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Reform Jews break with tradition to seek converts

Reform Jews plan to break with a centuries-old tradition and seek converts among non-Jews. The program will be low key and directed only toward those ''who have no religious adherence.''

The new proselytism was recommended by a three-year-old Task Force on Reform Jewish Outreach, cosponsored by the Central Conference of American Rabbis and approved this month by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at its 56th biennial meeting in Boston. The UAHC represents 738 Reform Jewish synagogues in North America.

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Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, UAHC president, who conceived the idea of winning ''proselytes for Judaism,'' explained in his keynote address to the 4, 000 delegates:

''The stakes are exceedingly high. There are 35,000 Jewish intermarriages a year - that makes 70,000 adults and, given our minuscule birthrate, an additional 35,000 children minimally. The total is 100,000 souls up or down each year . . . out of our present population of just under 6 million. Our survival is at stake. . . .

''What we propose here is that we stop bemoaning our fate, once and for all shake off the defensive stance born of a ghetto mentality, and make Judaism a proud, yes, an assertive faith.''

Delegates expressed concern that flamboyant crusades would arouse anti-Jewish feeling and urged restraint in reaching out to non-Jews, but they approved the key resolution.

Related resolutions, including a proposal to proselytize the children and the non-Jewish partner of a mixed marriage, were passed unanimously.

The UAHC will raise a special fund of $11 million to carry out the project, says Rabbi Sanford Seltzer of Boston, director of the task force and UAHC director of special projects. A $1 million challenge grant from Bernard Rappaport of Waco, Texas, has initiated this fund.

Plans for this ''massive undertaking'' will be made in February when the task force holds its next meeting, says Rabbi Seltzer. Activities will include the use of pamphlets, books, film strips, movies, and public reading rooms, he says.

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''We believe this outreach will open the gates for other branches of Judaism (Orthodox and Conservative) to follow,'' delegates were told by David W. Belin, task force chairman and well known as executive director of the Rockefeller Commission, which investigated the CIA in 1975.

''We are not about to undermine the religious beliefs and convictions of members of church communities,'' said Rabbi Seltzer. ''We do believe, however, that millions of Americans have no religious preference, but are searching for meaningful religious frames of references upon which to build. . . .''

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