United Synagogue Youth voted to relax its rules barring its teenage board members from dating non-Jews.
The amendment was adopted Monday in Atlanta at the annual international convention of the Conservative movement’s youth group. The change affects the 100 or so teen officers who serve on USY’s national board and 17 regional boards. The thousands of teens who participate in USY programs have not been subject to any such bans.
After some debate at the convention, the USY board also elected to uphold the requirement that teen board members be Sabbath and holiday observant when it comes to travel, public functions and taking school exams.
While the newly adopted amendment does not include a ban on interfaith dating, it does state that members should “model healthy Jewish dating choices.” The dating amendment goes on to say: “These include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community and treating each person with the recognition that they were created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God).”
The change on dating policy reflects where most young Conservative Jews are when it comes to dating outside the faith. Some four in 10 Conservative Jews who have married since 2000 have married non-Jews, according to the 2013 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jewry.
Jordan Dinkin, a USY member from Reisterstown, Md., said she considered running for her region’s board when she was finishing up her junior year of high school until she learned that USY rules precluded board members from dating outside the faith. Dinkin, 17, has a non-Jewish boyfriend.
“It disappointed me a lot that I had to give up that opportunity because of my secular life,” she told JTA. “Obviously people who are active in USY are people who are passionate about their Judaism. I believe that as a progressive youth movement, if we choose in our secular life to date someone who is not of the Jewish religion, I don’t see why there should be limitations within USY.”
The constitution that sets standards for USY was written several years ago by the 15- to 18-year-olds who lead the movement, and it always has been their prerogative to change them, according to Rabbi David Levy, the professional director of USY and director of teen learning at the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The vote tally on the new amendment was kept secret, but the teens who supported the change wanted to ensure that the movement does not come across as judgmental of families who should be welcomed into the movement, Levy said.
“While we maintain the value that dating within the faith is key to a sustainable Jewish future, we want to be positive and welcoming to USYers, many of whom are from interfaith families,” he said.
The movement’s educational programs will continue to promote the importance of dating within the faith and committing to creating Jewish families, Levy said.
The USY vote comes weeks after Wesley Gardenswartz, the rabbi at one of the nation’s largest Conservative synagogues, Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., floated a plan to his congregation that would allow him to officiate at interfaith weddings in cases where the couple committed to raising Jewish children. He later dropped that controversial element of the proposal.
The Conservative movement officially frowns on intermarriage, forbidding its rabbis from officiating or even attending interfaith weddings. In practice, however, synagogues generally are welcoming of interfaith couples, with some granting membership to non-Jews, and some Conservative rabbis have attended interfaith weddings.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said the policy change does not reflect a change in USY’s values.
“It continues to recognize what we know to be true: encouraging Jews to marry other Jews is the most successful path toward creating committed Jewish homes,” Wernick said in a statement. “At the same time, we can’t put our heads in the sand about the fact that we live in an incredibly free society, where even committed Jews will marry outside the faith. If they do, we must welcome them wholeheartedly and encourage them to embrace Judaism.”
About 750 teens came to Atlanta for this year’s USY international convention.