The prophet Isaiah said: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
From the very earliest days, some individuals who lived with the Jewish community were not themselves Jewish.
Temple B’nai Israel is an all inclusive and welcoming community to all our interfaith families and those who may just be curious about Judaism.
We offer classes for those who would like to learn more including “A Taste of Judaism.”
This engaging class on Jewish spirituality, ethics, and community is designed for the curious beginner. Individuals from all faith backgrounds are welcome.
FAMILY RESOURCES Interfaith and more
I am Jewish; my partner is not. Are we welcome to participate in a Reform Jewish congregation?
Yes! Today most Reform congregations have a large number of interfaith families that participate in all aspects of temple life. You can learn about Judaism, participate in worship services, enroll your children in religious school and be a part of the community. Contact a local Reform synagogue to find out about times for Sabbath worship on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, as well as for holiday services.
I am Jewish; my partner is not. Are we welcome as a couple to attend worship services in the Jewish community?
Yes! The prophet Isaiah said: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7) From the very earliest days, some individuals who lived with the Jewish community were not themselves Jewish.
I am not Jewish. Are there parts of the service reserved only for Jews?
You are welcome at all regular services in the synagogue and, of course, at any lifecycle events to which you are invited (for example, a wedding). Although each congregation has its own specificationsabout who performs certain roles, you are welcome to participate in everything that is done or read by the whole congregation at a service. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to ask the clergy or lay leaders.
I don’t read Hebrew. How can I possibly follow the service?
Most Reform congregations in North America use both English and Hebrew in the services and provide English translations for many of the Hebrew prayers and readings. If you wish to participate in reading the Hebrew aloud, transliterations (a phonetically written version) for common prayers in the service are often available. (A transliteration is a phonetically written version of a prayer.) Transliterations usually appear either on the same page or in the back of Reform prayer books and you can also ask if other transliterations of prayers are available. It is perfectly acceptable to read only the parts of the service with which you feel comfortable or to just sit and listen. If you need help finding the place in the prayer book, simply ask someone nearby. Temple members want visitors to feel welcome and at ease during services.
What is the best way to learn more about Judaism? I don’t want to take a “conversion” class.
Introduction to Judaism, A Taste of Judaism® and other basic Judaism courses are offered by Reform congregations in many communities. The classes cover such topics as Jewish ideas about God, Torah and other Jewish texts, how to celebrate the holidays and Jewish life-cycle events. A practice Passover seder or a Shabbat event is often featured. Such classes provide you with an opportunity to pose your own questions about Jewish life, belief and practice.
Although some of those who take these classes may be considering conversion, many take them for other reasons. The classes can be particularly helpful to those who are not Jewish themselves but are considering raising a Jewish child and to those who wish to be more comfortable at Jewish family events, such as a Passover seder. Many congregations also offer Outreach programming to help members and newcomers (both Jews and non-Jews) learn more about Judaism.
Do I have to be Jewish to belong to a congregation?
Every congregation has its own rules about membership, participation and governance. There is no central authority that dictates these matters. Most congregations include interfaith couples as members and will welcome your participation on committees and in other facets of congregational life. Find a congregation near you. You may ask the clergy or lay leaders any questions you have about membership and participation or call the temple office and request to be directed to the proper person.
Will I be pressured to convert if we join a synagogue?
The Jewish community takes delight in welcoming those who choose to embrace Judaism as their own religion. Our Sages however, have made it very clear that a conversion is not valid if it results from any pressure or coercion. You are welcome in Reform synagogues as a friend of the Jewish people. You do not have to convert.
As an interfaith couple, we wonder what choices we have in planning our wedding.
The issues involved are complex. We encourage you to find a rabbi or cantor with whom you feel comfortable and can discuss your options at length. Some clergy will officiate at a wedding between a Jew and a non-Jew under certain circumstances; others will not. Most Reform clergy, whether or not they officiate, are eager to meet with you to discuss your individual situation.
Whatever choice you make about your wedding, past or future, you are welcome in Reform synagogues. Reform Judaism is committed to providing a welcoming atmosphere in congregations, as well as specific programming that embraces and supports interfaith couples as they make and live out their Jewish choices.
If a Jew marries a non-Jew, what are the children?
