The Divorced-Parent Family & the Synagogue Community

When the synagogue is welcoming, the newly divorced begin to overcome their inhibitions about reconnecting to the Jewish community.

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The rabbi needs to step beyond these statements and understand that the congregant, who really is feeling guilt and shame, is unconsciously using the rabbi as a scapegoat. By being aware of the source of this verbal rejection, the rabbi and the congregation may be more willing to extend the initial invitation of reconciliation that can ease the single parent's return to the synagogue.

In a recent marketing study of a local Jewish community center, the polled group--composed of divorced parents--felt that Jewish institutions, especially the synagogues, should initiate contact with its members upon hearing of a marital separation. Synagogues should not remain aloof, afraid of interfering. Letting the parties know that the rabbi is available as a willing, nonjudgmental friend can result in the much-desired and needed nontherapeutic "someone to talk to." In this early period of separation, an invitation to a Shabbat [Sabbath] or holiday dinner might be appreciated.

The study's participants also stressed the financial panic that accompanies every divorce. Rare is the family that can continue to pay the same synagogue dues. Rarer yet is the person who can ask for a dues reduction without directing anger at the synagogue. A call from a thoughtful business manager or dues chairman suggesting a temporary reduction of dues can help maintain membership.

Rabbis have an essential role in educating psychotherapists, lawyers, and accountants about the importance of including provisions for the get [Jewish bill of divorce], Jewish education, Jewish summer camps, holiday observance, and lifecycle celebrations in civil divorce decrees. These inclusions help prevent such issues from becoming future arenas for prolonged warfare. Members going through divorce should be given a checklist of these items important to future Jewish living.

Special Single-Parent Programs Not Helpful

Special divorced-parent family activities within the synagogue are of dubious benefit. If their synagogue socializing is limited mainly to "singles," neither the parent nor the children learn to deal with their own feelings of being "different" from other synagogue families. Preferring to be "just like the other kids," children of divorced families particularly object to being placed in single-parent family programs. Most important, by isolating the divorced-parent families into a separate subgroup, the rest of the congregation does not learn to relate comfortably to them.

Instead of putting effort into single-parent family programs, a congregation might examine existing programs that would allow these families to be reintroduced rapidly into the total synagogue structure. Havurot [small groups that meet monthly or more often for socializing, celebration, and study] present an excellent opportunity to involve such families. Single adults should be invited repeatedly to work on the various synagogue committees. Study groups and other special interest groups are excellent means of recreating social circles without creating an isolated "singles" world.

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Barbara Karlin Bundt Bond lives in Israel.