bound by the strict rules of religious identification.

Our volunteer Adult Choir welcomes everyone who loves to sing.  My only criteria for joining the choir are a love of music, the ability to attend rehearsals, and a willingness to learn.  Our choir draws quite a few congregants who would not be otherwise involved in synagogue life, including non-Jewish members.

We also have an all-volunteer worship band.  Our group loves rehearsing and celebrating Shabbat together.  Until recently, like our choir, we did have a religiously diverse band.  Several weeks ago, however, all of that changed when one of our members who was not Jewish, formally converted.  It was very humbling to know that by opening our doors and being inclusive, we were able to help him open doors of his own.

It is not appropriate nor comfortable for the non-Jewish member of an interfaith family to participate in all aspects of synagogue life, but there are many ways that are appropriate and comfortable.  It is should be our mission to find those points of entry, especially for those who are struggling the most to find their place and to understand “our” ways.

In our congregation’s B’nai Mitzvah manual, we include the following :

We are very grateful to all family members and loved ones who help our young people become Bar or Bat Mitzvah.   Therefore, we honor all parents, both Jewish and non-Jewish.  Non-Jewish parents are encouraged to participate in the service.  The rabbi will help find a role that is both meaningful and comfortable.

Isn’t that ultimately the goal? To participate in the life of the synagogue in a manner that is ‘both meaningful and comfortable’?  While that is the goal for all members, it is our interfaith families who need the most help in finding their place and feeling welcomed, valued and desired.

Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut is the cantor at Temple Beth Or, Washington Township, NJ.

Spotlight on Welcoming Interfaith: This month the URJ is highlighting resources to aid your congregation in actively welcoming interfaith families into your community and encouraging their participation in your congregation. Also see resources for individuals in interfaith families.

 

By Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut

A few years ago, at an oneg, I was talking to an interfaith prospective family.  The non-Jewish mother wanting to raise Jewish children but was frustrated.  She told me the following story: her husband had grown up in a congregation where his beloved childhood rabbi was still serving the congregation.  They went to see the rabbi hoping he would marry them.  The rabbi told them that he didn’t believe that they should get married since Jews should only marry Jews.  If the bride were to convert, he was happy to officiate.  If she didn’t, he wouldn’t have anything to do with the wedding.  However, once they are married, he’d be delighted to welcome them back home as members.

To say the least, this family did not join that other synagogue.  This woman wanted to know why she would want to join a synagogue at which the rabbi didn’t even believe she and her fiancé should marry even if she was committed to raising Jewish children and living a Jewish life-style.

All too often our boards and ritual committees put up obstacles for the non-Jewish partners in interfaith families without offering sufficient understanding of the particularistic rituals.  As a result, we guard our ‘Jewishness’ and miss out on exploring the many opportunities that could and should be explored that are appropriate and comfortable for engaging both the Jewish as well as the non-Jewish family members in our interfaith families.

As a cantor, I feel particularly blessed.  Music speaks to all souls and I am not bound by the strict rules of religious identification.

Our volunteer Adult Choir welcomes everyone who loves to sing.  My only criteria for joining the choir are a love of music, the ability to attend rehearsals, and a willingness to learn.  Our choir draws quite a few congregants who would not be otherwise involved in synagogue life, including non-Jewish members.

We also have an all-volunteer worship band.  Our group loves rehearsing and celebrating Shabbat together.  Until recently, like our choir, we did have a religiously diverse band.  Several weeks ago, however, all of that changed when one of our members who was not Jewish, formally converted.  It was very humbling to know that by opening our doors and being inclusive, we were able to help him open doors of his own.

It is not appropriate nor comfortable for the non-Jewish member of an interfaith family to participate in all aspects of synagogue life, but there are many ways that are appropriate and comfortable.  It is should be our mission to find those points of entry, especially for those who are struggling the most to find their place and to understand “our” ways.

In our congregation’s B’nai Mitzvah manual, we include the following :

We are very grateful to all family members and loved ones who help our young people become Bar or Bat Mitzvah.   Therefore, we honor all parents, both Jewish and non-Jewish.  Non-Jewish parents are encouraged to participate in the service.  The rabbi will help find a role that is both meaningful and comfortable.

                Isn’t that ultimately the goal? To participate in the life of the synagogue in a manner that is ‘both meaningful and comfortable’?  While that is the goal for all members, it is our interfaith families who need the most help in finding their place and feeling welcomed, valued and desired.

Cantor Regina Lambert-Hayut is the cantor at Temple Beth Or, Washington Township, NJ.

Spotlight on Welcoming Interfaith: This month the URJ is highlighting resources to aid your congregation in actively welcoming interfaith families into your community and encouraging their participation in your congregation. Also see resources for individuals in interfaith families.

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2 Responses to “Welcoming Interfaith Families: A Cantor’s Perspective”

  1. avatar

    I find the Cantor to be a thinking person with a generous, unselfish heart.

  2. avatar

    As a member of Temple Beth Or, and a choir member, Cantor Hayut makes all welcome, both with her music and her warm and loving personality.

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