The News From Philadelphia

The News From Philadelphia

Good news from the City of Brotherly Love.

It’s not just that my friend Hila Ratzabi moved there and not just that my former JTA boss Lisa Hostein has taken over its Jewish newspaper.

Now, a Conservative synagogue in suburban Philly is changing its policies to allow gentile spouses to become full synagogue members.
Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El’s new policy was written up a few weeks ago in A Jewish Newspaper That Shall Remain Nameless, in an article that accomplished the remarkable feat of writing at great length about various policies affecting intermarried families and quoting a number of sources, not one of them an intermarried person.

So kudos to The Jewish Exponent for, in its coverage headlined "Keeping The Interfaithful," leading the story with a real-live intermarried person: Kari Kohn, a Presbyterian mom who sends her two sons to Jewish nursery school.

The Exponent also points to Temple Ohev Shalom a Philadelphia-area Conservative congregation that has long welcomed non-Jewish spouses as members, even allowing them to be buried in its cemetery. And it notes that two local Reform rabbis — Eliot Strom and David Straus — recently changed longtime no-officiation policies, deciding to preside at interfaith weddings after all. They are part of a much larger trend of Reform rabbis reversing course mid-career, something I explored here last year. (And while I’m promoting my own articles, you may also be interested in this piece about the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary and the broader issue of intermarriage in the Conservative movement.)

My one quibble with the Exponent piece: Why on earth does it include a photo of a “pet-blessing” ceremony as an example of Temple Ohev Shalom in Wallingford’s efforts to make intermarried families feel welcome at all synagogue functions? Is the implication that the temple might next allow pets to become members? Or that blessing pets is a good way to welcome interfaith families? It seems to set up a weird and vaguely offensive equivalency between animals and non-Jews, but maybe I’m just being oversensitive. Or overly species-o-centric.

Since we’re on the topic of synagogue inclusion, I encourage you to contact Karen Kushner of ( who is trying to collect data on synagogue membership policies vis a vis interfaith families. Does your synagogue allow the whole couple to join or just the Jewish half, and which — if any — roles and privileges are reserved for Jews?

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