Important Survey on Inclusive Worship and Interfaith Families

Does the Amount of Hebrew in a Worship Service Affect How Welcome You Feel in a Congregation?

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May 20, 2016

A Pew Research Center study reports that in the last 15 years, more than half of Jews married people from other traditions; and overall, little more than 10 percent of all American Jews understand the Hebrew they can read. If you have attended services in different congregations, you know that no two congregations are alike. Some include more Hebrew than English in their services, while others more English than Hebrew. Policies and practices meant to create inclusive and welcoming communities vary greatly. There appears to be little understanding about which practices are most effective or how our different worship styles impact those in attendance.

Currently, the amount of Hebrew in a service, as well as the policies affecting interfaith families, are the subject of great debate, but little consensus. In an effort to gather data to guide these conversations, The Society for Classical Reform Judaism is asking for your help.

Please complete this short Interfaith Family and Jewish Life Survey.  The data we gather will help us develop an evidence-based approach to the creation of more accessible and inclusive services and communities. Encourage your friends to participate as well. Send them the link to the survey, through email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels.

Click on the link below to take the survey now.
If the survey doesn’t appear, copy and paste this into your browser:

Interfaith Family and Jewish Life Survey

It will  take you less than 10 minutes to complete.

The Society for Classical Reform Judaism has partnered with an academic research group at Spalding University to create and conduct this survey. We will report the results as soon as they are available.

For more information, contact us at To learn more about The Society for Classical Reform Judaism, go to

For more information about interfaith family life and resources, go to


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This new issue of The Reform Advocate includes moving stories from three interfaith families who have found spiritual homes in Classical Reform congregations.  All were drawn to these congregations by the unconditional welcome they received, as well as the accessibility of the worship Services, the attraction and power of Classical Reform values, and the full inclusion of the non-Jewish spouses and their families in congregational life.   In each case, the non-Jewish partner led their Jewish spouse into a more deeply meaningful and active Jewish life.  Here are the titles, photos and some excerpts from their articles.

MY  CHRISTIAN  WIFE  LED  ME BACK  TO  AN  ACTIVE,  FULFILLING  JEWISH  LIFE, by Alec Harris, Chicago Sinai Congregation

Alec Harris and Family_croptThe Harris Family

Carollina, Alec’s wife, is the daughter of Korean immigrants, and Alex’s mother is a Holocaust survivor.  Early in their relationship, Alec and Carollina talked about having children and about how they would raise their children religiously.  They are not only an interfaith couple, they were also a inter-cultural and interracial couple.  Where would they find a congregation that would affirm both of their cultures and religious backgrounds?

Alec writes: “I realize it might sound odd, but the emphasis of (Classical Reform) Judaism as a religion made it much easier for Carollina to buy into. She is Asian, after all, and can’t quite so easily convert to becoming a Jew ethnically any more than she could transform into being white. We were fully embraced (at Chicago Sinai Congregation) as a couple…there was no question that Carollina could participate right from the beginning, in everything she wanted.”  Read more


Stuart and Susan Lucas Family photo croptThe Lucas Family

Susan says: “… when each of our children became Bar and Bat Mitzvah, each saw all of their grandparents, and both their mother and father, on the bima singing the blessings before their Torah portions (my parents in Hebrew, Stuart’s parents in English), and when the Torah was passed from my parents to Stuart’s parents, to me, to Stuart, and then to each of them, they experienced a family enthusiastically providing unconflicted support for their Jewish upbringing and identity.” Read more


Todd Katzman&MarcLacasse_brightenedThe Katzman/LaCasse Family

Todd, who grew up in a Conservative congregation, says: “I attended High Holy Day Services at a number of different temples in Boston but I never thought to bring my husband, who was not then Jewish, with me because I did not feel that the Services would be accessible to him.”

Marc, who was raised a French Canadian Catholic comments: “In the fall of 2004, I attended Jewish services (with Todd, at Central Reform Temple in Boston) for the first time in my life.  I quickly understood the prayers, the teachings and the sermons – because they were in English.   The more I learned, the more it just seemed obvious to me that much of what I was hearing is what I already believed anyway: the ethical teachings, the practices, the spirit of community, the obligation of community service.”  Read more

Also in this issue of The Reform Advocate, is a compelling new approach to the evolution of Reform Judaism, presented by Rabbi Howard Berman in his new introduction to the 50th Anniversary Edition of W. Gunther Plaut’s Rise and Growth of Reform Judaism.  Reform Judaism is often seen by non-Reform Jews and some Reform Jews themselves as a less authentic expression of Judaism. This new introduction, titled HISTORIOGRAPHY  AND  POLEMIC  IN  THE  STUDY  OF  REFORM  JUDAISM is a refreshing celebration and affirmation of Reform Judaism, in its uniqueness. Read more

Two other timely pieces in this Reform Advocate are:


We welcome your feedback.

