HOUSTON (Dec. 3)
A proposal by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) that Reform Judaism actively recruit converts to the Jewish faith among “the un-churched,” was approved by the UAHC’s policy-making board at its meeting here today. The board acted in response to Schindler’s plea last night for “an effort of affirmative action to turn the tide which threatens to sweep us away, into directions which might enable us to recover our numbers and recharge our inner strength.” He was alluding clearly to the erosion of the number of practicing Jews in the United States because of a declining birth rate, intermarriage and assimilation. Although his proposal would reverse a centuries-old Jewish tradition that eschews and even discourages proseletyzing non-Jews, the Reform leader contended that “the nation that Judaism was never a missionary faith is wide of the truth.”
He said it was “time for our Reform Jewish movement to launch a carefully conceived and adequately funded out-reach program aimed at all Americans who are un-churched and who are seeking roots in religion.” He indicated, however, that the focus of the effort should be non-Jewish spouses in mixed marriages.
SEEKING THE ‘UN-CHURCHED’
He criticized congregations that fail to integrate the non-Jewish partner. “We do not help them to make a Jewish home, to rear their children Jewishly, or, more seriously, we do not really embrace them or enable them to feel a close kinship with our people, “he said. Schindler stressed that he was not advocating evangelical activities among practicing members of other faiths.
“I want to reach a different audience entirely,” he said, “the un-churched…the seekers after truth who require a religion which tolerates, nay, encourages, all questions and especially I want to reach out to the alienated and the rootless who need the warmth and comfort of a people well known for its close family ties and well known also for its ancient and noble lineage.”
Schindler referred obliquely to the recent cult deaths in Guyana when he observed that “millions of Americans are searching for something…many of the seekers have fallen prey to mystical cults which literally enslave them.” But Judaism, he said, “offers life, not death. It teaches free will, not surrender of the body and soul to another human being…Judaism is a religion of hope, not despair…Judaism has an enormous amount of wisdom and experience to offer the troubled world and we Jews ought to be proud to speak about it frankly, freely and with dignity.”
The plan approved by the UAHC board would establish a 30-member commission whose members would be drown from the several Reform bodies such as Hebrew Union College, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, temple sisterhoods and brotherhoods and regional offices. The UAHC is the congregational arm of Reform Judaism in the U.S. and Canada.