Traditional Jewish law says that membership in the Jewish people is matrilineal, that is, passed through the mother. Therefore, if the mother is a Jew, the children are automatically Jewish, too; but if the father is the Jewish parent, the children are not Jewish regardless of the practice in the family home. However, in 1983, after much study and discussion, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinic body of the Reform Movement, ruled that children with one Jewish parent (mother or father) will be recognized as Jews if they are raised and educated exclusively as Jews. For Reform Judaism, Jewish identity for children is a matter of parental decision. For more information about patrilineal descent and how it affects your family, we encourage you to contact a Reform rabbi.
So if religious identity involves making a choice, how do we choose?
Children depend on their parents to instill in them a religious identity. Interfaith couples must make this decision for themselves and their children. It is our experience that children who are given roots in one tradition are more likely to feel a secure sense of belonging. Children who are raised in both traditions too often feel that they do not truly belong in either community. Such decisions are highly personal and parents should approach them with respect for both traditions. Often couples find it helpful to discuss these issues with a rabbi or within a group comprising of other interfaith couples.
Many interfaith couples choose to raise their children as Jews, and the Reform Movement welcomes them and their children. In those families, non-Jewish parents often play a key role in providing for their children’s Jewish education and in creating a Jewish home environment. Some Reform congregations have programs to pair new interfaith families with those who have been members for a while. You may want to ask the rabbi for a mentor or to connect you with another interfaith couple.
We are considering enrolling our child in a religious school. Are parents who are not Jews welcome to participate in religious school classrooms and events?
Jewish tradition puts a high value on family life. We encourage both parents to be involved in their child’s religious school experience and we welcome your participation. Many congregations offer family education programming that will help you participate fully and comfortably in your child’s religious education.
What about the non-Jewish grandparents? Can they be part of my Jewish child’s life?
Yes! A child who knows his or her grandparents is a fortunate child. All grandparents are welcome to attend services and events at the synagogue and your child’s religious school. Shabbat dinner on Friday nights constitutes a special family time, including grandparents, who can share family stories, customs and jokes. A child’s relationship with a grandparent should be treasured and nurtured.
(Article provided by ReformJudaism.org)
Children begin to ask identity questions at an early age. Who am I? Who is my family? Where do I belong? Why does my family celebrate some holidays and not others? These are all standard questions children ask to determine how they fit into their world
The same is true about religious identity. Children want to know the different ways they connect to their parents, and members of their extended family. For children in interfaith families, clarifying the role of religion in the family dynamic and the child’s personal identity from an early age is important. The following guidelines will assist you when talking about Jewish Identity.
Conversations about religious identity can occur at any time. We recommend that you and your spouse or partner come to an agreement on how you will handle religious questions as early as possible. It will be easier for both of you to answer questions with some clarity if you have reached an agreement before the child’s questions begin.
As with any important conversation, we recommend that you initiate the conversation with your child at an early age, in a relaxed comfortable environment. Let your child know that you are always happy to discuss religious identity questions and situations with him or her. Make religious identity a comfortable topic of conversation in your home.
How do I start the conversation?
Before you talk to your child about religious identity, it’s helpful and important to have discussed this with yourself and your spouse and partner. We recommend the following steps to assist you in determining religious identity in your family:
- Think about how you feel in order to reach a decision regarding religious identity, practice and belief.
- Communicate these decisions to your children directly.
- Encourage them to discuss these issues with you as a family.
Step 1: Each partner should think about what religious identity means to him or her. As a child, what role did religion play in your life? What does religion mean to you today? What role do you want it to play in your children’s lives?
Step 2: Partners should share with each other their feelings about each question, and attempt to come to an agreement about which religion they will raise the child in, how they will celebrate religious holidays in the home, and how they will celebrate with their extended families. It’s helpful to have this discussion before the child is born. Often, parents wait until the child is a few years old before having these conversations. We recommend sooner rather than later, but later better than never!
Step 3: Once you have reached an agreement, share and implement their decision with your children.
Step 4: You also should share with the grandparents the choices you have made as soon as possible.
Why do my children’s questions catch me off guard?
When seated for a family meal, children may share comments and questions related to religious identity, religious practice or religious beliefs, enabling time for parents to think before responding. However, more than likely, questions and comments will pop up at the least expected moments, such as when you are about to drop your child off at a friend’s house or as you pull into your favorite local, noisy fast food spot.
Children take cues from their parents. The more comfortable you are with the discussion of religious identity, the more comfortable your children will be. The more religious identity is a comfortable topic of conversation in the family, the more comfort children will have with who they are and the decisions you have made for them.