Click on the image below to read and/or download this issue.

Adovcate Winter 2016 Feb29 NOFINAL FINAL PDF FOR HARDPROOF 1

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Historic First Reform Service at Western Wall!!!

Rabbi Zavidov leading Reform Worhsip Service at Western Wall

On Thursday, February 25, Rabbi Ada Zavidov (center in photo above), of Kehilat Har-El, Jerusalem, and Rabbi Zachary Shapiro (left), of  Temple Akiba, Culver City, California, in the framework of the CCAR convention, led the first official Reform worship service at the Western Wall,  following the Israeli government’s decision to formally grant an egalitarian prayer space at the site.  The prayer book used during the service was B’hadrat Kodesh.  This volume, published in Israel by the Society for Classical Reform Judaism and Har-El Congregation of Jerusalem, and edited by Rabbis Howard A. Berman and Ada Zavidov,  is a modern Hebrew translation of historic English passages from the SCRJ’s Union Prayer Book- Sinai Edition, Revised. It was conceived to provide a worship resource for Israeli Reform Movement, enabling it to embrace the shared heritage of Progressive Judaism around the world.

Responding to this occasion, Rabbi Howard Berman, SCRJ Executive Director said: “Over a hundred American rabbis – already experiencing this emotional historical moment, were introduced to our work and influence in an unprecedented way.  I cannot overstate the immense significance of this for the Society – in  “one fell swoop”, more rabbis and leaders have encountered the renewed vitality and vision of the Classical Reform renaissance than we have ever achieved in any other setting. The broadened awareness and appreciation for our mission that they will bring back to their congregations throughout the country, will be immeasurable, and will have lasting effects.  And as the attached photos reveal, all of the national leaders – Rabbis Rick Jacobs of the URJ, Steve Fox of the CCAR, Aaron Panken of HUC, and Denise Eger, CCAR President, were all there and sharing in this experience.

4-Kotel service 1

Update: Friday morning, February 26

“The significance this (of the opening of the new egalitarian section of the wall and of the use of B’handrat Kodesh for the first official Reform Worship Service), added Rabbi Berman,  is reflected in the proclamation this morning by leading Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem, of a Day of Mourning and Fasting for the desecration of the Wall by the Reform ” heretics and agents of Satan…”


Click here to read the Jerusalem Post article about the event and to watch a video clip of the gathering.

Click here for more information about  B’Hadrat Kodesh.

Click here to learn more about Kehilat Har-El and Rabbi Ada Zavidov in Jerusalem.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – Call to Justice & Prayer

We have not Reached Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Mountaintop!

As one Black writer, Rondr-martin-luther-king-1de Lee, so poignantly wrote: “Recent events are stark reminders that we have not reached the mountaintop where ‘all God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands.’ ” Read Lee’s entire blog on the Huffington Post. 

While we have made great strides in combating racism in our country, we are far from achieving Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of living is a land where we are all equal. We need to do more.  In a JTA oped, Maital Friedman, a young Jewish woman, describes her reaction to the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, said:

In the past, my privilege has shielded me. I have not (and likely will never) personally experience this level of violence and injustice. But as these events have played out on the national stage, I have been truly rattled by the brokenness of the society I once trusted. And my shock is a result of my privilege; too many of these outrageous injustices were painfully normal. I feel a mixture of horror, sadness and betrayal that I am struggling to reconcile.  Read more of this JTA OP-ED..

Friedman is moved to make a difference not just in words, but in deed, by working with Repair the World.  Repair the World is an organization that teaches young Jewish men and women how to make a “tangible difference in lives and communities” by volunteering and applying Jewish history and values. One of their programs is called “Turn the Tables.”

Turn the Tables promotes the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by asking folks to wrestle with the status quo and make progress towards the promise of a more just society. We challenge our communities to recognize the signs of inequality all around them and identify paths towards a future where race no longer determines your access to justice. Learn more about Turn the Tables

Hopefully, the outrage expressed across our country about the deaths of Eric and Michael, and the subsequent protests and revelations of ongoing discrimination in of our society, will be a wake up call that makes a difference for years to come.

Today, we offer this prayer from page 192 of the Union Prayer Book, Sinai Edition, Revised.

