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Council calls on rabbis to engage intermarried families

Three months ago, John Santopolo of Hewlett stopped calling himself Christian and fully embraced Judaism, the faith of his wife and a religion he had practiced more and more each decade since he got married 31 years ago.

"I thought that converting would be a good way to bring my family closer and to be closer to my wife," said Santopolo, an endodontist who practices in the Five Towns area of Nassau and worships at Temple Israel of Lawrence. "I was living it, but not officially."

The conversion pleased Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, leader of Temple Israel, who performed the ceremony for Santopolo in December.

Such a switch would also delight leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a group of Reform rabbis who are meeting this week in San Francisco to discuss one of the hottest topics in the faith: intermarriage.

The body, founded in 1889, has long discussed questions such as whether rabbis should co-officiate at weddings for people of different faiths, and formed a task force to study the issue.

On Monday, in a sign that the body would not seek to discourage rabbis from performing intermarriage ceremonies, conference leaders issued a statement saying the issue of intermarriage "should be approached with the goal of engaging intermarried families in Jewish life and living."

The conference, the world's largest group of Jewish clergy, is composed of about 2,000 rabbis.

"When a Jew marries a Jew, there is a greater likelihood of Jewish continuity," said the organization's president, Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus. "But in the case of intermarriage, the opportunity for Jewish continuity is significant, especially if there is effective rabbinic leadership. Today we focus on the very positive fact that rabbinic outreach to intermarried families makes a difference in bringing intermarried families into our synagogues and Jewish life."

The conference left intact a policy of allowing the individual rabbi to decide whether to perform intermarriage ceremonies.

But Rosenbaum said that some Reform rabbis on Long Island are signaling a greater willingness to perform such a ceremony."This statement reinforces the core values of Judaism, which are to encourage and support marriages between Jews, and a position put forward by the conference a number of years ago, of active outreach to the non-Jewish spouse or significant other to convert to Judaism," said Rosenbaum, whose synagogue comprises about 300 families.

Rabbi Steven Moss of B'nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, said he does not co-officiate - perform at weddings that involve two faiths.

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