SPRING HILL — One would expect members of the Jewish community to attend the upcoming High Holy Days events at Temple Beth David. Less expected, perhaps, is that many non-Jews, also members of the temple, will attend as well.
Temple Beth David is a Reform congregation, affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, and serves Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties. Among its membership are several interfaith couples.
"Reformed Judaism recognizes the need to reach out to our members who may need special support and services in regard to intermarriage," Rabbi David Levin said. "One of the goals of this temple is to make all feel comfortable."
It was the temple's practice of welcoming interfaith couples so warmly that led Robert George, the non-Jewish partner of Sandy George, a Jew, to want to inform people that such a congregation exists.
"We attended a Shabbat service on a Friday night in July 2009," Robert George said. "Within a week, the chairman of the membership department called and asked us how we'd enjoyed it. It was a welcoming and relationship call, saying it was wonderful to have you there, which I thought was amazing. The temple is full of very outgoing and warm people."
Rabbi Levin made them feel welcome as well.
"When the rabbi first welcomed us, he made us feel like what's important is that we're all about just trying to be better persons and to care about each other," George said. "One of the unique qualities coming from the lay leadership and the part-time caring leadership of Rabbi Levin is the inclusion and sense of belonging extended to interfaith couples and families."
At age 67 and 11 years into his second marriage, George has not abandoned his Protestant upbringing. He said he and his wife have a Christmas tree and a menorah in their home during the winter religious holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah.
Sandy George attends Christmas and Easter services with her husband at a Lutheran church.
"It's very rewarding, because we are both open-minded about things like this, and to have him beside me when I'm at the temple makes me feel even more comfortable and more fulfilled," she said. "I don't have to do this separate from him. We can enjoy these things together."
Having lived in Pennsylvania and New Jersey most of his life, Robert George likes that he's able to do some things at the temple that he did in his Lutheran churches back home, including singing in the choir.
"I'm learning Hebrew, because it meant something to me to sing," he said.
"I find there is no pressure to convert to Judaism or to do anything but gain whatever you can spiritually gain by being there," he added.
George is looking forward to singing as part of the upcoming celebrations.
"The choir is very involved in the High Holy Days," he said. "It starts a new year in Judaism, and it's a time for you to rededicate yourself to being a better person and to be better to your fellow citizens."
George also serves on the temple's board of trustees and heads a committee for community relations.
"Some of the things are interfaith relations with churches in Spring Hill and also hospital caring and adult education and things that aren't only bound by Beth David and by Judaism," he said.
Other non-Jewish members serve on the board as well, including the temple treasurer, Leon Parent, whose wife, Debby, is of the Jewish faith. They have been a part of the congregation since the early 1980s.
According to temple administrator Sheila Friedman, there are 121 families in the congregation, 19 of which are interfaith families.
All the families working together is of great importance, said Rabbi Levin, who also serves congregations in Pasco County.
"The congregation in Spring Hill (is) a community of people that supports one another in times of difficulty; they all share life's blessings, and they work together and bring joy," he said. "There's a very big Jewish word that we all try to do in all three branches of Judaism, which is tikkun olam. It means working for the betterment of the world around us."
Robert George wants the news of the temple's warm and caring congregation to spread.
"There is an inspiring and uplifting experience to be found in Spring Hill," he said.