Almighty God, we pray for Your blessing on our nation and its diverse peoples, cultures, and faiths. May the efforts of all people of conscience be rewarded with success. May the dream first envisioned by our great Hebrew prophets and then so eloquently expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. come ever closer to realization. Grant us hopeful hearts and the vision to see that each of us, in our own small way, can help to make real these prophetic aim.

Get more information about the Union Prayer Books here.

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Tragedy in Paris: SCRJ Mourns and Calls for Action


Go to our home page to read Rabbi Howard Berman’s statement in response to the terrorism in Paris.  Here is an excerpt.

“In the face of the ongoing spread of violence and bigotry against our fellow Jews in France and throughout Europe, we stand in anguish and in solidarity.  We pray for their safety and call upon the world’s leaders to forcefully confront the spread of anti-Semitism emerging from whatever source- both native political extremists as well as radical Islamists. At the same time, as fellow children of Abraham, we affirm our ties to the vast majority of Muslims who understand and live their religion as a force for peace and justice, and we seek to join with them in confronting and routing out the forces of extremism  and racism that corrupt all of our religious traditions and are the true examples of blasphemy.”  

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East Meets West: The Shofar in Classical Reform Judaism

Shofar_BKJews and their loved ones who attend High Holiday services (Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur), regardless of their level of affiliation, undoubtedly experience the sound of the shofar as one of the distinguishing features of the season. This haunting instrument, made of a hollowed-out ram’s horn, is a primitive forerunner of the trumpet and hunting horn. Its piercing, wavering tone quality is meant as a wake-up call to the distinctiveness and singular holiness of the High Holidays, sanctifying the time as well as the worship space. It is a symbol of the primal ancientness of our Faith, and, like the cadences of the Hebrew language itself, connects us across time and space to the infancy of our People, when the shofar was an integral part of Temple worship in Jerusalem. As such, it has some “baggage” and a somewhat ambivalent history with what has come to be known as Classical Reform Judaism.

The “primal” or “earthy” or “primitive” nature of the shofar was thought by some in Western Europe and North America to be out of harmony with the fundamental assumptions and ethos of Reform Judaism. Reform Judaism’s intent was to retain the inner substance and spirit of traditional Judaism while bringing its outer forms up to date with Western Enlightenment sensibilities. Especially in America, the traditional liturgy and imagery of the shofar Service was retained, but the shofar itself was replaced with a trumpet, a French horn, a cornet, or in several very wealthy Reform Temples, a special stop on the organ designed to mimic roughly its sound. In this way, the effect of the shofar as a Divine wake-up call to repentance and obedience could be preserved, but re-contextualized into Western classical musical compositions, with a twelve-tone scale and modern pitch. It could be accompanied by other instruments, rather than needing to stand on its own. This tradition of totally Westernized, symbolic shofar music for services has been abandoned by most, if not all, Reform and Classical Reform congregations. I personally think this is a shame, since this very specialized genre of music is breathtakingly beautiful and could easily coexist with the traditional shofar over the course of the High Holiday season.

Shofar_Large_DL_diningroom_backgroundInterestingly, even when Classical Reform sensibilities and musical aesthetics reigned supreme, they were never monolithic, and the traditional shofar was not entirely absent from the picture. In a few congregations, including the ultra-radical Chicago Sinai Congregation under Rabbi Louis Mann, a large traditional shofar was sounded alongside a generally Westernized music program. Perhaps for a congregation that prided itself (as it still does) on a certain degree of ritual minimalism, the sound of the shofar added a poignant accent that set the High Holidays apart as a uniquely holy time of year.

Some early Reform musicians went a step further, and experimented by including a “hybrid” shofar in their High Holy Day music. When Herman Berlinski became organist and music director of Washington Hebrew Congregation in the sixties, he discovered a large “hybrid” shofar hidden in a storage cabinet. Apparently, one of his predecessors used this new and unusual instrument, which had a metal, trumpet-like mouthpiece and a few holes drilled into its shaft. The mouthpiece and holes enabled the player (especially one already trained as a trumpet player) to produce most of the notes in a typical Western musical scale, and to control the pitch more reliably than would be possible without the extra hardware. In this way, the “rustic” tone of the traditional shofar could be used in a composition for a choir, organ, or even orchestra, without creating any dissonance with the choir or other musical instruments. Berlinski found that a skilled player could integrate this “hybrid” shofar quite easily into his own compositions for the High Holy Days, which were quite daring and innovative.

