In the past four months we've witnessed a rising wave of interest in engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community – and how InterfaithFamily.com is serving that cause.
Our InterfaithFamily/Chicago pilot initiative, to coordinate and provide a comprehensive set of programs for interfaith families, has moved from start up last July to full operation and is on track to meet all objectives. We're getting everything in Chicagoland listed and publicized on our Network; we've conducted six trainings for religious school principals and teachers, early childhood educators, and rabbis; we successfully offered our first hybrid online/in-person offering of Marion Usher's Love and Religion workshop for new interfaith couples in February, and our first hybrid online/in-person class, Raising a Child with Judaism In Your Interfaith Family, is currently underway.
In December the UJA-Federation of New York's Task Force on Welcoming Interfaith Families released an important report that endorsed the three-pronged approach of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model: web platform publicity, trainings of Jewish program providers, and programs targeted for people in interfaith relationships. We believe we may be witnessing the culture change for which we have long been waiting: we are close to securing local funding to offer our model in two additional communities starting later this year, several others have expressed serious interest, and our lead funder has doubled its support to enable us to add national staff capacity to manage this anticipated growth.
In the meantime:
- We've experienced record growth in our web-based content resources. Our website traffic is growing 44% a year, and we had over 627,000 unique visitors in the last twelve months. Facebook fans increased by 13% and Twitter followers by 17% since our last Update in October, and we've joined Pinterest. We offered a wide variety of interesting articles and blog posts, including on our Wedding Blog and Parenting Blog, and we continued to add "how-to-do-Jewish" resources including videos and re-designed booklets.
- We've also seen record growth in our web-based connections resources. In 2011 our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service responded to 175 requests a month (an increase of 18% over 2010); in the first two months of 2012, the average is up to 228 a month. Since our last Update in October, our Network grew by 117 organizations to a total of 926 (an increase of 14%), 78 professionals to a total of 689 (up 13%), and 31 rabbis on our officiation referral list to a total of 584 (up 6%).
- Finally, we added recommendations for a welcoming policy document, a model program, and other resources to our Resource Center for Program Providers.
We are excited about the re-design of the look and feel of our website, which we'll be launching, with a new logo and tagline, later in 2012.
The opportunity has never been greater to expand on our efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community. We welcome your interest and support to make that happen.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago is in full operation and making great progress.
- Rabbi Ari Moffic has had over eighteen meetings since our last Update to introduce the project and develop collaborating relationships, with among others Beth Tikvah Congregation, Congregation Beth Am, Congregation Beth Judea, Emanuel Congregation, North Shore Congregation Israel, Or Chadash and Temple Sholom. We've added many organizations and professionals to our Chicagoland Community Page and actively publicize them and their events using social media.
- We had a good story in the Chicago Tribune, Group teaches interfaith families Jewish traditions, and Cindy Sher, Editor of Chicago's Jewish newspaper JUF News, wrote a great article about IFF/Chicago, Navigating Jewish living with interfaith families.
- We’ve responded to 76 requests from people in Chicago for our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service.
- Rabbi Moffic provided trainings for religious school teachers at Beth Emet, Beth Hillel, and Congregation Sukkat Shalom, and for early childhood educators at Oak Park Temple. She and Karen Kushner provided a major, two-day training for religious school principals sponsored by the Community Foundation for Jewish Education on January 29-30, and then a workshop for clergy on January 31.
- We successfully offered our first hybrid online/in-person offering of Marion Usher's Love and Religion workshop for new interfaith couples in February.
- Our first hybrid online/in-person class, Raising a Child with Judaism In Your Interfaith Family, is currently underway.
- Rabbi Moffic has also participated in adult education programs at Congregation Hakafa and Congregation Beth Judea, the Jews-by-Choice group at Anshe Emet, and a Shabbat dinner offered by JCC Shure Kehilla.
We continued to improve and add to our "how-to-do-Jewish" content, with:
We also published two articles, Understanding Transliteration and Translation and The Case of the Missing Sav, and a blog post that look at the different ways Hebrew is pronounced, understood, translated, and transliterated.
We offered three interesting takes on the December holidays:
"Last December, on a Jewish journey and with my possessions in storage, I celebrated my first tree-free holiday season. This year, officially Jewish and back in my own apartment, I'm finally faced with the December Dilemma. Jews don't put up Christmas trees, and there's no such thing as a Chanukah bush. And then I got an idea."
"The holiday season is rife with analyses of interfaith families that celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah, but none have I found more offensive than Debra Nussbaum Cohen's Interfaith Mom Is Wrong About Chrismukkah on The Forward's Sisterhood blog. If you're like me, you've already bristled at the title – and it's only downhill from there."
We received this wonderful thank you from Michael D. on December 6, 2011:
I really like the different perspectives about the December holidays on IFF – and I especially like how it's a safe harbor, so to speak, to share ideas about them. I know that's pretty rare, no matter what stream of Judaism you're affiliated with. Thanks for making that safe harbor!
