A Question of Membership

Sherry Chayat Roshi, who identifies as both Jewish and as a Buddhist leader, asks Rabbi Sheldon Ezring if she and her family can become members at Syracuse’s historic Temple Concord.

Case Excerpt

The full case is comprised of an (A) Case, a (B) Case, and a (C) Case.

Looking back, Rabbi Sheldon Ezring remembered few details about his meeting with Sherry Chayat to discuss her family becoming members at Temple Concord. While today Chayat often wears the robes and shaven head of a Buddhist monk, at the time, there were few outward signs that she practiced Buddhism, or that she was a priest. Ezring recalled, “She was a very nice, normal Jewish lady.”[1] As Chayat sat in Ezring’s office at Temple Concord, an historic Reform synagogue in Syracuse, New York, she approached the issue directly: she was a member at the local Conservative synagogue but wanted to join Temple Concord to enroll her son in the religious school and begin preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. Born Jewish, Chayat was also ordained in the Rinzai Zen Buddhist tradition; her husband, who converted to Judaism as a teenager, felt that his own Tibetan Buddhist practices enhanced his Judaism. Chayat recently attended a Bar Mitzvah at Temple Concord and felt that this community would be a more compatible place for her family.  Rabbi Ezring listened intently as Chayat spoke but knew that this was a question he could not answer right away.

Discussion Questions

1. As Rabbi Ezring considers Sherry Chayat’s request for her family to join Temple Concord, what sources might he consult? What additional information, if any, does he need? Where might he find this information?

2. Do you think this would be an issue if Sherry Chayat was not a leader of another religious community, but merely a member? Why or why not? Are there different considerations for each of the family members?

3. What are the risks of accepting Sherry Chayat’s request for her family to join Temple Concord? What are the risks of rejecting them?

4. Beyond membership at religious institutions, what are some of the challenges of “being both” for interfaith families?



Expand for Citation

[1] All quotes from Rabbi Sheldon Ezring: Rabbi Sheldon Ezring, phone interviews by Emily Sigalow, August 24, 2012 and September 12, 2013.