While not well documented, we know that there were a few other experiments with these “hybrid” instruments that allowed the introduction of the shofar’s unique, viscerally jarring and moving sonic qualities into the Western harmonic music that suffuses a Classical Reform worship service. Today, Classical Reform Temples recognize the beauty and appropriateness of the traditional and “rough” unmodified shofar in the context of a “westernized”, decorum-filled worship Service, and have adopted its use. However, it might well be worthwhile for congregations, rabbis, cantors, music directors, ritual committees, and composers to consider incorporating Western brass instruments, organs with a specialized organ stops that imitate the shofaroth and chazozeroth (long metal trumpets from the old Temple, described in the Mishnah)in their organs, and “hybrid” instruments such as the one discovered by Berlinski into their High Holy Day music. They all have the potential to add beauty to our observance, smoothly bridging any real or perceived “gap” of incongruity between the visceral, primal nod to the past offered by the traditional shofar and our noble legacy of clothing timeless, ancient Judaism in the very best musical forms of our time and place.


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Reclaiming and Renewing Tisha B’Av: A Classical Reform Retrospective

Jordan_Friedman_portrait_2014_color_editedLast year, I did something I had never really done before.  I observed Tisha B’Av, the solemn fast day commemorating and mourning the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, the “exile” from the Land of Israel, and various other tragedies which supposedly occurred (according to legend) on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av.  Traditionally, Jews observe the day by refraining from food and drink, studying and praying, sitting on low chairs or the ground, and observing other traditional mourning practices such as the tearing of clothes.  So, how is it that I am writing about such an observance in a Classical Reform publication?

This year, on the fifth of August, which happened to be the ninth of Av, I had dinner at the home of a retired administrator from the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College.  Naturally, the evening was full of lively conversation about Judaism and current events.  After I left, however, I realized that nobody had mentioned that it was Tisha b’Av even though everyone present was very Jewishly educated.  The mildly humorous absence of mention of the day combined with the fact that we had a dinner party on a traditional fast day made me recall my very different experience a year ago, and prompted me to reflect on the possibilities for meaningful observance of the solemn day in a qualitatively Classical Reform way.

Despite the numerous ways in which the very concept of Tisha B’Av and its underlying narrative and purpose would seem to conflict with fundamental assumptions of progressive Judaism, especially Classical Reform, it has nevertheless developed a noble, moving dimension over the centuries.  The Rabbis of the Talmud held that the scattering of our People after the destruction of the Temple was a punishment for sinat chinam—a Hebrew term for “baseless hatred”.  For traditional Jews, exile from the Land of Israel is the ultimate punishment from God.  Traditional Jewish narrative is full of stories of horrible, agonizing, collective punishment (such as the forty-year sojourn in the desert) for infidelity to the commandments of God.  However, it is extremely significant that even in traditional Judaism, the ultimate punishment was brought about because of “baseless hatred”—not failure to observe the Sabbath perfectly, not failure to uphold the minutiae of dietary restrictions, and not even for blasphemy or disrespect for God.  We were punished most severely, according to legend, for hatred and unkindness toward other people.  Toxic behavior, and not ritual infraction, was what finally made God angry enough to exile the Jews from the Holy Land.  For this reason, many progressive Jews have sought to reclaim Tisha b’Av as a meaningful observance highlighting the razor-sharp ethical focus of Jewish Tradition throughout the ages, as well as mourning tragedy.

Last year, therefore, I visited a friend who is used to marking the solemn day in semi-traditional fashion: by fasting and contemplating all historic tragedies that have befallen our People, and, more broadly, crimes against humanity.  He is a proud Progressive Jew who desires neither a rebuilding of the Temple nor the re-institution of the sacrificial worship cult.  Even though as a Classical Reform Jew I was somewhat ambivalent about the 9th of Av, I visited my friend to support him in his fast and to pray and study with him.  The experience was profoundly meaningful, and extremely powerful.  It should not be surprising that in our post-modern age, many see fit to reclaim old traditions previously rejected in an attempt to embrace modernity as fully as possible.  Many of us who would call ourselves Classical Reform Jews respectfully disapprove of the scope and content of some of those endeavors.  It may be a stretch for many dyed-in-the-wool Classical Reform Jews to conceive of observing the Ninth of Av, but most don’t know that the precedent for such observance goes back to the foundational history of Classical Reform.

