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Updated June, 2013
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 engaging interfaith families Jewishly requires three elements:
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:
The five-part InterfaithFamily/Your Community model includes the following objectives and activities:
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. Click here for a more detailed description of the model, for a report on our surveys, a report on interfaith families' program preferences, and our op-eds in the New York Jewish Week and the Huffington Post.
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.
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:
IFF/Chicago staff are increasingly collaborating on programming with the JCCs, PJ Library, the Chicago Federation’s teen visioning and grandparenting programs, Birthright Israel, and Birthright Israel-Next.
"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."
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 community of practice sharing resources and ideas that will grow as we expand.
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.
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 email@example.com.