This past January, Rabbi Alpert of Beth Israel Synagogue, along with Dr. Hesch Sommer, Rabbi Emeritus Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, facilitated a three week program on interfaith relations for interfaith couples in the greater Wallingford area.
The purpose of the series was to explore the challenges faced by both partners when they have decided to make Judaism a central part of their and their children’s lives. Topics covered were “Nourishing our spiritual selves” (understanding each other’s values and priorities), “Things we hold on to” (honoring different habits and traditions), and “Things we pass on” (engaging the non-Jewish spouse in their children’s upbringing).
RABBI ALPERT EXPLAINED WHY THIS PROGRAM WAS AN IMPORTANT ONE:
Over the last many years, I have come to look at interfaith relations through a different lens. Long held by Jews to be the culmination of the process of assimilation, I no longer see these relations as a grave threat to Jewish survival. The graver threat, in my opinion, is not assimilation into another religion, but rather the loss of any religious connection at all. Every recent study of religious trends in the United States (and throughout most of the Western world, for that matter) shows that the fastest growing religious affiliation—especially among young people—is none at all.
While assuredly a threat, I believe this trend is also an opportunity. While younger people often profess an indifference to "organized religion" (whatever that term might mean), I believe that the impulse to seek a transcendent meaning to one’s life is an indestructible part of the human spirit. And in the search for meaning to one’s life, Judaism is—in my opinion— the greatest of all faiths.
Above any other goal towards which religion points a person, Judaism stresses that our lives are sacred undertakings and thus, filled with significance and meaning. This I think is the message that people both want and need to hear—even those who profess themselves to be irreligious. And Judaism delivers this message in a system of thought and belief that stresses rationality and the human desire to question. For this reason, I believe that bringing interfaith couples into the ambit of Judaism is not only good for the Jewish member and children, it is good for the non-Jewish member as well. I have seen this happen time and time again in our own synagogue. So many non-Jewish members play significant roles in all aspects our synagogue’s life. And many of them find real spiritual meaning in their family’s Jewish connection. So I find myself very optimistic about what outreach to interfaith couples can mean for our community