June 2011 Update
What's in this Update
This Update marks a time of exciting opportunity for InterfaithFamily.com and the field of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community.
- On July 1 we started up InterfaithFamily/Chicago, a pilot initiative to coordinate and provide a comprehensive set of local programs aimed at engaging Chicago-area interfaith families Jewishly, and designed to be replicable in communities all over North America.
- Our staff has grown from six to eight with staff in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. Rabbi Ari Moffic is the new Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago and Joanna Rothman is our new Director of Development. We also have two new Board members.
- IFF's position as the central web address for interfaith families exploring Jewish life has strengthened. We had nearly half a million unique visitors in the last twelve months — 496,358 to be exact — and traffic for the second quarter of 2011 was 62% higher than the same quarter last year. Benjamin Maron, our Managing Editor, has implemented a social media strategy resulting in growth in Facebook fans from 1,119 to 5,127 and in Twitter followers from 803 to 1,101 since our last Update in February.
- We have greatly enhanced the quality and accessibility of our "how-to" content under Benjamin's direction; our new Shabbat Resource Page, with new and revised booklets in the series created by Karen Kushner, audio files and downloadable blessings sheets, and more, is just one example. Our new Passover resources were very popular, and we featured content on Tu Bishvat, Purim and Shavuot as well.
- We are proud to be playing a role in the first legal gay marriage in New York on July 24 — an interfaith couple submitted a request to our referral service and our own Rabbi Lev Baesh will be officiating.
We welcome your interest and support to make the best of a huge opportunity to expand on our efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community.
We are pleased to announce our new Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago Rabbi Ari Moffic, who joined us as of July 1. Ari was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 2007 and has an extensive background in Jewish family education, serving most recently as the Educator for our friends at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, IL.
Please also welcome our new Director of Development Joanna Rothman, who also joined us as of July 1. Joanna has development experience at WGBH (Boston's NPR and PBS station) and most recently as Director of Development at Boston's Jewish Vocational Service.
After ten years of service, including as the founding Chair, Esta Epstein has stepped down from InterfaithFamily.com's Board of Directors. Fortunately for us, Esta will serve on our Advisory Board.
In June we added two new Board members. Brad Lupien, from the San Diego area, is the founder of CHAMPIONS: Adventure, After School & Sports Programs and CORE Educational Services and has a special interest in using online technology in education. Lynda Schwartz, who will chair our Finance/Audit Committee, is a partner in the Boston office of Ernst & Young.
The field of engaging interfaith families Jewishly requires a world class website, inclusivity training for Jewish professionals and lay leaders, and a comprehensive set of programs in local communities. InterfaithFamily/Chicago will build on our strengths as the premiere resource supporting interfaith families exploring Jewish life — offering extensive personal narratives, "how-to-do-Jewish" resources, and a Network that connects interfaith families with each other and with local welcoming organizations, professionals and programs — as well as on our experience in inclusivity training and online workshops for interfaith couples.
Over the course of the first year, we plan to:
- build out the Chicago listings in our existing Network so that local interfaith couples can find each other and welcoming organizations, professionals and programs;
- personalize our existing Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service for inquiries from Chicago and help officiating clergy and the couples they serve stay connected;
- bring our existing sensitivity trainings to Chicago to improve the welcome that interfaith couples experience from Chicago Jewish organizations and professionals;
- offer the Love and Religion workshop, developed by Dr. Marion Usher at the Washington DC JCC, to help interfaith couples learn how to share religion in their lives, in a new hybrid format with some sessions online and some in-person;
- offer basic Judaism classes, also in the hybrid online/in-person format, to help Chicago interfaith couples and families learn how and why to live Jewishly;
- and collaborate with others in the field. No one organization can provide all of the resources and services that a local community's interfaith couples need. We will continue to publicize and coordinate with programs that are provided by others, or may be in the future.
We are fortunate to have Rabbi Ari Moffic directing this effort and welcome collaboration and support from all who are interested. See our press release, an explanation of the context for the initiative and more details about our plans.
