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Krovei Yisrael article by Rabbi Lerner 2012

Welcoming K'rovei
Yisrael at Temple Emunah Today

As a centrist movement, Conservative/Masorti Judaism strives to reconcile ancient ideas with modern understandings. Utilizing this approach, twenty years ago, a group of Temple Emunah members, led by Barbara Palant, began to consider how we could become a more welcoming community—one that embraces interfaith families while still adhering to our time-honored traditions.

Their work and insights, along with Rabbi Eisenman's, paved the way for our Keruv (Outreach) Committee, which has focused on how to make interfaith families feel comfortable in our community. In recent years, it has broadened its mandate to include welcoming gays, lesbians, and transgendered Jews, as well as Jews of color.

Over the years this committee, now chaired by Julie Greenberg, has made great advances. Temple Emunah has been, and continues to be, one of the pioneers within Conservative
Judaism—not only locally, but around the country. Strategies and approaches that were developed here have helped other synagogues across the country.

The Rabbinical Assembly has taken up this topic and has Released teshuvot (rabbinic responsa) that address Keruv concerns. Due in part to Temple Emunah's engagement in this area, I was invited to co-chair the Rabbinical Assembly's Commission on Keruv, Conversion, and Jewish Peoplehood over the last two years. As I have previously shared with you, this commission—made up of two dozen rabbis from among the 1600 members of the Rabbinical Assembly worldwide—has been discussing these issues and some of the challenges that they raise for our movement.

Based on the work within the movement and by our Temple Emunah Keruv Committee, I want to share some of the ways that we approach Keruv and some of the limitations. Let me first begin with a meaningful term. Following the Rabbinical Assembly's practice, Temple Emunah has adopted the phrase "K'rovei Yisrael" to refer to those individuals who are part of our community and part of a Jewish home, though they are not personally Jewish. The term literally means "those who are close to [the people of] Israel." K'rovei comes from the word "karov," meaning "close;" krovim means "relatives." K'rovei Yisrael are distinct from non-Jewish friends and extended family members who might visit our community or our congregation for a Bar Mitzvah or for some other reason. K'rovei Yisrael are also different from non-Jewish relatives of Temple Emunah members who choose not to be involved in
our synagogue community. 

We encourage K'rovei Yisrael to be integral parts of our community, to participate in our rich cultural and educational lives, and to find ways to sustain themselves, even as they sustain their families and our entire community through their participation and their presence.

I am thankful for the K'rovei Yisrael in our Temple Emunah family. They bring incredible gifts, not only to our community, but also to the Jewish people at large. Many K'rovei Yisrael in
our community are actively involved and become leaders—giving of their own time, expertise, and resources to maintain our vibrant synagogue.

For the last two years we have honored K'rovei Yisrael on Rosh Hashanah with leading the 'Prayer for our Community'. We have chosen K'rovei Yisrael who demonstrate their
commitment to Temple Emunah. They are models of involvement in the community.

Let me clarify some of the ways in which K'rovei Yisrael can participate in the life of Temple Emunah. They may:

  • Attend all services and recite all prayers together with the congregation.
  • Attend all educational, cultural, and social events.
  • Wear a kippah.
  • Have a Mi Shebeirakh (prayer for those who are ill) said for any person.
  • Recite a name of someone who is ill during the Mi Shebeirakh prayer on Shabbat morning when community members come up to the Torah. (During this ritual, K'rovei Yisrael should not place their hands on the Torah to avoid the symbolism of accepting the Torah.)
  • Lead specific portions of alternative services such as Tot Shabbat by reading a story or leading songs.
  • Approach the open ark and pray at the Neilah service at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, without touching the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll).
  • Hold a Havdalah candle or besamim (spice) box.Assemble, hold, and wave the lulav and etrog during Sukkot.
  • Deliver mishlo'ah manot (gifts for friends) for Purim.
  • Touch the Sefer Torah with a Siddur (prayer book) as it is carried around the Sanctuary and then touch the Siddur to their lips, as is customary.
  • Stand under the huppah, (wedding canopy) at another person's wedding, hold h.uppah poles; read t'na'im (special pre-wedding vows) or birkat banim (blessing of children) prior to the wedding ceremonyLook inside a Torah scroll for educational purposes or when a Torah reader is practicing his/her reading.
  • Participate in the modern practice of opening up the entire Torah scroll on Shavuot.
  • Serve on most Temple Emunah committees.
  • Participate in Temple Emunah Social Action and Israel Action projects.
  • Wear tallit (prayer shawl) for educational purposes— for example, at the 7th grade family learning experience. K'rovei Yisrael who are comfortable wearing a tallit in services regularly may do so; we ask that they indicate to the gabbai (service facilitator) who is handing out honors that they are not Jewish and cannot accept honors involving the Torah.
  • Participate at baby namings and B'nei Mitzvah celebrations. (Both parents are encouraged to participate in the parental prayer. We lift and roll the Torah scroll before the parents come up, which is different from the way this prayer is recited when both parents are Jewish.)
  • Be included in the formal Hebrew name of their Jewish child.
  • It is Temple Emunah policy to provide two high holiday tickets and to address mailings to both adult members of a household that includes K'rovei Yisrael.

