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Reform Judiasm Claims First Formal Program to Encourage Conversion

A variety of programs are being put in place in a movement which Reform leaders claim is the first formal program by a major Jewish religious group to encourage non-Jews to choose Judaism as their “permanent faith.”

Approval of such a project was given at the closing session of the biennial assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the assocation of Reform synagogues, held in Houston last November 14.

Delegates voted to create a permanent Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach which Reform leaders said was designed to encourage non-Jewish partners in mixed marriages, and their children, as well as “unchurched” Americans, to convert to Judaism. The delegates acted in response to information that about a third of all American Jews currently marry non-Jews.

For the past four years, a joint task force of the UAHC and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the organization of Reform rabbis, has tested books, study guides, films, introduction-to-Judaism courses, weekend discussions and other methods of helping non-Jews to convert to Judaism.

The convention delegates acted to expand that program and to make it a permanent project in association with the CCAR. David Belin of Des Moines, named commission chairman, said that “Outreach co-ordinators” would be assigned to all 13 regional UAHC offices “to assure that this program becomes a part of every Reform congregation.”

CARRYING OUT THE PLANS

At the request of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the director of the project, Lydia Kukoff of Los Angeles, herself a convert, provided details on how the plans were being carried out as of this spring.

She reported that “we have provided a congregational Outreach kit to every congregational rabbi and Outreach chairperson which tells them in detail how to form their own congregational program.”

She said this was in addition to the help the rabbi and the congregational Outreach chairperson receive from the regional Outreach coordinators, explaining that an Outreach coordinator had been assigned to each of the UAHC regional offices.

Kukoff also reported that the commission had developed a video-tape on “Choosing Judaism” and “we are creating a whole variety of resources and materials” to speak “specifically” to the needs of the program.

Another development was creation of “a rich and exciting basic Judaism curriculum which is very relevant to the needs of those considering conversion and interfaith couples.” She commented that many Reform congregations have “large numbers of Jews by choice and significant numbers of interfaith couples.”

A MODEL FOR A PROGRAM

A model for a program has been developed “for unaffiliated interfaith couples” those in which “one partner is Jewish and one partner is not and who are totally unaffiliated with the Jewish community at present,” Kukoff said.

“We are developing a model for a discussion group for parents of children who have intermarried,” she added, declaring that the project’s “Introduction to Judaism” classes which serve those who would like to learn more about Judaism not only “are in place throughout the country” but “are growing in size and number.”

One of the groups for which the Outreach effort is designed is the general public, Belin had declared. He said this group would be approached with programs to convey the message that Judaism “is a living, meaningful, spiritual religion that welcomes all who wish to embrace it.” He added no efforts would be aimed at adherents of other faiths.

In a final report to the UAHC Houston convention, the joint UAHC-CCAR task force reported that the program would have an important impact “on the demographic trends” in the American Jewish community “and could greatly improve the ability of that community” to maintain its present proportion in the total population.

The report urged that the Outreach program be broadened with maximum speed, declaring that “for every year’s delay, there are thousands of lost opportunities to reach out to (Jewish) people who are graduating from college, entering adult life, becoming romantically involved with non-Jews and raising families without providing for Jewish education for their child. This is an area where time is of the essence.”

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