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This article was published 24/10/2009 (4250 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Rady Jewish Community Centre, in partnership with several other Winnipeg Jewish organizations, recently launched an outreach initiative aimed at Jewish adults who intermarry. The intent of this initiative is to make these couples continue to feel welcomed, comfortable in and connected to their community and to their roots.
The first formal event associated with this outreach initiative takes place on Monday, with the Rady JCC and its partner organizations sponsoring an open forum for interfaith families at Brock-Corydon School. The forum will feature guest speaker Kerry Olitzky, executive director of the U.S.-based Jewish Outreach Institute, as well as a panel comprised of partners in interfaith marriages. The main focus of the event is to encourage a conversation about inclusion.
The forum begins at 7 p.m. and it is open to anyone who is interested. There is no charge.
Olitzky is a former pulpit rabbi and a prolific author and editor who has devoted much of his career to adult education and the ongoing issue of intermarriage. Recently named one of the top 50 rabbis in North America by Newsweek magazine, he has been at the helm of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York City since 2000. The Jewish Outreach Institute is dedicated to bringing Judaism to interfaith families and to the unaffiliated.
"The objective of the forum is to make sure that we, both as individual organizations and as a community, are responding to interfaith families by listening and then making sure we have programs and services that resonate with them," explains Gayle Waxman, executive director of the Rady JCC. "There has been a growing awareness that the institutions in our community need to ensure that we are being inclusive."
At the same time, she notes, "there are many interfaith families who have been strongly connected to the community and to Jewish life. Part of the initiative is to learn from these families as well."
Steve Offman and his wife Lindsey Noel-Offman represent one such family. Steve, who will be sitting on the interfaith panel, was very involved as a young adult with Jewish student and cultural groups. He has been married to Lindsay, a non-Jew, for three years, and they have an eight-month-old son. They have consistently felt completely welcomed and accepted by the organized community.
"We have not experienced any negativity by the community," says Offman. "People in the community, including our rabbi, have been very helpful and forthcoming."
He acknowledges, however, that there may be other interfaith couples who have not experienced the same level of acceptance.
Accepting and embracing interfaith families is the main idea that will be encouraged by Olitzky at the open forum and at additional meetings he has scheduled with Winnipeg Jewish community leaders.
"I will be presenting a variety of things at the Winnipeg events," he says. "The most important is the recognition that interfaith is not a problem, as some see it, or even a challenge, as others see it. Rather, it is an opportunity.
"I firmly believe that the wisdom with which we respond to interfaith marriage will determine the landscape of the North American Jewish community that we bequeath to our children," he says. "If you believe that Judaism is something worth preserving, as I do, then it makes sense to want to keep interfaith families within the orbit of the Jewish community."
Waxman hopes to do that by developing a series of programs and family events at the Rady JCC.
"We want to reach out and make sure that all families know they are welcome and a part of the JCC and our community," she says. "We want to support families to help celebrate their Jewish identity and impart that feeling to their children in a way that makes sense for them. I believe our community will be stronger for it."