The Challenge and Opportunity
The Pew Report and the 2011 New York Jewish Community Study continue to show high rates of intermarriage among Jews and a relative disengagement of interfaith families in Jewish life. But studies like New York’s find that interfaith families that do engage Jewishly are comparable in attitudes and behaviors to in-married families. The key question, then, is how to engage interfaith families Jewishly?
A consortium of national funders in 2008 and a Task Force of the UJA-Federation of New York in 2011 concluded that doing so requires three elements:
- A world class web platform;
- Inclusivity training of Jewish professionals and lay leaders; and
- A range of programs and services for interfaith families in local communities.
Over its first ten years, InterfaithFamily (IFF) built a strong foundation for the first two requirements:
- IFF is the central web address for people in interfaith relationships interested in Jewish life, and those Jewish professionals and clergy that want to work with them. Last year, more than 660,000 annual unique visitors came to our site, accessing personal narratives, information on how to “do Jewish,” as well as connections to local events and resources in their community through our Network listings. In addition, almost 2,200 people last year requested Jewish clergy for their lifecycle event through our officiation referral service.
- Since 2010, IFF has provided inclusivity trainings for clergy, synagogue staff, and religious school and preschool directors and teachers.
The InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative now provides the third element by placing staff in local communities – currently in Chicago, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston – to coordinate and provide a comprehensive range of programs and services for local interfaith families.
The five-part InterfaithFamily/Your Community model includes the following objectives and activities:
Increased Awareness and Connection with Local Resources: People in interfaith relationships will connect with local Jewish community resources as well as with others like them, through relationship building, a local Community Page and robust listings of organizations, professionals and events on the IFF Network, active Facebook Groups and our growing Interfaith Family Shabbat program.
Increased Welcome by Organizations and Their Leaders: Jewish professionals and organizations will learn to attract, welcome and engage people in interfaith relationships, through inclusivity and sensitivity trainings, participation in meetings of community organizations, and resources on the IFF Network.
Personalized Officiation Referrals: Interfaith couples will have a positive experience finding clergy to officiate at their weddings and other life cycle events, and couples will be more connected to Jewish life and community, through increased visibility of IFF’s officiation referral service, personalized responses to requests, and consultations.
Support for New Interfaith Couples: New interfaith couples will learn how to talk about and have religious traditions in their lives together, through consultations and our Love and Religion workshop (originated by Marion Usher, Ph.D.) and follow-up gatherings.
Accessible Jewish Learning Experiences: People in interfaith relationships will learn how—and why—to live Jewishly, through Jewish learning experiences including access in multiple formats to the content of our classes—currently Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family and Preparing for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Your Interfaith Family—as well as adult education opportunities like the GIFTS grandparenting program, and social gatherings with Jewish activities.
The InterfaithFamily/Your Community model responds directly to what many years of our surveys show attracts interfaith families to Jewish organizations: explicit expressions of welcome, inclusive policies on participation by interfaith families, invitations to learn vs. invitations to convert, the presence of other interfaith families, programs and groups for interfaith families, and officiation for interfaith couples.
Highlights from Our Communities
The InterfaithFamily/Your Community model is data- and evaluation-driven. We set numeric goals for each objective in each community, and use pre- and post-program surveys for all of our trainings, workshops and classes. In late 2013, with help from Rosov Consulting, we refined our theory of change and logic model, and we are fielding corresponding new pre- and post-program surveys in 2014.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago completed two and one half years of operation in 2013 and is a strong and vibrant presence in the Chicagoland area, spearheaded by IFF/Chicago Director Rabbi Ari Moffic, a leader in the field whose work was highlighted in Ron Wolfson’s important new book, Relational Judaism. Supported by funding from the Crown Family Philanthropies, the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, and a private gift, IFF/Chicago has more than 800 email newsletter subscribers, almost 200 members of its Facebook Group, over 3,460 views of its Community Page, and partnerships with the JCC, PJ Library, Birthright NEXT, Grandparents for Social Action and Hillel. Last year, IFF/Chicago trained more than 250 Jewish professionals and responded to over 140 officiation referral requests, in addition to offering numerous workshops, classes and individual consultations. See InterfaithFamily/Chicago’s 2013 Annual Report for more information.
InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area launched in late 2012 with major funding provided by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties. IFF/Bay Area had a successful first year with more than 350 email newsletter subscribers, about 100 Facebook Group members, over 3,200 views of its Community Page, trainings for almost 90 professionals, and responses to 99 officiation referral requests. In 2014, IFF/Bay Area is co-sponsoring a series of trainings for synagogue staff and leaders in partnership with Jewish Learning Works, Keshet and Be’chol Lashon. IFF/Bay Area is poised for growth as Rabbi Mychal Copeland, most recently Rabbi and Senior Jewish Educator at Stanford Hillel, heads up it operations. See InterfaithFamily/Bay Area’s 2013 Annual Report for more information.
InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia completed its first full year of operation in 2013 after a local organization, InterFaithways, merged with InterfaithFamily, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Run by Director Rabbi Robyn Frisch, IFF/Philadelphia is a robust and expanding presence, with more than 1,800 email newletter subscribers, more than 800 Facebook Group members and over 4,200 views of its Community Page. IFF/Philadelphia trained 127 professionals last year, and responded to 130 officiation referral requests. See InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia’s 2013 Annual Report for more information.
