A shul that welcomes non-Jewish partners
W“elcome,” said Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, “I know the word ‘welcome’ isn’t always a word that comes your way.” The Maidenhead Reform Synagogue minister, a pioneer of outreach to mixedfaith couples, was opening his 19th annual “I’m Jewish, My Partner isn’t” seminar at London’s Sternberg Centre on Sunday.
Offering a message of reassurance to his audience of 70-80 — mostly couples in their 30s, with a few parents — he said: “The Jewish partner is still Jewish and welcome to be part of the Jewish community. The non-Jewish partner needs to be treated with respect, courtesy and consideration.”
The event contained no hidden agenda to split the couples up, he explained. Nor was it an exercise in trying to persuade the non-Jewish partner to convert, “although it may be an option”.
But he encouraged both partners to talk through the issues that would inevitably arise. There were two “golden rules”: “Discuss everything in advance” and “Make sure that you keep channels of communication open with the family”.
Questions ranged from what kind of marriage ceremony was possible to raising children. “Children have no problems with their parents being mixed-faith,” Rabbi Romain said. “The worst thing is when they become a battle-ground.”
Could you have a chupah at a civil wedding? No, the regulations do not allow a religious symbol at a civil ceremony. Some Liberal communities permit a mixed-faith blessing in a synagogue — but not a wedding; rabbis may legally marry only Jews.
Some couples have resolved to teach any children about both their respective faiths, while others have opted for bringing up the children as Jewish. “I feel very strongly about keeping my Judaism and passing it on,” one young woman from North London said. “It’s not something I’m going to compromise on.”
Mark Ellerington, 33, who works in a design agency and lives in Crouch End, North London, was among those willing to consider conversion to Judaism. “It’s the first question I get asked by my mates in the pub, ‘Are you going to convert?’” he said (usually accompanied by a snipping gesture from the questioner).
He and his partner, Danielle Landes, a teacher, 31, originally from a Manchester Reform congregation, have been going out for three and a half years and are marrying in August. “We have resolved a lot of the questions,” said Danielle. “The children will be brought up as Jewish.”
Mark is happy to undertake a course on Judaism in the spirit of an open-ended “voyage of discovery”.
“I’ve never said to Mark that he needs to convert,” Danielle said. “I believe strongly that he shouldn’t do it just for me.”
Rabbi Romain (right) with participants at Sunday’s seminar