This Rabbi Supports Interfaith Marriage
Niles is the author or editor of nine books, including the award-winning Gonzo Judaism: A Bold Path for Renewing an Ancient Faith, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Forward, and Moment. He has been featured and interviewed in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The Jerusalem Report, The New York Observer, New York Magazine, The Jewish Week, and Beliefnet, as well as on domestic and international television and radio.
Rabbi Niles Goldstein: We have made a point over the years to create a fanutial, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word. A safe haven where people feel they can be who they are. So we have, like many congregations around the country a lot of interfaith households. And I make it a point of making the non-Jewish partners in those households feel absolutely welcome. Some of those people ultimately decide to convert and many of the conversions I've officiated over during the course of the last decade or so have involved people who just simply have said to me this is the first time I've been rabbi who is actually reaching out in a proactive way. And so, hey, it's almost like proselytizing. Have you considered becoming a Jew? If they don't that's okay, but if they do I think that’s a wonderful thing.
You know, of course I want them to establish Jewish households- that's my agenda as a rabbi. But if one of the partners in that marriage or relationship is not, I still want them to feel that they have a place and that they're comfortable. And just to give you a concrete example, during the high holy days over the years, one of the sermons that we offer is always given by a member of the community and I usually pick someone who had been particularly active in the year preceding that season as a way of honoring them. And a couple of years ago I picked a non-Jew just because I thought she was so amazing in terms of the time and effort that she put into our community. And it was an amazing experience for her; she gave a great sermon it also made a statement to the community about how inclusive we were. And now lo and behold she is now in the middle of her conversion training area is 10 years into her -- or 12 years into her marriage. And I think without that invitation she may never have decided to do that.
Question: Do people ever call the New Shul watered down?
Rabbi Niles Goldstein: I've never really gotten criticism from colleagues to my face that the Judaism we offer is a watered-down form, but that is something that I always have to be vigilant about, it's something that I always have to talk to my lay leadership about. Do I think we've done events, or programs that have been watered down? I think we have. I don't think it was deliberate. Do I think that we've had some events where we have focused too much on trying to get people into the door rather than on content? Probably. But again, it's because we’ve been working hard at trying to achieve that balance between authenticity and accessibility, between a serious nod to tradition as well as an openness to experimentation, so we re inevitably going to make mistakes along the way. But I haven't really been criticized for that because as an author who's lectured in spoken and talked quite a bit around the country and Jewish community, I think people realize that I'm very serious about what I do and about my love for Judaism. So I think we're viewed in a good way.
At the New Shul in Manhattan, being Jewish isn’t everything.
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