A shul that wel­comes non-Jewish part­ners

The Jewish Chronicle - - JUDAISM - SI­MON ROCKER

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

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