By Harriet P. Gross
The Hebrew word keruv means “bring close.” That’s what some branches of Orthodoxy have been doing for a long time — working actively to bring those who are already Jews closer to their Judaism.
More recently, the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs launched its own keruv outreach with a broader focus: to help Conservative movement synagogues create the most welcoming environment possible for families in which not everyone is a born Jew.
This effort spoke directly to Liz Cox, 44. She’s Jewish, her husband is not, and together, they’re raising their son in his mother’s faith. Liz is a 12-year member of Congregation Beth Torah, which she said “has always been open and welcoming. But I wanted to make it official, to shout it from the rooftops.” So a few years ago, she accepted the task of putting together a local keruv plan.
“It took about a year to figure out what I wanted to do,” Liz said. Barry Newberg, a Beth Torah member with a family makeup similar to hers, signed on as co-chair. What evolved was a program incorporating three elements: the educational, the conversational and the social.
Participants enjoyed wine-tastings and other informal gatherings, planned and took part in interfaith Shabbat services and attended a variety of professionally facilitated discussion groups covering vital topics such as how to celebrate holidays with family members — particularly children’s grandparents — of other religions.
Beth Torah even brought Rabbi Charles Simon, founder of the Conservative keruv movement, to Richardson for one of its annual congregational scholar-in-residence weekends.
Liz is quick to note that these keruv activities are not exclusively for Beth Torah members, nor are they intended as “feeders” for conversion to Judaism — although they may open a pathway for those who find themselves interested.
“How you and your spouse make a marriage work applies to everyone,” she says. Programs like these can help couples navigate some difficult situations that often arise, specifically within an intermarriage.
Conservative keruv “consultants” — people like Liz who bring this initiative into their own communities — get together for an annual retreat, which presents opportunities to grow personally through sharing the diversity of attitudes among their peers and the synagogues they represent. Liz’s own focus and goals have changed quite a bit over these past few years.
“I want to cast a wider net now,” she said. “My belief is that keruv should not be just interfaith, but for other ‘non-traditionals.’ They could be LGBTs, minorities, anyone seeking a welcoming spiritual home. People are looking for a community where they will be accepted, and they will find a community somewhere. I think we are doing the right thing by providing this as an option.
“I think this era is the best we Jews have ever had,” she continues, honing in on “people who cast their lot with us” as her own non-Jewish husband has. “I am committed to Torah as a tool for learning lessons. It’s history, and a moral compass. I give our son all the information about what I believe, and his father brings in science and what other people believe. Together, we — and families like ours — educate. We teach our children to be proud of who they are, and to be spokespeople for their heritage.”
Of her own synagogue, she said, “Beth Torah has almost always been ahead of the curve as a comfortable place for people to migrate to. But now I see that a welcoming environment can have many points of entry. If people become more engaged and involved [with the keruv effort], they become more welcoming. To be welcoming, to ‘bring in,’ is a product of involvement. On the ‘Barometer of Acceptance,’ there’s no such thing as just continuing the job. We can all do better.”
Sound interesting? For further information, for a schedule of programs or to find out how you might bring yourself into this effort “to bring in,” email Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org.