Intermarried parents often ask:
- Now that we’ve made decisions for our family, how do we explain our choice of Jewish identity to our children when one of us is Jewish and one of us is not?
- How do we create a sense of respect and love for all the members of our extended family, those who have Jewish homes and those who do not?
When responding, keep the following thoughts in mind:
- Respond in a way that is appropriate given your child’s age and level of understanding. Sometimes a short simple answer is best.
- Listen carefully to what your child is saying or asking, and consider whether he or she may be:
Repeating something said by a peer?
Asking an existential question (such as who am I…)?
“Testing” a concept?
Concerned about something specific related to religious identity?
- Give children warm, clear answers that help them understand their Jewish identity in relation to their extended non-Jewish family:
“We are Jewish and we love to share holidays with Grandma who celebrates holidays that are different than ours”
“We are going to invite your cousins to celebrate Hanukkah with us even though they do not celebrate Hanukkah in their home”
- It is not necessary to have all of the answers, especially when the questions catch you off guard. When that happens, let your child know you will have to get back to him or her—and then get the answers!
- Children may become confused when observing their relatives celebrating different holidays than they do. Explain that ideas and practices that are different are neither better nor worse. Children may want simple answers about religious beliefs by asking questions like “who is right?” Help them understand that sometimes people do things differently, and that is neither right nor wrong.
- Help children build strong, warm relationships with all of their relatives. Using phrases that help them understand different practices and what is expected of them. For example “We are going to Aunt Jody’s house to help her and her family celebrate their holiday.”
- When you celebrate Jewish holidays in your home, invite Jewish and non-Jewish relatives to share in your celebrations.
Your goal is to teach your child how to embrace and respect every member of your family. Once they are comfortable with this, they will be well on their way to celebrating their Jewish identity.
(Article provided by ReformJudaism.org)
What are your earliest memories of “doing Jewish”? I have a smattering of recollections from when I was 5, 6, and 7, though not much before that. Even from those years, I can only call up bits and pieces: moments, vignettes, colors, flavors. Those snippets, though, wove into a happy childhood tapestry.
Now, as a grandmother, I wonder what our little guys will remember of being Jewish in our home – especially around the High Holidays.
Will they remember parading around to the upbeat, symbolically rich music video “Dip Your Apple” by the Ein Prat Fountainheads? What about making Jewish art to hang on the walls at the start of the new year? Pretending to blow the shofar with Bugles® snack crackers? Tekiah. Shevarim. Teruah.
What activities and fun and spirituality can we add to what they already do at home to enrich their lives? I know we cannot replicate the way I grew up, so we look for different approaches.
By the age of 5, for instance, I was sorting note cards for the Hebrew dictionaries my father, z”l, wrote – first by color (only to discover later that this was not helpful in the least), then by English, then by Hebrew.
When I was 6, we spent four months in Israel living with my sweet Dod Avraham (Uncle Avraham) in Ramat Gan. I remember sitting on a park bench with him, eating clementinot (clementines). To this day, whenever I smell that crisp, citrusy fragrance, I can almost see that park, that bench.
My father, z”l, taught me Hebrew, in short bursts of sweet togetherness after dinner. We’d read a few prayers from the siddur (prayer book), then either a poem or a Dick-and-Jane type story from Elef Milim (A Thousand Words) about life in Israel.
On Rosh HaShanah, I can still hear his voice, in his beautiful Hebrew, reciting the blessing as we dipped the apples into honey: “…shetechadesh aleinu shanah tovah umetukah,” hoping God would grant us a good and sweet year. I always ate as much honey as possible to try to make that hope come true. (Actually, I still do – and we give plenty to everyone at the table!)
I am inspired by these recollections to create memories for our little ones that will make them smile when they grow up.
So what little things can I do? I sprinkle Hebrew and Yiddish into our conversation. I ask their advice when I’m creating Jewish games. I let them choose which challah cover to use on Friday nights. I give each one a little bag of crumbs for Tashlich.
As we create new traditions, we also bring in rituals and food from the “old world.” When we raise our cups for Kiddush, we sing my father’s melody, a tune I have never heard anywhere else. We serve classic Ashkenazi fare, like brisket or baked chicken with potato kugel and simmered carrots.
And we hope that our little ones grow up with happy memories of family gatherings – with laughter and joy in their hearts.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiy’manu v’higianu la’zman hazeh. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.
