Conservative Judaism And Kentucky
04/08/2010 - 12:36

 This weekend I am heading south to Louisville, Ky., where I will be the Dave and Reva Kahn scholar-in-residence at Keneseth Israel Congregation, a Conservative synagogue.

It’s my first “scholar-in-residence” gig, and the fact that a Conservative shul sought me out for this honor is significant. While the Reform movement has for decades promoted outreach to interfaith families, the Conservative movement long held to a traditional, anti-intermarriage stance. As recently as two years ago, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism had a policy barring intermarried Jews and their spouses from publicly addressing its conventions.


But the movement, as I’ve written before is undergoing a major transition in its approach to intermarriage. While, to the best of my knowledge, no one is considering Reform policies like allowing rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings or accepting patrilineal descent, many Conservative synagogues, particularly those that have witnessed an exodus of their members and members’ intermarried children to Reform temples, are seeking to make their communities more hospitable to interfaith families.

At Keneseth Israel, Rabbi Joel Wasser recently taught a five-week class about intermarriage, the purpose of which, he told me, was “sensitizing people to the needs and challenges of families who are ‘In the Mix.’” Flatteringly, several of my columns appeared on the reading list.

I’m looking forward to leaving my New York bubble for a weekend, not to mention enjoying a respite from my parenting responsibilities – woo hoo to two entire days devoid of tushy wiping, stroller hauling and sippy cup refills! I’m eager to meet the Keneseth Israel members and learn more about Jewish life in Kentucky. I will keep y’all posted on what I find there!

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Julie, thanks for a provocative and interesting weekend. As someone committed to raising my children to honor their father's traditions and as conservative Jews, the congregation's frank discussions provided some excellent reflection. While not without challenges, I pose that it is possible for a non-Jew and Jewish partner to thoughtfully choose to teach the values and traditions of conservative Judiasm and that it helps to be welcomed and supported by the congregation. I am fortunate that I have a supportive family and community that has nurtured this relationship instead of making it impossible.
As someone who was brought in the Conservative movement, I feel your selection as a scholar in residence turns Conservative into Reform. The idea of inclusion of everyone will mean that the synagogue who adopts it will stand for absolutely nothing. There is a different between outreach and inclusion; outreach does not muddle the idea of a religious core. ALAN LEVIN FAIR LAWN. NJ
Have a wonderful trip, Julie - I'll be interested to hear (or read) your impressions. Stacy (yup, I'm a fan :))
Hi Julie; You will truly enjoy the warmth of the Keneseth Israel family, as we had the privilege of being members for several years as the congregation grappled with moving from a traditional to egalitarian congregation. Dave Kahn was a true mensch - accepting everyone for who they were and welcoming all. We feel blessed to have known Dave and to have shared many a morning davening (Shabbat and morning minyan) and suedat shlisheet with him. Enjoy your time in Kentucky, and check out Graeter's Ice Cream after Shabbat (Kosher!). L'shalom, Mallory and Doug Lutz, Ra'anana, Israel
Dear Mallory and Doug, Thank you very much for the kind words about my Dad. After speaking to Rabbi Wasser and my daughter, Dana (who is a KI member), about the events of the past weekend, I'm confident that he and my mother would have been proud of devoting the first scholar-in-residence program to the wide-spread, difficult and challenging issue of interfaith marriage and family life. L'shalom, Arnie Kahn
An intermarried Jewess - one who boasts of this accomplishment and has found a sympathetic editor to publish her musings, is a "scholar - in -residence" at a Conservative "shul"? You can't make this stuff up folks! will we ever learn the lesson of this week's parsha of the fate suffered by Nadav and Avihu, the first "Reform" Jews, according to the Netziv? GDG - Cherry Hill
Hi Julie, Dave and Reva Waldman Kahn, of blessed memory, were my parents and I think they would have been very pleased and proud about your being the scholar-in-residence this coming weekend. My grandfather, Abraham Waldman, was a founding member of the congregation and my father an active and engaged member for 77 years. He celebrated his 100th birthday last July by davening P'sukei d'Zimra and Shacharit on Shabbat morning. He was one of the most devout and progressive members of Keneseth Israel. Good luck and enjoy the weekend. L'shalom Arnold (Arnie) Kahn

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