The reorganization of our Resource Pages, the gateways by which most people enter our site and find help with the topics they are concerned with, continues. Check out the new design of our Shabbat Resource page, and all of our new Shabbat content, too. In addition to a beautiful new graphic design for our Shabbat Made Easy and Shabbat: What To Expect At A Synagogue booklets, we have a new Havdalah Made Easy booklet and, for quick, at your finger tips aids, both Shabbat Blessings and Havdalah Blessings that include easy to download guides to the blessings in Hebrew, English transliteration and translation and accompanying audio files.
We had the highest number of visitors we've ever had in April — an amazing 65,653, which is 34% higher than our best December traffic. They were attracted by our Passover resources: a re-designed The Passover Table Made Easy booklet, new videos on the Seder table and the Four Questions, new resources for kids and a review of a Shalom Sesame video.
For the first time, we offered content on Purim, including a new Purim Resource Page and a blog post on Slacker Hamantashen, and on Shavuot, including a new Shavuot Resource Page and Shavuot Hodgepodge blog post.
In honor of New York's legalization of same-sex marriage, we highlighted our LGBT Resource Page, including articles about, and by, people in gay/lesbian interfaith relationships and families. Benjamin also reflected on Pride in Welcoming the Stranger.
On the personal side, our second couple, Ethan and Mia, blogged about their upcoming marriage on our wedding blog, The Hitch, and we published many interesting narratives:
- Your Child Asks, What Does It Mean To Be Jewish by Leah Singer;
- A Day School Education for My Interfaith Family by Jane Larkin;
- Conducting an Interfaith Funeral by Susan Esther Barnes;
- Does It Hurt? by David Davies, writing about his conversion to Judaism;
- Removing the Stumbling Block by Jordyn Rozensky, writing about her affirmation ceremony.
Finally, checking our Network Blog regularly is a great way to keep up on news and discussions about interfaith family life happening in the media and on the web — like our coverage of Natalie Portman's baby, Sarah Silverman and her unicorn and the Pregnant in Heels reality TV show.
If you don't receive our biweekly email newsletter highlighting our newest content and would like to, click here.
Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service
Our 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 mitzvahs and even funerals. In 2010, we responded to an average of 148 inquiries a month; in the first six months of 2011, we're averaging 175!
We were very pleased to receive an officiation referral request from an interfaith couple who said they were going to be the first couple legally married in New York, at midnight on July 24, when the New York law legalizing same-sex marriage goes into effect. And we are very pleased that Rabbi Lev Baesh, the Director of our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, will be officiating at the wedding. Read all about it on our blog, and why I'm Happy and Proud.
We routinely get grateful messages like this one, from Lina P., on April 24, 2011:
Thank you so very much for your help and assistance. You as well as the clergy recommended have assisted us once again, first with our marriage and now with the birth of our son. We are greatly thankful for your efforts.
On June 7, Gail R. responded to our recommendations of rabbis to help with a bat mitzvah:
Thank you so much for these recommendations. I am sure they will be helpful in our search. Over the years I have turned to your website on numerous occasions and have always found helpful information and guidance.
We now have 430 rabbis and cantors to whom we make referrals. Interested clergy should take our Jewish clergy survey.
Network: Members, Organizations, Professionals and Events
From March through June, 445 individuals and 29 professionals created personal pages and joined the InterfaithFamily.com Network; as of the end of June, we had 2,854 members, including 487 professionals. In addition, we've had a net gain of 18 organizations listed on the Network, bringing the current total to 740. Our Director of Network Activities, Adina Matusow Davies, would 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, such as Chicago, Boston, San Francisco or Atlanta. If you are a local federation or funder and are interested in sponsoring a Community Page for your community, please contact Joanna Rothman.
Resource Centers for Jewish Clergy and for Program Providers
Karen Kushner led our fifth workshop on officiation, for clergy in San Francisco, on June 2, and did a workshop for early childhood educators in the East Bay area of San Francisco on April 7. Karen also was faculty at the Schusterman Rabbinic Fellowship in June in Philadelphia, training rabbinic students from HUC and JTS. We continue to send a monthly listserv message to over 500 participants in our Resource Center for Program Providers.
