New Interfaith Group at Beth Miriam

We are very excited to be starting an Interfaith Group at Temple Beth Miriam. This group will be made up of members of Interfaith families here at Temple Beth Miriam, families who are unaffiliated and interested families who belong to other synagogues are also welcome. We are looking for people from families who will be open and honest about the struggles & magical moments of living in an Interfaith Family.

I was lucky enough to attend an Interfaith Seminar in Atlanta GA on behalf of Temple Beth Miriam several months before the pandemic. It was incredible to see all of the organizations & synagogues coming together to figure out  how we can best serve Interfaith families in our communities.

On this trip I learned 70% of all Jews now decide to marry someone outside of the Jewish Faith. The motto of the seminar quickly became “We Are not just a drop in the Ocean- We Are The Ocean”.

I think it’s easy for us to assume everyone knows how open & welcoming Reform Congregations are throughout the country to Interfaith couples- I know I did. That is certainly not the case. I learned in reality one or more of the members of an Interfaith couple has had an experience with the Jewish Faith (or Jewish In Laws) that doesn’t feel welcoming. Whether they stumbled into a conservative or orthodox synagogue and were told their child isn’t “really Jewish” or they reached out to a family friend’s rabbi & were told he/she couldn’t marry them…these are big moments that create a lasting impact on the family leading them into a future without anything at all.

Some people think that Interfaith families who do not end up practicing Judaism end up practicing one of the Christian theologies. I learned at this conference that isn’t true either. If these couples have a positive experience when they are involved in Judaism, Judaism will most likely be the main religion in the household. If they do not have a positive experience they are likely to not have any religion in the home aside from secular traditions.

In these crazy times- people are working long hours and expected to be available around the clock even when they are “off”. Families are spread out all over the country so many families only have their nucleus without anyone else nearby to help or celebrate life with.
These are the times we need community the most and these are the hardest times to find one & truly make time to enjoy the benefits of having one.

We at Temple Beth Miriam want to meet people & families where they are. We understand how our society has changed and we are willing to change with it.

This is one of the main reasons we are starting our Interfaith group. We want a group made up of vulnerability & honesty where we truly get to the heart of what each family needs & wants and what we can all do to help each other get there. Create meaningful family traditions. Create deep friendships. Create ways to address awkward family moments when our children ask questions that leave us temporarily speechless.  Create ways to address how to handle questions from grandparents who don’t understand our need to do things differently.

When we get to the heart of these things we get to the real heart of community. A couple of personal examples:

    1.    I myself am in an Interfaith marriage. To make it even more complicated I converted. So I had no family or in-laws to turn to when it came to something as intricate as making matzah ball soup 😉 There was this amazing older couple (who have since passed) from my previous synagogue in Nashville TN who immediately swept me under their wings- Richard & Cynthia Morin. When I first walked into their synagogue looking like a deer in the headlights they had to know I wasn’t Jewish and it didn’t matter a bit. They would invite me to lunch or breakfast. For the holidays they would reach out and ask if I had a place to go or if I needed a recipe. When I ended up marrying a Catholic man and it came time to host our first Passover no matter what we did we couldn’t get the Matzah Balls to float- who did we call? Cynthia. She gave us her secret trick and they floated instantly. We videoed it happening to share our first floating Matzah Ball.  They traveled across the country & read a passage at our wedding. They were there for my first son’s naming ceremony & after they passed away my husband and I decided to give Michael (our second son) Richard’s Hebrew name- Moshe.  Their son who is ten years older than I am, sent us a beautiful Noah’s ark menorah that was theirs & we light it with the boys every Hanukkah.

It’s these relationships that truly enrich families. Trust me- they have enriched our life tenfold.

    2.    After accompanying my sons to the kids High Holiday services & watching Rabbi Cy lead Michael’s bris My Catholic mother in law who goes to Mass multiple times per week said if she ever had a problem and needed to talk to clergy it would be Rabbi Cy. That was before she took the 23 & me test to find out she is actually 20% Jewish & had no idea 😉

I am reaching out to ask our membership to be especially mindful of the Interfaith Family this year. I ask you to share the news that Temple Beth Miriam doesn’t just let Interfaith families join- we celebrate them! They offer a fresh perspective to our Traditions, Texts, and Hebrew School. One of the first stories I was told as a “Shiksa” (a non Jewish woman) was the story about a Father who sent his son off to college. His only request of his son was that he not bring home and marry a woman who was not Jewish. What did he do?! After he graduated he brought home and married a non-Jewish woman. Not long afterwards he was given two free tickets to a Yankees game right behind home plate. He was so excited he called his son and asked him to join him. His son asked what day it was and he responded Saturday. He said “Sorry Dad, I can’t do it Saturday. It’s Shabbat!” His Dad yelled into the phone “I told you not to marry a non-Jewish woman!!” 🤣
The enthusiasm people have finding Judaism for the first time either through their spouse or through the eyes of their children is contagious. It brings a light to our community and adds an energy that makes everyone around them feel the warmth.

I challenge all of us to invite someone new in the congregation or someone just visiting out for coffee. Ask the non Jewish spouse or significant other where they are from and truly get to know them. These small gestures can have ripple effects you may never fully know. I know it has for our family.

Finally, I ask that we spread the word about our new Interfaith Group. Share my information so we can get to work on creating a group that welcomes, supports, learns from and celebrates these families.

I hope everyone had a meaningful holiday season and look forward to seeing you around Temple Beth Miriam through the coming year!

Kara Zappacosta
Board Member, TBM