Flemington Jewish Community Center Reaches Out to Multi-faith Families

The Flemington Jewish Community Center (FJCC) has formed an Interfaith Committee in response to the growth of multi-faith families that are a growing component of America’s Jewish community. The FJCC’s goal is to find ways to help multi-faith couples and families feel welcome at the synagogue and address some of the questions that arise when people from differing faith traditions work at building a life together.

More than half of American Jews marry a partner from a different background. One scholar who studies the phenomenon, Dr. Keren R. McGinity of Hebrew College in Massachusetts, advocates that Jewish institutions “provide essential information and programs to individuals involved in interfaith relationships.” That is the goal of the FJCC’s Interfaith Committee.

Dr. Bruce Moskovitz, one committee member, noted that “the needs of the interfaith couple or family may depend upon the dynamics of their relationship to Judaism.” For example, the non-Jewish partner may be interested in exploring Judaism, may be strongly committed to his or her own faith traditions, or may feel neutral. Dr. McGinity adds that the dynamics may differ depending whether it is the husband or the wife who is Jewish.

“Participation in things Jewish, if that has not been your tradition, can seem overwhelming,” comments Mindy Friedman, the president of FJCC. “People can feel worried that they will do or say the wrong thing.” A prayer service largely in Hebrew can be daunting at first. Even though the prayer books at the FJCC have translations on facing pages, newcomers need help to appreciate the structure and meaning of the service. Rabbi Eric Cohen, who assumes the pulpit at FJCC on August 1, intends to ensure that interfaith families “find a warm and welcoming home at FJCC.” He says, “Navigating the ‘ins and outs’ of Jewish ritual practices requires discussion, patience, and a willingness to learn, and I am eager to facilitate this.”

Issues may arise around home celebrations, especially in December. This has been the experience of one Christian FJCC member, Catherine O’Shea, who is married to Art Wetstein. She hopes to find ways for multi-faith families to study the shared fundamental values that underlie their faith traditions.

Rabbi Cohen notes that, in pursuit of those values, the FJCC engages in various non-ritual activities supporting the greater Flemington community, thereby offering those unfamiliar with or uninterested in ritual, opportunities to stay engaged. “Supporting our community in building relationships, practicing social justice, teaching, and maintaining our physical plant requires no ritual training,” he says, “only a commitment and a good intention.” For example, twice a year FJCC hosts homeless families as part of the Family Promise program; volunteers help with meals and other accommodations for these guests. FJCC also drew on the expertise of Martin McInerney and other non-Jewish spouses when planning for the construction of the new synagogue building a decade ago.

For multi-faith families (and all-Jewish families) who want to learn more about the FJCC, an excellent informal opportunity is the barbeque to welcome Rabbi Cohen on Sunday, August 20, at 4 pm on the grounds of the FJCC at 5 Sergeantsville Road. There is no fee for attending, but please make a reservation at http://conta.cc/2tMrNtK or by calling the FJCC office at 908.782.6410.