( By Ellen Zimmerman: She created Jewish Holidays In a Box to help families discover fun, easy ways to celebrate Jewish holidays. Visit their website to explore holiday kits, games, e-guides, blog posts, and more. Their newest product is Rosh HaShanah Bingo.)
In this one-hour online session, together we will
- Explore the central ideas and themes of Passover
- Share ideas for engaging children during the seder
- Learn how to celebrate the holiday more meaningfully with kids, extended family, and friends
This discussion is perfect for parents who want to learn a little bit more about Passover themselves, whether this is their first or their fortieth seder.
The same session will be offered twice on the same day; it will also be recorded for later viewing. Register for the session to receive a unique login information.
Click here for a link to some creative Passover interests for kids!
Answer By: Rabbi Victor Appell
Reform Judaism has a long and proud history of working for the full inclusion of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) people in Jewish life and for their full civil rights. As early as 1965, the Women of Reform Judaism called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Resolutions by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis followed. The social justice arm of the Reform Movement, the Religious Action Center, (RAC) has been at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality.
We are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image), as it says in Genesis 1:27, “And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.” Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the RAC has said, “regardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all individuals, including gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”
Today, in addition to several congregations whose primary outreach is to the LGBT community, LGBT Jews and their families are welcome in all of Reform temples. LGBT Jews may be ordained as rabbis and cantors and they serve throughout the Reform movement. Most Reform rabbis and cantors gladly officiate at same-sex ceremonies.
(Article provided by ReformJudaism.Org)
A song for Miriam, for Moses, for Rosa and Martin, for Sylvia and Harvey.
Miriam the prophetess … took the tambourine in her hand; and all the women followed her with tambourines and dances. –Exodus
I asked my students whether they considered their own freedoms to be dependent first on the work of Rosa Parks, and then Martin Luther King, Jr., and then Harvey Milk. At each stage they acknowledged the contributions of those who had come before them, though they had only just watched The Times of Harvey Milk, and could only piece together Kodachrome snapshots of what could not be imagined before Harvey, and now, to them, feels like air, water, or sunshine.
We then read of butch and femme lesbians in Buffalo in the 1950s, and I asked my students what freedoms they enjoy because of the example of these women. With this they struggled— with enough prodding, many women could point to strength, independence, self-sufficiency; they had moments of clarity in the haze of privilege in which some of us live. For the men, this was a tougher exercise, until I pointed to the economic benefits of equality, and more invisibly, the mere fact that their friendships with women are not disreputable or taboo—in my view, a direct benefit of the struggle for equality in the workplace and for sexual liberation.
Auspiciously, the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion corresponds in the Jewish calendar with the reading in the annual cycle of Torah portions of a mysterious and complex parshah (portion) called )Chukat_. The Israelites have arrived, after 40 years wandering in the desert, at the wilderness of Zin, where the prophet Miriam dies and the people thirst for water. Their seemingly inexhaustible well, dependent on the merit of Miriam, has suddenly dried up.
Free from bondage, but still in part enslaved, the people long for the security of bread and water, for the certainty provided by Mitzrayim, the land of their enslavement, the narrow places.
Stonewall was a narrow place, a sliver of a bar under Mafia control and constant threat of police raid, a place populated by drag queens, hustlers and homeless youth. Narrow, yes, until that night, 40 years ago, when Sylvia Rivera and so many other trans/queer people struck the rock that poured forth water, those waters “in the life.” Stonewall has become a myth, yes, neither the beginning, nor the end, but people need myths, as much as we need manna, water, and the shelter of the sky. In the biblical account, Moses learns that because he did not follow instructions to speak to the rock, but rather struck it in anger, he will glimpse, but not enter, the promised land.
I take this to be the wrong lesson, the morality tale that silences the voice that says: “Enough!” “Genug!” “¡Ya Basta!” This is the voice so many are afraid to hear, because the narrow places feel so secure, so appealing to our animal nature, to our defendable turf. But the myth is also wise beyond compare, because the promised land … really … none of us can ever but glimpse it. The best a bodhisattva or a tzaddik can hope for, much less we living the broken lives of the everyday, is to bring someone toward promise, to stand briefly on that mountain, and then go back for the next one.
In a numinous and rare teaching moment where one could feel the ground tremble with meaning, I asked my students, “years from now, who will be more free because of the way you lived your lives?” Whether trans or not, queer or not, Jewish or not, a friend of Dorothy or not, whoever you are, I ask the same of us all.
