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The InterfaithFamily/Your Community Initiative

Updated September, 2013

Providing What Is Needed To Engage Interfaith Families Jewishly

The 2011 New York Jewish Community Study highlighted continuing high rates of intermarriage and the relative disengagement of interfaith families in Jewish life. But the Study also found 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? There has been growing agreement that doing so requires three elements:

There has been growing agreement that engaging interfaith families Jewishly 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.

That was the conclusion of a consortium of national funders in 2008 and of a Task Force of the UJA-Federation of New York in 2011.

In 2011, building on ten years of growth, InterfaithFamily (IFF) launched the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative to provide exactly what is required:

  • IFF is the central web address for people in interfaith relationships interested in Jewish life, with over 656,000 annual unique visitors, growing at 30% a year, accessing both extensive helpful content and connections through our officiation referral service and our IFF Network listings and social networking functionality.
  • 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 places 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 their interfaith families.

 

The InterfaithFamily/Your Community Model

The five-part InterfaithFamily/Your Community model includes the following objectives and activities:

  • 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 online IFF Network, active discussion boards, social media and traditional PR.
  • Jewish professionals and organizations will learn to attract, welcome and engage people in interfaith relationships, through inclusivity and sensitivity trainings, and resources on the IFF Network.
  • Interfaith couples will have a positive experience finding clergy to officiate at their weddings, officiating clergy will stay connected with the couples for whom they officiate, and couples will stay connected to Jewish life and community, through increased visibility of IFF’s officiation referral service, personalized responses to requests, and follow-up resources and mechanism for officiating clergy.
  • New interfaith couples will learn how to talk about and have religious traditions in their lives together through our hybrid online/in-person Love and Religion- Online workshop (originated by Marion Usher, Ph.D.).
  • People in interfaith relationships will learn how — and why — to live Jewishly,through educational offerings including our hybrid online/in‐person classes – currently Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family and Preparing for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah in Your Interfaith Family.
     

The InterfaithFamily/Your Community model responds directly to what 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. We are always refining the model; for example, in 2014 we will offer a trip to Israel for interfaith couples from the Philadelphia area. 

InterfaithFamily/Your Community is data‐ and evaluation‐driven. We set numeric goals for each objective in each community, in terms of numbers of listings on our Network, officiation request responses, participants in trainings, workshops and classes, etc. The first year of our pilot InterfaithFamily/Chicago project was evaluated by JESNA. We administer pre‐ and post‐program evaluation surveys with all of our trainings, workshops and classes.

The InterfaithFamily/Chicago Pilot

In 2012 the first pilot of the initiative, InterfaithFamily/Chicago, supported by funding from the Crown Family Philanthropies, the Marcus Foundation, the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, and a private gift, had: 4,722 page views of the online Chicago Community Page; 88 organizations, 99 professionals, and 297 individuals listed on our Network; 571 email newsletter subscribers; 134 officiation requests referred to 37 listed clergy; 10 trainings for 153 religious school teachers and educators, pre‐school teachers and rabbis; 4 Love and Religion workshops for 23 couples; and 2 Raising a Child classes for 31 families (in 2012). Evaluation surveys reveal:

  • Virtually all participants in trainings report that they better understand the needs of interfaith families and learned new ways to be welcoming.
  • 88% of responding workshop participants report they gained understanding of how Judaism can fit into their interfaith families.
  • 92% of responding class participants said they felt more knowledgeable about Judaism, with 77% saying their
    practices changed
     

IFF/Chicago staff are increasingly collaborating on programming with the JCCs, the Chicago Federation, PJ Library, Grandparents for Social Justice, Hillel, Birthright Israel and Birthright Israel‐Next.

Expanding InterfaithFamily/Your Community

In October 2012 we launched InterfaithFamily/San Francisco, with a grant from, and a major fundraising effort lead by, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties. Jennifer Gorovitz, CEO of the JCF, said:

"In recognizing the pressing need to engage [interfaith] families, the JCF is partnering with InterfaithFamily by providing them with a three-year grant to bring their innovative programs to the Bay Area. InterfaithFamily/Bay Area workshops… are run by experts on the complexities of interfaith relationships, and help keep family discussions open and productive… Our goal is to help our community reach out to these new families and celebrate their diversity, using new technologies to break down any barriers that might get in the way of happiness, togetherness and meaning… [W]e know that access to the right support can help interfaith couples successfully explore their respective religions, as they do with Judaism at InterfaithFamily."

In October 2012 we also launched InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, by merging a local organization, InterFaithways, into InterfaithFamily, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. As of September 2013 we will be launching InterfaithFamily/Boston with funding from Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

With increased funding from our foundation supporters, in September 2012 we hired for a new position, National Director of InterfaithFamily/Your Community, to manage our expansion to additional communities. Our local community directors meet with our national director every two weeks and are forming a growing community of practice sharing resources and ideas.

The InterfaithFamily Board of Directors has approved a new Strategic Plan that calls for bringing the InterfaithFamily/Your Community model to nine communities in four years. We intend to create a national network of local community programs, leveraging our content, Network platform, officiation referral service, and training, programs, workshops and classes.

Click to read more reports on our surveys, our op-eds in the New York Jewish Week and the Huffington Posta report on and a summary of JESNA's evaluation of the first year of InterfaithFamily/Chicago, press coverage in the JUF News the Jewish Exponent, and the j Jewish newsweekly of northern California.

The InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative is the single best opportunity the Jewish community has to engage more interfaith families in Jewish life and community. We welcome inquiries from interested local communities. Please contact Edmund Case, CEO, at edc@interfaithfamily.com.

An international program that sends thousands of young Jews to Israel each year for free. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."
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