In an effort to welcome interfaith families into Jewish life, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has entered into a partnership with the national Jewish organization, InterfaithFamily, to have a representative working full time in the Washington area.
Rabbi Sarah Tasman currently is the sole employee of InterfaithFamily/D.C. In a recent interview, the 33-year-old Louisville, Ky., native who loves yoga and finding ways to incorporate art into Jewish rituals and prayers explained her new role, which she began July 1.
Tasman will be reaching out to Jewish organizations to help coordinate their interfaith efforts. She also will teach classes throughout Maryland, Washington and Northern Virginia, and will run work-shops for religious school teachers and administrators.
The rabbi also will meet informally with interfaith couples, sharing Shabbat dinners and other holidays. She will perform Jewish life cycle events for families who have either not felt welcome or didn’t know where to turn to keep Judaism in their life.
A person who is marrying someone who is not Jewish but still wants to have a Jewish ceremony is not walking away from his or her religion, Tasman said.
“Most of the couples who come to me, they want a rabbi or they would get a justice of the peace,” she said.
Explaining what goes on during a Jewish wedding or a baby naming “opens the door” for Tasman to show how people can connect to Judaism.
Tasman said her personal mission is to have everyone find room for Judaism in their lives.
The Federation conducted an informal study on Jewish community priorities about a year and a half ago.
“We saw that there was a need to create a thing for people in interfaith relationships” Marci Harris-Blumenthal, community and global impact director at the Federation, said.
A task force consisting of people who work with interfaith couples was established look into how people in interfaith marriages can “become involved in the Jewish community in whatever way is meaningful to them,” she said.
The idea was not to put out a list of which rabbis will marry interfaith couples, but rather to help connect these families to what services and programs are out there, said Harris-Blumenthal.
The plan is to work with synagogues and organizations “at their comfort level,” she said. “We are not looking to go into any institution or synagogue and say, ‘You need to change your policies.'”
If a non-Jewish parent does not choose to become Jewish but does agree to allow his or her children to be raised as Jews and attend Hebrew school, and that parent drives the children to Jewish events, “that’s making a commitment, and we should be thanking that parent,” Harris-Blumenthal said.
That is why the federation opted to reach out to Massachusetts-based InterfaithFamily, she said.
The Federation covering the Washington area is the newest location to set up a relationship with the national organization.
Tasman previously has worked as senior Jewish educator at the University of Maryland Hillel and taught classes at Adas Israel in D.C. and was an educator at the Adas israel Community Mikah.
She loves to read, cook and visit Presidential libraries.
She was ordained by the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College in Massachusetts in a program Tasman described as “trans-denominational. It is a program to train rabbis to have rich and deep knowledge of Jewish text and rituals” with a strong creative aspect. The goal is “to serve as wide a swath of the Jewish community as possible.”