I am a newish parent, and in the past two and a half years, the main thing I have learned is how much I hate not being in control. Of course, I already knew that, but never have I felt so powerless as when I can't comfort a screaming baby or reason with a frustrated toddler. And rumor has it that this is just the beginning. It seems that no matter what I do, I will not be able to decide what my kids eat, who they play with, and eventually what they will choose to do with their lives, including who they will marry.
I am a Conservative movement ordained rabbi, which means I am not allowed to officiate at interfaith marriages. One of the most painful things I have had to do is say "no" to officiating weddings for close friends, students, and community members. But I believe in my movement, and I understand why it sets certain limitations, even if I don't agree with all of them all of the time.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I spend my time serving as a rabbi for 20s and 30s Jews throughout Chicago, and as you can guess, many of these amazing young people are dating non-Jews. I have learned a lot throughout my six years with them, and I want to share a few takeaways with you.
If a young person loves being Jewish and loves their Jewish community, they will want their kids to have the same thing. They will want their partner to enjoy Shabbat and holiday celebrations, and they will likely want to raise their children Jewish. Very few millennials will feel comfortable demanding their partner to convert. But, at the same time, it turns out that people in love want to support the things their loved ones care about. So, the non-Jewish partners I meet are thrilled to come to Shabbat and holiday celebrations, they want to learn about Jewish traditions, and even live a Jewish life in many ways regardless of religious status.
The biggest thing that tends to turn young Jews and their partners away from Jewish community is feeling judged, unwelcomed, or rejected. If your childhood rabbi refuses to talk to you about your upcoming wedding, it makes you want nothing to do with your childhood religious community. If your family members only ask about your partner's religion and nothing about who they are and how they treat you, you are likely to want to run in the opposite direction.
So as a rabbi who wants nothing more than for all young Jews to find a home within our community--who wants our brilliant, loving tradition to infuse the lives of as many people as possible with community, justice, and connection--I have an ask of anyone whose child comes home with a non-Jewish significant other:
Get to know the person first, invite them to Shabbat, invite them to synagogue or a seder and explain what is going on, tell them why you love Judaism. Encourage them to go on Honeymoon Israel or participate in a Base interfaith couples cohort. Assume the best, that this person loves your child and wants to support them in creating a Jewish home and family, even if they don't have the beliefs that make conversion possible. And if they don't seem to want this, be patient, keep welcoming, keep celebrating their love--until Judaism proves itself so welcoming, accessible, and enjoyable that they can't help but jump into the parts that work for them.
As long as they are treating your child with love, respect and kindness, there is space for them in our community.
Rabbi Megan GoldMarche is Senior Base Rabbi and Director of Strategic Development at Metro Chicago Hillel, and Rabbi of Doppelt Base in Andersonville.