Karen Kushner and Adina Davies were exhibitors at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention in New Orleans March 26-28. I spoke at Congregation Solel in Highland Park, IL on March 25 and led a session at Limmud Chicago on March 27.
In March we reported on our seventh annual Passover/Easter survey. As in the past, about half of interfaith couples raising Jewish children said they participate in Easter celebrations, which by very large measure they see as entirely secular in nature and not confusing to their children's Jewish identity.
This year Cokie and Steve Roberts got a lot of publicity for their new book, Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families. I blogged that I Wish Cokie and Steve Roberts Were In Our Camp, because their approach to interfaith family life is different than ours — they don't recommend raising children with one religious identity or the other. Then I reviewed the book and said I liked it — including its mention of two articles from IFF. Then I interviewed Cokie and Steve, and while we had common ground on many issues, I still wish they were in our camp.
In the past four months we blogged about several issues:
- the election of Rabbi Rick Jacobs as the new president of the Reform Movement and the Reform commitment to engaging interfaith families;
- a news story about liberal rabbinic students' attitudes that prompted reflections on Young American Jews, Israel, and Intermarriage, Revisited;
- and a new study that found that children of intermarriage are more likely than are the children of two Jewish parents to volunteer.
In the twelve months ended June 30, 2011, we had 496,358 unique visitors, an increase of 25% over the twelve months ended June 30, 2010 (as measured by Google Analytics).
According to Hubspot's Website Grader, we now score higher than 99% of other websites in terms of the marketing effectiveness of our search engine optimization.
One third of our traffic is continuing to come in from paid search results on Google and from links on Facebook.
Benjamin Maron is implementing a social media strategy that expands our reach. The number of fans on our Facebook page increased from 1,119 at the end of February to 5,127 at the end of June! "Like" us on Facebook. We had 803 followers on Twitter at the end of February; at the end of June, 1,101. Follow us on Twitter.
Julie Wiener reported on our Passover/Easter survey in her In the Mix blog hosted by the New York Jewish Week newspaper. Sue Fishkoff's JTA story on the seder plate mentioned one of our articles. We were quoted in a San Diego Jewish Journal story about young adults exploring their religious identity, an AP story on talking points for engaged interfaith couples and in 21 Things Rabbis Wish Wedding Coordinators and Couples Knew About Planning a Jewish Wedding which originally appeared in Backyard Huppah and was picked up by many blogs.
- Website traffic: We had 496,358 unique visitors in the 12 months ending June 30.
- Bi-weekly email newsletter: Our June 21 email newsletter was successfully delivered to 8,296 recipients.
- Facebook Fans and Twitter followers: 5,127 and 1,101 as of June 30.
- Organizations and professionals listed on our Network: We had a net gain of 47 organizations and professionals added to our Network between March 1 and June 30, bringing the total to 1,227.
- Requests for Jewish clergy officiation referrals: In 2010 we responded to an average of 148 requests for referrals a month. For the first six months of 2011, we are averaging 175 a month!
We are often asked how we know we are having impact. Beyond these numeric measures, we get many comments like this one from Naira on April 21:
I have to say, I am really happy to read this [Interfaith Marriage: Why I Officiate by Rabbi Michael Weisser]. I am a non-Jewish woman engaged to a Jewish man whom I love dearly. One of my biggest fears has been that I will be an impediment to my fiancé being able to express his faith and engage with a community that he feels connected to. He has said many times that he wants to find a community where we both feel welcome, whether or not I convert. One can find plenty of articles online that talk about the dangers of intermarriage and compare interfaith couples to the Holocaust or Hitler. There is very little more insulting and hurtful than that comparison, particularly for those of us who are committed to understanding our partners' religion and including it in our shared lives. Reading an article that defends intermarriage and calls for welcoming non-Jewish partners is a relief to read and really does give me hope.
Our 2011 projected spending is now $1,092,000. We raised $175,000 a year for two years for the InterfaithFamily/Chicago initiative.
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
Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.