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Reform Jews Urged to “Recognize Non-Jewish Heroes in Our Midst” By Rabbi Yoffie

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March - April 2006

“One of the great legacies of the Outreach revolution, initiated by Rabbi Alexander Schindler 27 years ago,” writes Rabbi Eric Yoffie in Reform Judaism (Spring 2006), “has been to welcome non-Jewish spouses to our congregations. These spouses who involve themselves in the activities of the synagogue, support the Jewish activities of their husbands or wives, attend Jewish worship, and — most important of all — commit to raising Jewish children are deserving not only of welcome but of our profound thanks. They are heroes of Jewish life.”  

Rabbi Yoffie, who is President of the Union for Reform Judaism, declares that, “Even while maintaining some measure of attachment to their own traditions, and sometimes continuing to practice their religion, they take on responsibilities that, by any reasonable calculation, belong to the Jewish spouse. And very often they do this without recognition from either their Jewish family or their synagogue.”  

One such “hero” cited by Rabbi Yoffie is Helen Dreyfus of Houston, Texas: “She met her husband-to-be, Richard, and took an Introduction to Judaism class with him. Although she enjoyed the class and admired Judaism, she did not think that she could convert. But she and Richard agreed to raise their children as Jews and joined Temple Emanu El in Houston. When her two boys started preschool, Helen felt embraced by the synagogue. Over time, much of the family’s holiday and Shabbat preparation fell to her, and she grew to enjoy it. She also became involved in the parent-teacher organization of the religious school. When her husband fell ill with colon cancer in 2003, Judaism was a source of consolation, and the temple offered support ... Following Richard’s death last year, Helen and her sons ... have remained immersed in religious school and temple life.”  

Rabbi Yoffie concludes: “Helen and others like her deserve our appreciation with a full embrace. One way to express our gratitude is with a formal ceremony of recognition. Some of our synagogues do this in a low-key way, such as an annual breakfast meeting. Others choose a dramatic point in the liturgical cycle. At Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, California, for example, Rabbi Janet Marder asks non-Jewish spouses to come to the bimah on Yom Kippur morning and then has the congregation stand as she blesses them with the birkat kohanirn, the priestly blessing. Whatever the approach, it is my hope that every Reform congregation will make the effort to publicly recognize these remarkable individuals.”

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