As you can see from this list, we have attempted to find as many opportunities as possible for K'rovei Yisrael to participate—not only in the cultural, educational, and social life of our community—but, especially, in some facets of our religious lives.

There are other areas where we are inclusive, but some restrictions remain.  For example, K'rovei Yisrael may:

  • Approach the Sefer Torah in educational settings, or to help with maintenance such as polishing Torah ornaments.
  • Participate in Hoshanot (procession with lulav and etrog on Sukkot) and Hakafot, without carrying the Torah.
  • Sound the shofar as part of a larger group of shofar blowers at the end of the Neilah service once Yom Kippur has concluded after the main shofar blower sounds the first shofar.

Out of respect for our traditions, K'rovei Yisrael should not participate in rituals with the Torah including:

  • Aliyot, opening/closing ark, and performing hagbah or gelilah (lifting or rolling/dressing the Torah).
  • Wear tefillin. If K'rovei Yisrael want to learn more about tefillin for educational purposes, they are invited to speak with me.
  • Recite any prayer that fulfills the ritual obligation of another person; for example, reciting Kiddush over the wine or another blessing for the community.
  • Recite b'rakhot, sign the ketubah as a witness, or read the ketubah as part of the ceremony at a Jewish wedding.
  • Hold committee chairmanship or board member positions, or vote at congregational meetings (per policies of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).

The areas that become challenging are those where K'rovei Yisrael are symbolically enacting a ritual that signifies their commitment to our tradition, which would not be accurate. For example, when Jews take an Aliyah to the Torah, they are not merely standing at the Torah; they are acting out a drama that reflects their relationship to the Torah. First, they are
called up with their Hebrew name, something that K'rovei Yisrael do not have. Second, an Aliyah is ascending to the Torah, accepting the Torah as the binding force for living your life.

Let's think about the ritual of taking an Aliyah. After we are called up, we hold the atzei hayyim (literally: "the trees of life"—the wood poles that hold the scroll of the Torah), touch
one corner of the tzitzit (ritual fringe) of our tallit to the place where the Torah is to be read, and then touch the tzitzit to our lips. Through this action we are symbolically saying, "May the words of the Torah become the words that I speak." We want to internalize the Torah's words and ideas into the very core of our lives. Then you take hold of the Torah.

As distinct from when Jews recite a Mi Shebeirakh, where we might gently place our hands on the Torah for its support, when we take an Aliyah to the Torah, we take hold of the
atzei hayyim. In fact, it is similar to the way that the Torah is lifted during the hagbah (lifting) ceremony when the Torah is shown to the entire congregation. We are expressing the Torah's value in our lives and sharing that with the community. By taking an honor, we take care of the obligations of others to hear the Torah read publicly—a responsibility that is reserved for someone who is Jewish.

The blessings themselves indicate how integral the Torah is in our lives and that we have been given a unique destiny as Jews to live by its ideals, bringing them fully into the world.
That is why we reserve honors involving the Torah for Jewish members of our community. Our Keruv Committee has worked diligently to present this list of activities where we welcome the participation of K'rovei Yisrael. Even so, this is not an exhaustive list, and additional questions may remain. Please feel free to speak to Julie Greenberg, our Keruv Committee chair, or with me so that we can continue to learn and to deepen our conversation and our experience. We are aware that these topics can touch on places of deep emotion within all of us, and we should approach them and each other with great love and sensitivity.

In addition, this list will continue to be reviewed by our Keruv and Religious Committees . If you are interested in participating in these discussions, please let us know.

Finally, it is my great hope that we will continue to be enriched by the wonderful K'rovei Yisrael in our community. I anticipate that, not only will they continue to
contribute to the Jewish people, but that they are enriched by their participation in our community as well. As the 133rd Psalm states: "Hinei mah tov u'ma naim, shevet ahim gam
yahad—how good and pleasant it is that brothers [and sisters] dwell together."

I look forward to continuing to build and create this most wondrous, warm, and welcoming community.

Rabbi David Lerner