Very early in the history of Reform Judaism, there was a significant, but now forgotten, attempt to build an authentically Reform practice for Tisha B’Av.  In the mid 19th century, Rabbi David Einhorn included in the rubric for weekday worship a lengthy reading and prayer “For the Anniversary of the Destruction of Jerusalem”.  This was highly unusual and “unorthodox” for Reform at the time, but in genius fashion, it turned the whole concept of Tisha B’Av on its head, expounding a positive theology of the Diaspora as a progressive Providential development so that we might be a “Light unto the Nations.”  The Diaspora can be thought of in much the same way that traditional Judaism regards the various plagues in the Exodus narrative—we can mourn the loss of innocent life while simultaneously celebrating the overall effect of the historical event.

It is no accident that Einhorn titled his radical Reform prayerbook Olat Tamid—“A Perpetual Offering”.  It is likened to the burnt sacrifice and its “odor pleasing to God” (Numbers 28:26).  This was the ultimate symbolic and rhetorical proclamation that authentic Reform Jewish worship was indeed a “substitutionary sacrifice” of the “offerings of our lips” in prayer—a permanent replacement of and superior form of worship to the sacrifices in the Temple.  I would like to see the development of a new Reform Liturgy and ritual for Tisha B’Av along the lines of Einhorn’s beautiful experiment 150 years ago.  Rather than merely emulating the mourning for the loss of the Temple, we should focus on the perils of sinat chinam, and in the words of Einhorn, we should be gravely thankful that “the one Temple in Jerusalem sank into the dust, in order that countless Temples might arise to God’s honor and glory all over the wide surface of the globe.”


The True Meaning of the Orange on the Passover Seder Plate

iStock_Orange_MediumMore than an estimated 10,000 haggadahs are in print – more than anyone could read in a lifetime.  Of those I have used, one of my favorites is the Feminist Haggadah.  I love how it emphasizes the crucial role that women played in the story of the Israelite’s journey from Egyptian slavery into freedom.

One of the  innovations in this and in many contemporary haggadahs, is the addition of an orange on the Seder plate.  Few people know that Susannah Heschel, the daughter of the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, started this custom in the 1980s. How did she come up with this idea?  The myth says that a man once angrily denounced her when she gave a lecture, saying that a woman belongs on the bimah of a synagogue no more than an orange belongs on the Seder plate. So Heschel added an orange to the Seder plate in defiance of him and in celebration of the ordination of women.  As nice as this interpretation may be, it was not Heschel’s intent. According to Heschel, this incident never happened.  Here is the true story…

At an early point in the Seder, when stomachs were starting to growl, I asked each person to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit and eat the segment in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews and of widows, orphans, Jews who are adopted and all others who sometimes feel marginalized in the Jewish community…

She was not happy when she learned that the meaning of her new ritual had been subverted.

For years, I have known about women whose scientific discoveries were attributed to men, or who had to publish their work under a male pseudonym. That it happened to me makes me realize all the more how important it is to recognize how deep and strong patriarchy remains, and how important it is for us to celebrate the contributions of gay and lesbian Jews, and all those who need to be liberated from marginality to centrality …

… my custom had fallen victim to a folktale process in which my original intention was subverted. My idea of the orange was attributed to a man, and my goal of affirming lesbians and gay men was erased.

Read more in this Jewish Forward articleAn Orange on Plate for Women — And Spit Out Seeds of Hate

As with many Jewish rituals and customs, the symbolism of the orange has and will continue to take on new meanings as our culture and tradition evolves.  In the recently published New Union Haggadah, Revised Edition, created by the CCAR Press in cooperation with the Society for Classical Reform Judaism, the orange  “… has come to represent other voices not previously recognized in the life of our communities or family life.”  I think this retains Heschel’s core message, a message that will remain an integral and honored part of this and many other progressive haggadahs.  Here is the complete excerpt from the New Union Haggadah.

The leader lifts up the orange. 


The orange that we have added to the traditional symbolic foods on the seder plate is yet another new dimension to the traditions of Passover. Its unlikely presence in the midst of the other seder symbols has come to represent other voices not previously recognized in the life of our communities or family life: from women in roles of spiritual leadership, to the full diversity of those who gather around our seder tables.


Let us give thanks for the blessings of everyone among us, for their love and guidance, and for their unique places in our lives—as we recommit ourselves to continuing the Exodus struggle for the freedom and liberation for all people everywhere!

One of the things I appreciate most about Classical Reform Judaism is the way it makes Passover and all of our holidays and services accessible to anyone who participates.  The rituals are primarily in English, the words reflect our modern culture and sensibilities, and they emphasize the universal ideals expressed by the Prophets.

To learn more about the Society for Classical Reform Judaism go to



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