InterfaithFamily/Boston launched in October 2013 with funding from Combined Jewish Philanthropies and is directed by Rabbi Jillian Cameron.
Developing A Community of Interfaith Engagement Professionals
Every other week, all of the Your Community directors meet by videoconference with the National Director, forming a growing community of practice, sharing resources and ideas and developing a group of highly experienced professionals devoted solely to engaging interfaith families and creating welcoming communities for them.
Expanding InterfaithFamily/Your Community
InterfaithFamily’s Strategic Plan calls for creating a national network of local community programs and professionals strengthened by a national infrastructure. We welome inquiries from interested local communities.
For more information, please contact Edmund Case, CEO, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jodi Bromberg, President, at email@example.com.
Our Promising Evaluation Results To Date
The InterfaithFamily/Your Community model is data- and evaluation-driven. We set numeric goals for our objectives and activities in each Your Community, and use pre- and post-program surveys for all of our trainings, workshops and classes. In late 2013, with help from Rosov Consulting, we refined our theory of change and logic model, and we are fielding corresponding new pre- and post-program surveys in 2014.
Detailed Annual Reports are available upon request for our three communities that had full years of operation in 2013: InterfaithFamily/Chicago (launched in July 2011), InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area and InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia (both launched in October 2012). InterfaithFamily/Boston did not launch until October 2013.
Here are some key learnings to date:
- Increased Awareness and Connection with Local Resources
We have made good progress in becoming the central resource in our local communities for people in interfaith relationships and the Jewish leaders who work with them. High percentages of survey respondents agree that their local IFF/Your Community is an important resource and feel comfortable contacting their staff about interfaith family issues. We have built up listings on our Network of local organizations, professionals and programs, and the Community Page that serves as the gateway to all relevant information in the local community.
- Increased Welcome by Organizations and Leaders
We have made good progress in helping Jewish organizations and leaders learn about the importance of welcoming interfaith families and how to do so. Across the three Your Communities, 470 Jewish leaders participated in an IFF/Your Community training in 2013. Audiences include religious school and pre-school teachers, rabbis, Federation staff, Sisterhoods, synagogue administrators and staff, Birthright Israel trip operators, Hillel staff, PJ Library staff, and medical personnel studying for certification as mohels. High percentages of survey respondents agree that they learned new ways to be welcoming to interfaith families.
- Personalized Officiation Referrals
The personalized officiation referral service is an extremely important feature of the Your Community model. We reach out and attempt to establish a personal connection. This can give our local staff access to young interfaith couples at liminal moments and an unparalleled opportunity to establish concierge-type relationships that in turn provide an opportunity to influence ongoing Jewish choices. We are finding numerous instances of couples seeking officiation who then participate in our new couples workshops or seek additional consultations and referrals to other organizations, professionals (e.g. counselors, mohels) and programs.
- Support for New Interfaith Couples
The Love and Religion workshop, developed by Dr. Marion Usher at the DC JCC, has proved to be a mainstay of our model, and we easily recruit the optimum four to six couples per workshop. High percentages of survey respondents agree that they learn how Judaism can fit into their lives. We also help couples by consulting individually with them, and are now tracking those consultations and resulting referrals.
- Jewish Learning Experiences
We are confident in the value of our two classes – Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family and Preparing for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Your Interfaith Family – and the potential they provide for connection with others. High percentages of survey respondents agree that they became more knowledgeable about Jewish practices, and many say they adopt specific practices like saying the bedtime Shema, or the Motzi, or having a Shabbat dinner. We are also proud of the GIFTS grandparenting class we co-developed in Chicago with the JUF and Grandparents for Social Action. We are innovating with offering the course content in different formats (the original hybrid online/in-person format, an email format used in Chicago in the second half of 2013, and an all in-person class being offered in San Francisco in 2014) and will continue to develop new learning experiences (such as regional and topical gatherings to be offered in Chicago in 2014). We also help interfaith families learn how and why to live Jewishly by offering adult education classes offered by other organizations, and we will continue to seek out those opportunities.
2013 User Survey Results
The following comment from our 2013 User Survey sums up the potential for powerful impact with on-the-ground staff, and in particular with partners who are not Jewish:
I can’t overstate how much InterfaithFamily has helped me, a Christian with a Jewish partner, feel comfortable about trying to create a Jewish home for our three children. The website is very useful. And since I happen to live in a north shore suburb of Chicago, I’ve been able to benefit personally from advice and guidance from Rabbi Ari Moffic. I think what’s so valuable about both the website and Rabbi Moffic’s personal guidance is that they make me feel valued and appreciated as a Christian trying to raise Jewish children. In addition, coming to Judaism as an outsider, it has been helpful that Rabbi Moffic has been able to help me with practical ways to introduce some Jewish religious practice into the home.
The 2013 User Survey results show that InterfaithFamily generally has a positive effect on users’ interest in (53%), knowledge about (63%) and comfort in (49%) participating in Jewish life and feeling welcomed (46%) by the Jewish community. But respondents in locations where the Your Community model has been implemented report a significantly greater positive effect—72% reported more interest in and knowledge about Jewish life—demonstrating the impact of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model.