Quaker Universalist Conversations

A Brief History of Jewish Friends

Jewish Friends has existed as an informal, loosely organized activity within Friends General Conference since the early 1980s.

In January 1983 Joy Weaver published an article in Friends Journal, : “I Never Lost It.” This article resulted from a very unpleasant experience at the 1982 FGC Gathering at Slippery Rock State College (PA), which she summarized in the article as follows:

The occasion was the Advancement Committee’s threshing session on community outreach….Early in the session the statement was made, and later defended, that those people raised in the Jewish faith who could not “accept Christ” should be encouraged to seek fellowship among Friends, but should not be permitted to attain membership.

Although there was some heated discussion on the issue, mainly from Friends who felt it to be a creedal statement, I came away feeling that I had attended not a threshing session, where ripe ideas were harvested, but a thrashing session where the whole, carefully nurtured crop of my religious belief was cut down and trampled into the fields.

The first meeting of Jewish Friends as a group occurred the following year at the 1983 Gathering at Slippery Rock. Since then the group has met every year at Gathering. However, the group has never arranged to become a formally organized activity within FGC. The annual meeting is ad-hoc, arranged and scheduled by someone who plans to be at Gathering. There is always at least one, and usually two, afternoon meetings. On Friday evening of Gathering week Jewish Friends conduct a simple Shabbat ceremony.

At the 1985 Gathering, also at Slippery Rock, there was a panel discussion entitled “Some Of My Best Jews Are Friends.” The panel participants were Maxine Kaufman, Judy Kerman, Free Polazzo, and Joy Weaver as moderator. There have been other articles in Friends Journal and the Quaker Universalist Journal by Jewish Friends, including Joy, Judy Kerman, and Ruth Jacobs.

Soon after the 1987 Gathering Jewish Friends held a retreat hosted by Friends Meeting of Washington (DC). Since then there has been a retreat at Cambridge Meeting (MA), as well as two at Powell House. The Pittsburgh Meeting (PA) hosted a Sedar attended by several participants from the Jewish Friends group.

At the 1988 Gathering at Appalachian State College in Boone (NC,) Joy Weaver facilitated a workshop about being both Jewish and Quaker.

After the 1983 meeting Joy started a printed newsletter Old Foundations. This publication contained articles and news items submitted by many people. Joy continued as editor until she stopped its publication several years ago. It was replaced by an email discussion list, which exists today. The list is hosted at Googlegroups, maintained by three people— Joy Weaver, Bill Selzer, and Dick Bellin. It is private and unlisted, subscription by request only. As of January 2011 there were 75 subscribers. Most are Jewish Friends, some are Friends who are not Jewish, and a few are neither. All are welcome. The primary purpose of both the printed newsletter and the subsequent email list has been to explore what it means to be both Jewish and Quaker. To subscribe, send a request to jewishfriends-subscribe@googlegroups.com.

Richard Bellin

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