On the Weddings Blog, Yolanda and Arel got married in January after posting great videos, then Erik and Jess started blogging about their upcoming nuptials. And we ran an interesting article that challenges the automatic assumption that matrilineal descent should be followed – if a lesbian couple disregards biology in choosing who the second parent is, why must they follow biology in determining religious inheritance?
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Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service
Our free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service helps interfaith couples find rabbis or cantors to officiate not only at weddings, but also for counseling, conversion, birth ceremonies, tutoring, bar/bat mitzvah, and even funerals. In 2011 we responded to 2,102 inquires, an average of 175 a month and an 18% increase over 2010. In the first two months of 2012, we’ve responded to an average of 228 a month!
We routinely get grateful messages like this one, from Dan J., on February 29, 2012:
Your site is a real mitzvah.
We know our referral service responds when others don't. We got this message from Jo L., who had asked for a rabbi for a baby naming, on October 11, 2011:
Thank you so much for your response. I will contact [the people you recommended] and hope for some support. The baby is almost a year old - a mohel circumcised him, however would not conduct a bris because of the non-Jewish mother. Now the parents would like a naming for their son.
We now have 584 rabbis and cantors to whom we make referrals – an increase of 31, or 6%, since our October Update. Interested clergy should take our Jewish clergy survey.
Network: Members, Organizations, Professionals and Events
From July through October, 384 individuals and 78 professionals created personal pages and joined the InterfaithFamily.com Network; as of the end of February, we had 3,801 members, including 689 professionals. In addition, we've had a net gain of 117 organizations listed on the Network, bringing the current total to 926. If you’re not listed, we’d be glad to help you get on the Network.
You can easily find people in interfaith relationships, programs, and welcoming organizations and professionals in any local community, because you can search the Network within mileage ranges of a zip code or postal code. We also now have Community Pages, that make it even easier to centralize and find everything of interest in a local community, for Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago. We offer Community Pages as part of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model; if you are a local federation or funder and are interested for your community, please contact Joanna Rothman, our Director of Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resource Centers for Program Providers and for Jewish Clergy
We've added a number of resources to our Resource Center for Program Providers Resource Page which links to marketing, policy, programming, and training materials:
In January we revamped the monthly email newsletter that Karen Kushner sends to RCPP members. To learn more about the benefits of being a member of the Resource Center for Program Providers and how to join, visit www.interfaithfamily.com/joinrcpp.
Our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy provides materials that are available to rabbis and cantors only. In the past four months, we added to our RCJC resources a High Holiday sermon and an essay by a rabbi who changed his position on co-officiation; a discussion post that described our January clergy workshop in Chicago; and a new resource designed to help clergy stay in touch with the couples for whom they officiate.
We spoke by Skype with a group of fifteen rabbis from Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong on November 16; were interviewed on South Africa's biggest news and radio station, Radio 702, on December 12; exhibited at the Union for Reform Judaism Biennial in Washington DC, December 14-18; and led sessions at LimmudBoston on December 4 and LimmudNY on January 15.
We published the results of our eighth annual December Holidays Survey, which showed that interfaith families raising their children Jewish are continuing at high and stable levels to participate in secular Christmas activities, to keep their Hanukkah and Christmas holiday celebrations separate, and to believe that their participation in Christmas celebrations does not compromise their children's Jewish identity.
Benjamin Maron weighed in on the ridiculous Israeli ad campaign that suggested that Israelis marrying American Jews was not acceptable and led to a decline in Judaism, on Shmuly Boteach's Kosher Jesus?, and on Interfaith Families and Day Schools. I summed up the December Holidays media in Reflecting on December 2011 and addressed An Historic Advance by the UJA-Federation of New York. Ari Moffic wrote about Writing a Religious School Pledge for All Families.
We were saddened by the loss of Newt Becker, an enlightened and bold Jewish philanthropist.
About 28% of our traffic comes from paid search results on Google and from links on Facebook. Benjamin Maron continues to implement a social media strategy that has greatly expanded our reach. Just click here to become a fan on our Facebook page. On Twitter follow @interfaithfam.
We had a number of media mentions during the December holiday season this year:
Summary of Key Metrics
- Website traffic: We had 627,296 unique visitors in the 12 months ending February 29.
- Bi-weekly email newsletter: Our February 21 email newsletter was successfully delivered to 8,855 recipients.
- Facebook Fans and Twitter followers: 8,983 and 1,568 as of February 29.
- Organizations and professionals listed on our Network: We had a net gain of 117 organizations and 78 professionals added to our Network between November 1 and February 29, bringing the total to 1,615.
- Requests for Jewish clergy officiation referrals: In 2011 we responded to an average of 175 requests for referrals a month. For the first two months of 2012, we are averaging 228 a month!
Finance and Development
Our 2012 projected spending is now $1,361,400. In the past four months we received multi-year grants from the Lawrence and Anne Rubenstein Foundation and the Keel Foundation, renewed funding from the Natan Fund, and renewed and increased funding from the Marcus Foundation.
Thank You for Your Interest!
We appreciate your support and interest very much, and welcome your feedback.
Please help us by forwarding this Update to anyone who might be interested in our work.
With best regards,
Edmund C. Case, CEO