The Orthodox Jew who became a gender-reassignment surgeon
BY YONAH KRAKOWSKY |Photograph by Nikki Mills
I attended an all-boys, Orthodox Jewish high school in Toronto, where sex ed largely consisted of our rabbi telling us how God would punish us for our sexual sins. Masturbation, we were told, was a crime so terrible that those of us who did it would spend eternity suffering in a vat of boiling semen. The image was enough to turn me into an abstainer throughout high school and during my years at an Israeli yeshiva. In my early 20s, I went to my rabbi to get permission to provide a sperm sample for a medical test. “Yonah,” he said, “go crazy.”
So maybe it’s ironic—or maybe not—that I’m now a urologist, practising in the areas of erectile dysfunction, sexual dysfunction and trans bottom surgery. I found my niche in 2012, when I met my mentor, Ethan Grober, a doctor who’d been working with trans patients for years. He was able to connect with patients, talking to them casually about their most intimate details. He made me realize I wanted to do gender-reassignment surgery. I love helping patients feel more comfortable in their own skin. I also love that most urological problems can be fixed quickly: if I get called in because there’s a kidney stone, I insert a tube to unblock it. If somebody’s testicles are twisted, I go in and untwist them.
I work out of Women’s College Hospital, where I perform orchiectomies, or the removal of the testicles, for trans women who want to stop using testosterone blockers. If a patient thinks she might want a vaginoplasty—the surgical creation of a vagina—I leave the skin of the scrotum to construct labia later. For trans guys, we do testicular implants. We’re the second program in Canada to perform bottom surgery, after a private clinic in Montreal. Our goal is to be able to offer the first vaginoplasties in Toronto by the end of 2018, with phalloplasties to follow later on.
I’m still an Orthodox Jew. I have faith. I keep kosher, I wear a kippah to work, and I pray every morning. I put on phylacteries, because that’s what my father does and what my grandfather did when he was hiding out in an attic during the Holocaust. I’m at synagogue on Saturdays, but if my pager goes off, I drive in to the hospital, because saving a life supersedes the Sabbath. Many people I meet believe that my faith is at odds with my career. But my work allows me to practise the medicine that interests me while helping a marginalized community. I deal with patients who, by and large, have had negative experiences with hospitals and the health care system, and I give them the care they deserve. That is very much in line with my religious practice.
My parents are observant yet socially progressive, and religious practice for me has always been associated with social justice and activism. I love my Jewish traditions. I believe they’re important tools to help navigate the ethics of contemporary life. And the values we read about in the Bible—that we’re obligated to help the immigrant and the stranger and the convert—are fundamentally consistent with helping people with gender dysphoria.
Strange as it sounds, I’ve never really thought about the religious technicalities regarding Jewish law and gender dysphoria. At the age of 32, I no longer turn to the rabbinate for approval of every decision I make. Every week at shul, I’m introduced as the guy who changes men into women and women into men. Some people say things like, “I can’t believe you’re mutilating people,” or, “Those people are crazy.” They’ll tell me that my patients are just depressed. They’ll tell me about studies they’ve read showing that people who get gender-reassignment surgery ultimately regret it.
A friend’s father told me he worried that I wasn’t aware of the biblical prohibition on castration. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I mean, there isn’t much room for nuance in an ancient text written in a foreign language. My sense is that there might be some differences between castration as a genocidal tactic versus orchiectomy as a treatment for someone who is born in the wrong body.
And that is the real source of discomfort: many Orthodox people see gender-affirming surgery as an admission that God made a mistake. They see me as calling God out on that mistake by correcting it. Which is odd: nobody’s accusing God of screwing up someone’s pancreas when they have diabetes or suggesting it’s a sin to inject insulin.
I can’t prove there’s a God, but I believe there is. I also believe that God must be very frustrated by how the LGBT community is marginalized. I operated recently on a gentleman who has been transitioning for 15 years. After his experience at Women’s College, he sent an email that said, “I’ve always hated doctors, but you guys were able to make the experience palatable.” Another patient told me that we were the first doctors who didn’t treat her like a freak. People are so appreciative when we use their correct names and pronouns. That’s the idea behind our program: taking something that’s broken, and transforming it into something brighter and whole. And that, fundamentally, is what religion is supposed to do.
—As told to Susan Goldberg
Yonah Krakowsky is a urologist specializing in sexual medicine at Women’s College Hospital.