Who are the Jewcurious?

Carolyn is Baptist. She always will be. And she comes to my synagogue regularly.

By regularly, I mean she comes to everything. Friday night services, Saturday morning Torah study, holiday celebrations, Adult Ed. Everything. Although she brings her Bible and her faith in Jesus along with her to every synagogue function, she doesn’t come to evangelize. And she’s not interested in converting to Judaism. She’s just interested in what Judaism has to offer.

According to the 2013 Pew Study, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” we increasingly live in an age of the “nones” and “nons” as in, Religion: None and non-affiliated. Some worry that being in a relationship with another faith or being in a relationship with someone of another faith might threaten the very existence of Judaism. In the post-survey panic, it is easy to miss that Judaism is awesome and some people outside the faith are taking notice.

In my small, coastal Georgia community, 90 percent of the participants in the classes I teach are non-Jewish, whether it is a class in Hebrew, Kabbalah, or Judaism 101. Last fall I taught a class on Israel and had just over 100 attendees every week for six weeks. I took a survey of the 90 or so non-Jewish participants. Each person identified with a particular Christian faith group so there were no “nones.” The majority are currently affiliated with a church which means very few “nons.” This tells me it’s not only unaffiliated seekers who are Jewcurious, it is also the church-going, faithful filling the pews.

Other non-Jews like Carolyn come to synagogue regularly. Some are looking to be closer to Jesus, some come to enhance their understanding and connection to their own faith, and some just come to understand themselves. Something about Judaism provides an access point to spirituality and meaning. Regardless, Carolyn and her cohort take what Judaism has to offer on Friday night and Saturday morning to one of the many churches down the street on Sunday.

The Jews around here, I am proud to report, warmly welcomes everyone to the table. I live amongst people who are often the “token Jew” at work or who were the only Jew anyone knew growing up. That difference sometimes made them feel lonely or sometimes made them feel weird or sometimes made them feel vulnerable. And now being different makes them fascinating-and that is empowering.

It also seems that the curiosity by others about Judaism sparks a sense of pride in my community. Seeing non-Jews flock to shul arouses a renewed interest in Judaism and even brings out their curiosity in other people’s faith. There is room for what the late Swedish theologian and New Testament scholar Krister Stendahl, called “holy envy ” or the appreciation of the beliefs and practices of another. And it’s beautiful.

We stand at the beginning of a new future for Judaism. Many wonder and worry about what’s coming next. The trend away from institutionalized Judaism within Jewish America is happening in other faiths as well. While Jews are shopping for spirituality and meaning in other places, observers of other faiths are coming through our doors. The Jewish community stands to be greatly strengthened by the curious from any, all or no faith background. Our job now is to not be afraid of what this means but rather to embrace the adventure and enjoy the journey.

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