I’ve been dating a new guy for a couple of months, and I want to bring him with me to Friday night services. He grew up in a different faith and has never been to synagogue. How can I invite him along without pressuring him? And how can I prepare him for what to expect?
Your question is important, one that many folks nowadays find themselves grappling with. As both parts of your question suggest, sometimes taking those first steps into a community can be scary—one reason why many just choose the simple route of not showing up or deferring the steps into religious life until later in life. You’re taking the proactive route, and the fact that you’re pursuing the question is praiseworthy.
Let’s break the question into its two parts. First, how can you invite him without pressuring him? There are lots of ways of doing this, and I’m no expert, but here’s a start: ask him that question. Tell him you want to talk him about something important to you. Then, let him know—if he doesn’t already—that Judaism matters to you. And while you don’t want to pressure him in any way, you also don’t want to present the impression that the door is closed to him. Tell him that if he’s interested and willing to be in that space with you, you’d love for him to join you. (As a side note: if it’s a clear “non-negotiable” for you, to have your partner connected to your Jewish life, say so—better to have that difficult, honest talk now and build upon it, than avoiding it until it’s even more painful.)
If he says “yes”…which takes us to your second part of the question. This largely depends on the community. Some communities are exemplary at welcoming interfaith couples and individuals of other faiths. At Temple Israel of Boston, for instance, a huge portion of our families are of mixed backgrounds and identities. And while we have lots of Hebrew, we also explain our service, providing transliteration for everything. This is the case in many congregations, but not all. If you don’t already know the community, then have this conversation with the rabbi or cantor beforehand. Assuming you’re already connected to a particular community, here are a few suggestions:
- Before you go, describe your experience to him. What do you like about it? What should he look for? Who are the key players?
- Give him a heads up about the Hebrew, the choreography, or other factors that could make him feel like an outsider, if he doesn’t know to expect it.
- It’s all about relationships. Perhaps bring friends who are familiar with both your guy and the Jewish stuff. Or, better yet, invite some synagogue folks over for dinner beforehand. Note: this point would be especially important if it’s a community without mixed seating.
- Afterwards, talk it out. Leave room for him to react. What was interesting or moving? What felt weird or unusual? Would you feel okay going back?
If he says “no” to the invite to join you… well, I suppose that’s another important “ask the rabbi” question. Hope this helps!
Rabbi Matthew Soffer heads the Riverway Project, which engages Jews in their 20s and 30s, at Temple Israel of Boston, a Reform synagogue. Check out his blog, Jewminations, or follow him on Twitter @mattsoffer.