What questions should my husband and I ask when we check out a synagogue to see if they are going to be open to our interfaith family?
First of all, before we get to questions, let me say that it’s great that you are considering joining a synagogue. There is simply no better way to connect to the vitality of the Judaism than by affiliating with a community.
Before we get to the questions, let me take a step back to provide some background. There are many positive developments in terms of the degree of inclusivity of synagogues today. More and more, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal synagogues embrace interfaith families, as do some Modern Orthodox and Chabad communities.
Finally, it is important to note that different streams within Judaism have different approaches to Jewish status. While Reconstructionism, Reform, and Renewal believe that one is technically Jewish if either parent/partner is Jewish, Conservative and Orthodox require that the mother be Jewish and if not, that the child immerses in a mikveh to fully join the Jewish people.
Basically an interfaith family should ask the same questions as any family, namely: will I feel comfortable here? Do I feel a connection with the community? With the Rabbi? Is this a shul that is warm and welcoming? Is this a place where my children and I will feel at home?
To check your comfort level, you may want to ask more specific questions like: how does the synagogue include my partner who is not Jewish in meaningful lifecycle events like baby namings and B’nei Mitzvah?
To come up with some answers, an interfaith family can take the synagogue “out on a test drive.” Attend a service, class, Shabbat dinner, or social program. Meet members of the community and ask to speak with interfaith families who are already members. Make an appointment to sit down with the rabbi and learn more about the synagogue. Pick up a copy of the bulletin and visit the website.
Good luck with your journey and hopefully, you will find a community that can spiritually sustain you and your family for many years!