May 21, 2019

Members Only Judaism

“The community hall at West Suburban Temple Har Zion is directly behind the sanctuary and shares its high ceiling and brick walls. Tall stained glass windows depict scenes from the Torah: the birds and fish of creation, a rainbow and a dove, fat and skinny cows. The room is usually set with round tables for the luncheon following Saturday morning services, where congregants share news and catch up over plates of bagels, tuna, and egg salad. In this congregation of 230 families, it is easy to spot newcomers, and community members greet them cheerfully, introducing themselves and asking how their guests chanced upon this small Jewish community outside Chicago.

Laura Brookes and her husband, Josh, chose this synagogue because of its warmth. She is not Jewish and he is, and when they first looked for a community, Har Zion seemed especially welcoming.

But on an April evening earlier this year, instead of the usual round tables in the community hall, neat rows of chairs faced a microphone. The board had organized a congregants’ meeting to discuss the possibility of amending the Conservative synagogue’s bylaws to allow membership for spouses who are not Jewish. Results from a recent survey indicated that most of the community was in favor of allowing other-faith spouses to serve on various synagogue committees, but some people were still opposed. This meeting would be an opportunity for community members to share the thoughts behind their votes.”

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