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A Personal Invitation

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Michael J. Fox Receives the Eisendrath Award

Originally uploaded by Union for Reform Judaism

I must admit that when I learned that Michael J. Fox would be receiving the Maurice N. Eisendrath Bearer of Light award, I was a little — well — put-off. It isn’t that he is not a deserving honoree. In fact, as the most recognizable face of Parkinson’s Disease, Fox has brought necessary attention to this brain affliction including the need for substantial government funding for treatment. What bothered me is that Fox is not Jewish. While his religion does not discount the wonderful work he has done, I wondered if there was suddenly a shortage of eligible Jews.

Well. not to worry. It turns out that Michael J. Fox is the parent of Jewish children. Upon his marriage to Tracy Pollan, he committed to creating a Jewish home and has done exactly that, rearing his four kids as Jews. He spoke quite openly about his deep conviction that his son be brought into the convenantal relationship through circumcision as well as the children being brought to Torah as they become Bar/Bat Mitzvah.

I applaud his sincerity. There are scores of Jews who lack his fervor. And I believe that his statements are meaningful, providing a wonderful example for others who, like Fox, have determined that their home will be a Jewish home even though only one marriage partner is Jewish.

And then the Outreach side of me whispered, “I wonder if his rabbi has ever asked the question?”

You know. You know which question. “Have you ever considered conversion?

There. I’ve said it. It’s OK to ask. In fact, non-Jews are often perplexed when we don’t ask. After all, if we Jews recognize all the beauty and meaning that Judaism brings to our lives, why wouldn’t we approach others and invite them into the community?

As Rabbi Eric Yoffie stated at the 2005 URJ Biennial:

“In our Reform congregations, there is no doubt that those who have converted bring a special passion and dedication to their Judaism and to our community. Seventy five percent of converts affiliate with a synagogue compared with fifty five percent of born Jews. Those who convert have a high level of Jewish education and congregational leadership involvement and often inspire their Jewish partners to immerse themselves more deeply in Judaism. Clearly, we as a community benefit tremendously from the affiliation of Jews-by-choice; therefore, we need to make sure that the path to Judaism is clearly marked and that interested individuals feel encouraged and empowered to begin this Jewish journey. Often those who have been a part of our community for years tell us that they never considered conversion because they didn’t know how to begin or because “No one ever asked me!”

Our community is strengthened by those who have chosen to join our covenantal community. Won’t you join us, Michael??

4 Comments leave one →
  1. davidamwilensky permalink
    Tuesday, 18 December 2007 4:50 pm

    Though I was, sadly, not at Biennial this year, I was the 2005 Biennial in Houston. I recall Yoffie’s address in 2005 rather unfondly. I do not like the idea of outreach. Being that I am not alone in the movement in my distaste for it, I am left wondering if the choice of Fox for this award had something do with furhter proving that outreach is a good thing.

    On the other, I find this year’s biennial initiatives much better. I’m even quoted in the Shabat deck of cards.

  2. Frume Sarah permalink
    Tuesday, 18 December 2007 5:20 pm

    Outreach can be a good thing, I believe, when it embraces those who have chosen to join our community. In our Movement, it was meant to bring people to Judaism. I too was uncomfortable with Rabbi Yoffie’s 2005 initiative because I feel that we should honour those people who have actually made the commitment to CHOOSE Judaism. While it is a commendable decision to rear Jewish children, I want to pay special tribute to those who join our people.

  3. Thursday, 3 January 2008 6:49 pm

    Sometimes we need to be asked, so we know it’s okay. Some people don’t know that converting is an option. Many partners are so against anything looking like proselytizing, they never ask the non-Jewish partner.

    Not being asked feels like not being wanted, because so many of us grew up around Evangelical Christians who know how to really proselytizing.

    So ONE friendly, “Hey, have you ever considered” to a commited to Jewish family life non-Jewish partner, is probably welcome.

    Just like my more traditional friends get to ask me ONCE to convert again, more traditionally than my reform conversion (with a beit din and mikvah).

    Anyway, thanks for covering this, the part about him raising Jewish kids was left off the Biennial Blog coverage.

  4. Frume Sarah permalink
    Thursday, 3 January 2008 9:10 pm

    I agree that not asking is sending a message that we don’t want you. So it’s always good to ask.

    So did you have mikvah with your conversion? I require it of all my candidates. I think that mikvah is just so amazing!!!

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