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6 Strategies to Pre-Address the December Dilemma Difficulties Well Before December

December, the “happiest time of year.”  Enjoy Chanukah. Celebrate Christmas or
Kwanza with friends. Joyous music. Dancing Chanukiah candles and simmering
potato latkes. Bright lights. It is a joyous time of year.

Except for two groups: Jewish scrooges and some
interfaith couples and families

The former (with whom I identify every few years) get freaked out by
what feels to them like the oppressive Christian joyousness of the holiday
season.  The latter are again
forced to address the potentially painful reality that the holiday with its
family gatherings, cherished memories and vague theologies open up differences
(sometimes chasms) between what each partner holds dear. 
At Congregation Or Ami we long ago concluded that December
is probably the most difficult time to try to address these issues.  Rather the real work must occur year
round.  We strive to be welcoming
and work hard to develop non-judgmental relationships with interfaith couples/families
and especially with the non-Jewish spouses, so that when the issues arise, they
know that the rabbi, cantor and educator offer non-judgmental support to face
and address the challenges.
Thus our strategy is to trumpet loudly and repeatedly how
welcoming we try to be to interfaith couples and families.
6 Strategies to Pre-Address the December Dilemma Difficulties
  1. A Belin-award winning Interfaith Couples/Families Webpage,
    which makes it clear that “no one is more welcome at Or Ami than you”,
    addresses many of the issues interfaith families face, while providing them an
    invitation and direct email link to talk to the rabbi about their questions and
    concerns. Allowing those wondering about
    openness to maintain their anonymity represents a more widely open gateway.
  2. On Yom Kippur every few years during adult and family
    services, we invite all non-Jewish spouses, partners, and significant others to the bimah to receive our appreciation and a blessing from thecongregation for the beyond-thanks gifts they give by connecting with our
    congregation and, for those with children, for raising their children as Jews.  Ritual
    articulates the truth: that you too are blessings in our communities.
  3. The adult learning program allows people to explore the
    similarities and differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to learn
    in a URJ Introduction to Judaism class about the basics of Judaism.  Learning
    leads to understanding.
  4. At each service, particularly at our B’nai Mitzvah service,
    we recognize that in our midst are Jews, Christians, perhaps Muslims,
    Buddhists, Hindus, and others, as well as all kinds of Jews.  We introduce them to our prayerbook,
    Mishkan Tefilah, as a “Tent of Prayer” which makes it possible for such a
    diverse group together for a spiritual, meaningful experience.  We then quickly offer a verbal roadmap
    through the double page spread.  Naming the diversity and minimizing
    roadblocks encourages connection.
  5. I remind interfaith couples and families that they should
    visit their non-Jewish parents during the December holiday season, even being
    there on Christmas eve or day to celebrate their parents’ holiday of
    Christmas.  When religion separates families, both families and religion suffer.
  6. We talk about Jews and Jewish families when referring to our
    congregants and when talking about “what we do.”

The above strategies do not obviate the need to address
directly issues of the December dilemma. 
But they do ensure that those struggling recognize that they are part of
a welcoming, non-judgmental congregation. Perhaps they will thus be more likely
to turn to their rabbis, cantor and educator when and if they struggle to
address the challenges posed by this “joyous season.” 
Need help figuring out how to better publicize the openness of your congregation to interfaith couples and families?  Check out the Union for Reform Judaism’s Supporting Interfaith webpage in their Outreach initiative.  

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