When it comes to interfaith inclusivity, Rabbi Alex Greenbaum is known not just for talking the talk, but for walking the walk.
The Beth El Congregation of South Hills rabbi has marched in support of Pittsburgh’s Muslim community at the Attawheed Islamic Center, has represented the Jewish community at the South Hills Jewish Christian Interfaith Dialogue and has pushed at the edges for a more inclusive Conservative movement.
“I am an outspoken supporter of the intermarried in the Conservative movement,” Greenbaum said. “Some might even say I’m too outspoken.”
That support has led Greenbaum to be named a Rukin Rabbinic Fellow in 18Doors’ second cohort of its fellowship program.
Formerly known as InterfaithFamily, 18Doors is a nonprofit that provides resources to interfaith couples and families, according to Rabbi Robyn Frisch, director of the Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship.
“Our mission is for people who are in interfaith relationships to feel welcomed in the Jewish community, and to help them find their place in a way that is comfortable for them,” she said. “We want to help open those doors to help them find a Judaism that is meaningful to them.”
Before he became a Rukin Fellow, Greenbaum used 18Doors as a resource to help interfaith families find ways to celebrate holidays together, among other things, he said.
Greenbaum learned of the fellowship program from a friend who was a member of the first cohort. The application process included writing several essays and being interviewed.
With the appointment of Greenbaum, Pittsburgh became one of 22 cities in the United States and Canada to host a Rukin Fellow. For now, the program is operating regionally, and Greenbaum will be assisting interfaith families not only in Pittsburgh, but also in cities within Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.
Functioning a bit like a matchmaker, Greenbaum will help interfaith couples locate rabbis to officiate at weddings, baby namings, conversions and other life cycle events. He will also run classes and various programs.
While Greenbaum will help find rabbis to marry interfaith couples, he is still prohibited by United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism/Rabbinical Assembly — the international association governing Conservative rabbis — from officiating at those marriages himself.
“The irony is the [Conservative] movement itself does not allow us to do intermarriages,” Greenbaum said. “So, when someone calls an 18Doors Fellow throughout the country, that person may be able to officiate. For me, my job is to set up the match. The irony is not lost on me, that I cannot perform the marriage.”
Frisch said 18Doors wanted a diversity of voices among its Fellows and its rabbis come from the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Humanist movements.
“It was really important from the beginning that we have Conservative rabbis in every cohort,” she said. “We understand that they can’t officiate weddings. He [Greenbaum] is great at referring people if they need help finding rabbis. He can do other things with Conservative couples and other life cycle events. We want to be welcoming across the board.”
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism/Rabbinical Assembly, said he was pleased that Greenbaum will join other Conservative rabbis as a Rukin Fellow.
“We know it will strengthen his congregation,” Blumenthal said, “and we hope he will share his learning and experiences with all of our colleagues as we seek to welcome and embrace people of all backgrounds in our communities.”
Greenbaum’s appointment is consistent with Beth El’s mission statement, said Susie Seletz, president of the congregation.
“Beginning in 2019 with a vote which passed nearly unanimously to change the constitutional definition of membership to include non-Jewish spouses, we are involving our non-Jewish members in varied aspects of synagogue life, right up to the board of trustees,” she said. “Rabbi Alex introduced the idea of embracing our interfaith couples and families, rather than tolerating, or even just welcoming, them. 18Doors’ selection of Rabbi Alex in its Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship Program is an enormous source of pride to Beth El.”
While it would take a “super majority” for the Conservative movement to sanction interfaith marriage, Greenbaum said, “supporting the intermarried is part of what the Conservative movement was created for — which is adapting to the times. But the institutions are not there yet.”
Greenbaum is looking forward to serving the interfaith community and supporting the mission of 18Doors, while growing the number of rabbis involved.
“The idea is to create an army of rabbis who support the intermarried, and that the regions will grow,” he said. “Right now, the resources are limited. We’re still growing. With the pandemic everything stopped, but we’re only in our second year.
“I believe the intermarried are good for Judaism,” Greenbaum said. “I don’t do this because I have to do it. I do it because I want to do it. I believe we need to be more than just tolerant, even more than welcoming. We need to encourage and embrace our interfaith couples and families. We need to celebrate them. We need to say, ‘thank you!’” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.