"The Jewish people must welcome those that feel part of it and choose to become partners with its history, fate and future. Obstacles that prevent the many who wish to join the Jewish people from doing so must be removed. Major initiatives are needed to integrate the mixed families from around the world, as well as those coming from the former Soviet Union whose Judaism is currently under question."On a slightly different note, The Jerusalem Post is running a Shavuot editorial arguing that
[T]o stop shrinking, we must grow. And to grow we must stop making it so difficult for non-Jews, whether they are already part of Jewish families, have Jewish ancestors, or just want to be Jews, to fully and formally join the Jewish people... Shunning converts is not just un-Jewish. On the level of the Jewish people, it is suicide.I couldn't agree more* -- although it should be pointed out that this is not, on its own, a long-term solution to the numbers drift. Unless the other problems of retention that the delegates pointed to are solved, the converts' children and grandchildren will be at just as much risk, and just as likely to drop out of the community as anyone else.
In any case, for a real live example of just how badly some converts are still treated, I refer you to this week's London Jewish Chronicle, which documents the latest in the saga of Helen Sagal and her son Guy. When we last met them, Guy had been denied a place at the Jewish Free School (JFS) because the London Beth Din questioned Helen's conversion, which had been performed before her marriage by the Sephardi Beth Din in Israel. The London B.D. claims this is to do with the level of Helen's observance at the time of her conversion; as Geoffrey Alderman points out, no Dayan had ever met her when they questioned the conversion and denied the place, and it is more likely to do with the British Beth Din's territorial attitude towards conversions, or a problem with the Israeli Beth Din because it's Sephardi.
Now, to make matters worse, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has missed (or ignored?) a deadline to give a definitive ruling on the status of the mother in order to assure Guy of a place in the school, leaving the family hanging -- and justifiably fuming.
So here we have the ludicrous situation where a boy whose mother has been declared Jewish by an Orthodox Beth Din in the Jewish state, has insultingly had his Jewish identity questioned (although the Chief Rabbi's United Synagogue itself provided the mohel for his Brit...), and been denied a Jewish education which he and his family desperately want at a time when too many Jewish kids just aren't interested. And the office of the Chief Rabbi doesn't even have the courtesy to clear up this painful mess promptly and sensitively.
What kind of message does this send to those who 'choose to become partners with [the Jews'] history, fate and future'? And can we really afford to reject and alienate the Guy Sagals of this world so that a Beth Din can engage in a bit of muscle flexing?
* With an emphasis on the words 'fully and formally' that, on a second reading of the conference resolution, I see the conference delegates apparently didn't have
(Sources on this which do not require registration: The Guardian, Daily Jews)