Do Interfaith Families Prefer Programs Marketed as "For Interfaith Families?"
A Report on InterfaithFamily.com's Annual Holiday Surveys
InterfaithFamily.com (IFF) has conducted online December Holidays surveys and Passover/Easter surveys each year since 2004. Starting in December 2009, four consecutive surveys have included the question: "Would you prefer to attend a program that is described as a program 'for interfaith families' or a program for everyone that is not described as 'for interfaith families.'" The answer choices were: "Program for interfaith families," "General program," "It depends on the program," or, "None of the above."
Filtering the responses to people who said they were in interfaith relationships or intermarried, had children, and were raising or had raised their children Jewish, the responses are as follows:
|For interfaith families
|Depends on the program
While more respondents — 23% — prefer programs not marketed for interfaith families than those who do — 13%, the great majority said that it depends on the program.
The surveys also asked: "How important... in attracting you to your [synagogue/Jewish organization] is... the [synagogue/Jewish organization] offers programs that are described as 'for interfaith families.'" The answer choices were "A lot," "Somewhat," "A little," or "Not at all." The Passover surveys asked about Jewish organizations, the December surveys asked about synagogues. Again filtering the responses to people who said they were in interfaith relationships or intermarried, had children, and were raising or had raised their children Jewish, the responses are as follows:
|Not at all
Thus, almost three quarters of respondents said that is was "a lot" (44%) important or "somewhat" important (28%) that their synagogue or Jewish organization offered programs that are described as "for interfaith families." Only a little more than a quarter said it was "a little" important (16%) or not at all important (12%).
Clearly, significant percentages of interfaith families interested in Jewish life are interested in some programs that are marketed as "for interfaith families" and are attracted to synagogues and Jewish organizations that offer such programs.
Respondents explained some of the reasons why they would be interested in programs marketed as "for interfaith families" (all quotations are from respondents from the December 2009 and Passover 2010 surveys):
- They want to be with others like them and share stories with others like them:
- "I like interacting [with] people that understand where I am coming from and are not judgmental."
- "I would like to have the opportunity to meet and talk to other interfaith couples."
- "I like to be part of a group of interfaith families so we can share our own stories but I also want to learn more general information so I can strengthen my own knowledge."
- Interfaith families have unique issues:
- "I think there are issues that interfaith families have that others don't."
- "[It is] important to recognize that issues of interfaith families are different from those of other Jewish families."
- "As a practicing Catholic married to a Jew and raising a Jew, I am personally only interested in programs targeted toward my situation."
- Programs for interfaith families are more comfortable for non-Jewish partners and for prospective converts:
- "Because then I as the non-Jewish parent would feel more welcome and included."
- "My non-Jewish husband is more likely to go if it is for interfaith in particular."
- "I don't want to feel singled out in some cases but I think it would depend on the situation and at times, make my non-Jewish husband more comfortable."
- "I like knowing I'm not going to be the only one there who was not raised Jewish."
- "Now that I have converted, I would feel more comfortable in either setting. However, I often felt out of place at the general programs prior to conversion.... I still sometimes feels that I will be 'found out' as a convert in a general setting. So I think that programming is important for interfaith and continued programming for Jews by Choice."
- Some topics are best addressed in interfaith family specific programs:
- "If the topic was how we deal with December issues, or lifecycle events, then yes."
- "We typically participate in general Jewish programs, but occasionally like to participate in interfaith programs to meet new people and discuss challenges of raising Jewish children in an interfaith home."
- Needs change over time; when interfaith couples start out, they may be more interested in interfaith family specific programs, than when they feel more integrated:
- "We are fairly well integrated into our temple so it doesn't matter that much any more. When we were first married, however, I felt more comfortable asking my husband to attend programs that were described as being for interfaith families."
- "When I was new to the Jewish community and learning about Judaism and the holidays and trying to make friends, I sought out programs for interfaith families. Now that I've been living a primarily Jewish life..., I don't find those programs are so important to me."
- Offering interfaith family specific programs is important as a statement that makes interfaith families feel welcome:
- "I don't need such a program but I think it's very important that my synagogue offer them. My husband doesn't want to attend them, but it makes him feel welcome to know that they're there."
Several respondents articulated their "sometimes one, sometimes the other" approach:
- "Sometimes I'd like to be surrounded by others like me, other times I'd rather not stand out so much and just blend in with everyone."
- "As a general rule, I believe true inclusion is achieved when interfaith families do not need to be singled out, but since there are some issues that are more typical for interfaith families, I also believe sometimes it is positive to have programs especially addressed to them."
- "We love IF specific programs, but have become a part of the larger congregation [so] that we enjoy general programs as well."
In the Passover 2011 survey, two additional questions were asked for the first time. One question was: "If you were interested in taking an online class on raising a Jewish child, which class title would be more likely to interest you in finding out more about the class." Again filtering the responses to people who said they were in interfaith relationships or intermarried, had children, and were raising or had raised their children Jewish, 37 respondents, or 38.9%, preferred the title "Raising a Jewish Child;" 58 respondents, or 61%, preferred the title "Raising a Jewish Child In Your Interfaith Family." This is a very clear statement of a strong preference for a program that is explicitly for interfaith families.
The other question asked was: "If you were interested in learning more about how to celebrate Passover and saw a booklet about how to celebrate Passover, which title would interest you more." Filtering the responses the same way, 47 respondents, or 45%, preferred the title "How to Celebrate Passover;" 57 respondents, or 54.8%, preferred the title "How to Celebrate Passover In Your Interfaith Family." Thus a smaller but still clear majority preferred resource materials that are explicitly labeled as "for interfaith families."
At InterfaithFamily.com we are not social scientists and we do not claim that our survey responses are representative of all interfaith families. Our respondents are self-selected and tend to be interfaith families who are interested in Jewish life and who, for example, raise their children Jewish in proportions (70-80%) higher than those generally reported in community surveys. But we are not aware of any other sources of data on that population. Our survey responses are illustrative of the attitudes and behaviors of interfaith families who are interested in Jewish life: significant percentages of them are interested in programs that are marketed as "for interfaith families" and are attracted to synagogues and Jewish organizations that offer such programs.
These survey responses are consistent with common sense and confirm the anecdotal evidence we have from our own experience and that of many professional providers and volunteers who work with interfaith couples and families. In the early days of considering engaging with Jewish life and community, interfaith families are attracted to and feel more comfortable with programs and classes that are explicitly marketed as "for" interfaith couples and families. Even later when engagement in a Jewish organization has been achieved, while the desire to be with others like them may recede, it does not disappear.
The need for explicitly targeted programs at a wide range of Jewish organizations and especially at our gateway portals like Jewish Community Centers has increased and will continue to increase as interfaith relationships continue to grow and the population of adult children of interfaith marriages of the 80's and 90's reaches maturity and considers their religious choices. This is an opportunity that the Jewish community ignores at its peril. Attracting interfaith couples and families to Jewish programming successfully will determine the Jewish future of the children of today and tomorrow.
This report is also available as a PDF download.