A Congregation That Welcomes Interfaith Cares About Everyone
by Marcia Brandt Frezza
Several years ago my husband Tony and I moved to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina and joined Congregation Beth Yam. What a blessing for us to find this amazing community! What is unique about Congregation Beth Yam is that the we have developed a culture of caring that is part of the fiber of our congregation. We believe when it comes to the members of our congregation you cannot talk the talk without walking the walk.
Every member of our congregation at Beth Yam understands the culture of “welcoming the stranger”. This might be a visitor, a new member or an interfaith couple. We choose to embrace new and different, because we believe it will make our congregation stronger in numbers and diversity. We don’t hope the non-Jewish partner knows we care about them, we know they do, because we make sure of it.
80% of the children in our Religious School come from interfaith families. To offer an opportunity for our children to share Chanukah with their friends, we invited each child in our religious school to bring a friend to the Chanukah celebration. With a school population of 39 children, we had 76 children and 20 adults, who came to participate in crafts, music, video, and food. The guest children and their parents now have a greater appreciation of what Chanukah means to their Jewish friends, and our Jewish children felt proud to be part of CBY. Those children who are part of an interfaith family know that we welcome not only them but their parents. Being Jewish takes on a new meaning in our synagogue, it means we care for you unconditionally, whatever your roots.
We believe in making home for the non-Jew at CBY because it benefits us and our congregation. We remember the words of Rabbi Alexander Schindler z’’l , that it is time to stop sitting shiva when someone intermarries. Instead of sitting Shiva, we are working to increase our numbers and grow together. Any congregation can embrace this mind set, welcoming the stranger and developing programs that include all members, Jews and non-Jews alike. Our strength comes from our mingled roots, our shared knowledge and experience and our willingness to care about each other. Our culture of caring is our way of building a strong home for the non-Jew in the community. Our culture of caring tells all our members that they are important to us and that each of our histories and backgrounds come together to build and strengthen congregation Beth Yam.
Marcia Brandt Frezza is the Outreach Chairperson of Congregation Beth Yam in Hilton Head Island, SC.