Episode Recap: Warm, Welcoming, Reform

[I'm trying something new this month: a blog post to reflect on this episode and give a little more insight to the process. I hope this will be of interest to some "Jew Too" listeners and those interested in this whole interfaith podcasting thing in general! For those who found this blogpost before the episode, you can listen to the full episode here.]

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This was a different "Jew Too? Tales of the Mixed Multitude" episode from most, because it changed very quickly. In early May, I was feeling good about my plans for the month's episode. I had chosen a topic and conducted 3 interviews. I was looking forward to editing them together. 

Then, Rabbi Aaron Panken, the president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, died tragically. Like so many Jews, I felt my heart aching from this sudden loss. I wanted to do something to honor Rabbi Panken, and I decided to go to those who could speak with greatest authority about the movement he helped to lead: Reform Jews. 

Of the three best-known Jewish movements in the United States (Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox), Reform Judaism is by far the most welcoming to interfaith families. The vast majority of Reform rabbis perform intermarriages, Reform Judaism accepts both Matrilineal and Patrilineal Descent, and many Reform synagogues offer programming geared specifically for interfaith couples and their children. This seemed like the perfect month to highlight Jews positively impacted by the Reform movement's welcoming practices. 

I was lucky to connect with Rachel Loria, a member of Congregation Or Ami in Richmond, Virginia; Ezra Buchdahl, son of Rabbi Gustav Buchdahl of Baltimore; and Chayva Lehrman, who grew up at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, California. Chayva is in her late 20s, Rachel in her early 30s, and Ezra in his 50s, which allowed for a wonderful range of perspectives. 

On this episode, you'll learn about the experience of two women raised Reform: one by a father born Jewish and a mother who converted before her birth, and the other by a father born Jewish and a mother who converted during her senior year of high school. You'll hear from a man with a mostly Jewish family who, after his divorce, unexpectedly found himself open to an interfaith relationship that has sustained him and that his Reform community has embraced.

There are great stories in this episode, and I'm excited you get to hear them, but there are also stories that you won't hear. Whenever I conduct an interview for the podcast, I have a sense of some of the questions I'll be asking. In this case, I knew I would ask specifically about each guest's experience of welcome in the Reform world for themselves and their loved ones who were not Jewish, and I knew that I would ask what each guest appreciated about the Reform movement in general. What's always delightful is the stories that come up unexpectedly, even when not all such stories can make the produced episodes. I loved hearing about Rachel's joy in teaching the preschool-aged kids at her childhood congregation, about Chayva's experience of explaining to her Christian grandfather that she'd be applying to rabbinical school, and about Ezra's gratitude for the relative simplicity of his childhood synagogue's merger with the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. In a half hour show, there's no way to share every story, but what I hope the episode demonstrates is that each of these guests is a living example of the ability of the Reform movement to create a sense of home for diverse Jews.  

Weeks after Rabbi Panken's death, the Reform Movement remains in a place of deep loss. I hope that this episode will offer a spot of light in this difficult moment. Rabbi Panken helped to lead a movement that is showing interfaith families that they, too, have a place in the tribe. It's a movement that he was proud of, and it's a movement that I am grateful to have the opportunity to lift up at this challenging time.