Saturday, October 31, 2009

And you shall be a blessing

Last night I, the cantor and CBE had an opportunity to do something wonderful; celebrate the upcoming (now completed) marriage of two individuals. Our longest-serving building and grounds person, who has been with us for 17 years, married his bride this evening, and last night we welcomed the two of them before the open ark for blessing.

This was somewhat controversial because neither of them are Jewish. Both are wonderful people who have been a part of the Jewish community for years (the bride worked at the Kutz Home in Wilmington, and the groom has obviously been a part of our congregational family for a very long time), but with neither being themselves Jewish (but rather considered ger toshav, or 'resident non Jews', by virtue of coming from Christianity, one of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths), are they entitled to a blessing from a congregation's bimah?

For me, the answer was a simple 'yes'. We bless non-Jews from our bimah all the time and it is permitted by both tradition and the Reform movement to have non-Jews participate in worship services, at least to some limited capability (see this responza for more info). Furthermore, we know that a great deal is permitted by the traditional viz. non-Jewish participation for the sake of preserving peace between neighbors, including burying non-Jews in Jewish cemeteries with Jewish funeral rites.

All of this is especially relevant for this past week's Torah Portion, Lech Lecha. In it, God informs Abram as he sets out for Canaan that "in you shall all families of the earth be blessed". One could see, then, an imperative on our part to bless non-Jews in our midst, especially those who have contributed to the health and sanctity of the community.

Our bride and groom certainly fit that category; he has been a beloved member of this congregation, more than a 'mere' employee but truly someone who has served as the bedrock of the synagogue, caring for it as if it were his own home and its people as if they were his own family, and she has contributed to the well-being of the members of our Jewish community.

I know that many of us would see this (no matter how much they love the two individuals) as a slippery slope leading toward porous boundaries and a breakdown of conviction, and I appreciate that notion; we must always be watchful of the precedents we set, to avoid violating the religious sentiment of the congregation, and more to the point, to not uproot the ethics of the synagogue. But when two people have contributed to the care of the Jewish community at large, and one of the two has specifically labored with love and kindness for the betterment of the synagogue--his synagogue--can there really be any doubt? For me, the opportunity for us as a congregation to bless these two wasn't just a nice thing to do, but was the right thing to do, an opportunity for us to remind ourselves that, when someone takes the sanctity of synagogue life as seriously as he does, when someone cares for people the way they do, then truly all of us are blessed.

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