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Mid-2013 Update

July 2013

What's in this Update:

Everything is growing at InterfaithFamily (IFF)! Renewed and increased funding; a new Chair of an increasingly-national Board; a staff of 13 (all recently together at our first-ever, two-day retreat); broad, deep and popular content; ongoing advocacy for a more inclusive community; and increased interest and exciting new offerings (Interfaith Family Shabbat, an Israel trip for interfaith couples) in our IFF/Your Community model. 

 

 

InterfaithFamily/Your Community

 

We’re making great progress with our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model, which provides exactly what is needed to engage interfaith families Jewishly: an Internet platform so they can find what’s available to them, trainings of Jewish professionals to be welcoming to them, and targeted local programs and services for them – like our officiation referral service, workshops for new couples, and classes on living Jewishly.

The four funders of our Chicago project, which just completed its two-year pilot, have each renewed and increased their support for IFF. In the last six months, we've seen deepened partnerships with the JCCs of Greater Chicago and the Jewish United Fund's PJ Library, Teen Visioning, and Grandparents for Social Justice projects. Rabbi Ari Moffic, Director of IFF/Chicago, was just named to Chicago’s “36 Under 36” list of stand-out leaders with this citation: “‘making Jewish living accessible, relevant, and meaningful are the areas that drive and inspire Rabbi Moffic,’ said Amy Berger, her friend and colleague at the JUF Joyfully Jewish program.”
 

Alex Stroker, Interim CEO, Laurie Franz, IFF & Philadelphia Federation Board Member, and Ed Case at May 22 Philadelphia Federation event. Photo by Jordan Cassway
In May the Philadelphia Federation sponsored a wonderful reception honoring our merger with InterFaithways and the launch of IFF/Philadelphia. We’re excited about piloting a new element of our model: the Philadelphia Federation has awarded a grant for an Israel trip for interfaith couples and families in 2014!

Our Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family class is having real impact in Philadelphia. Our Project Manager, Robin Warsaw, started a ritual with her own young children as a result of the class: at dinner they each report on A High, a Low and a Mitzvah. Another class participant said:

We have started to have Shabbat dinners. I don't make anything fancy; we just eat what we would normally eat, but we say the prayers over the candles, wine and bread… But probably one of the most important changes we have made since starting the class is that we have decided to join a synagogue. Last Friday, we went to our very first service together as a family.
 

Jennifer Gorowitz, CEO of the San Francisco Federation, put this statement on their website:

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… [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.

We’re continuing to share learning among our local directors in a growing community of practice with evolving programs. One immediate result: we’re taking Interfaith Family Shabbat, pioneered by InterFaithways in Philadelphia, national – it’s an opportunity for synagogues and organizations to join in a statement that we will continue to build an inclusive Jewish community. 

We spoke about our model at the Washington DC Federation’s April 28 community conversation, and at the UJA-Federation of New York’s June 19 conference. Our recent essay in eJewishPhilanthropy, Supporting Interfaith Families Exploring Jewish Life, publicized our model and elicited strong interest from a new community. We’re in advanced discussions with several others to support the expansion to nine communities over the next four years called for in our Strategic Plan. We believe that IFF/Your Community is the best current opportunity the Jewish community has to engage significant numbers of interfaith families in Jewish life and community – and we are poised to capitalize on that major opportunity.

 

Learning, Connections and Advocacy

Some highlights of our core activities helping people in interfaith relationships learn about and connect with Jewish life and community, and our advocacy on their behalf:

Learning

 

Thanks to our continuing diverse and relevant content, and active social media, traffic to our website’s unparalleled base of friendly, accessible information about Jewish life and community grew to over 655,000 unique visitors in the last 12 months, an increase of 3% over the prior year, with over 123,000 repeat visitors. Since just January 1, Facebook fans grew by 21% to over 19,000 and Twitter followers by 22% to over 2,650, and we increased our bi-weekly email newsletter subscribers by 5% to more than 12,850. Our website won an American Jewish Press Association Rockower Award!

Our resources for Jewish holidays and life cycle events, all easily accessible through our re-designed Resource Pages, including our “cheat sheets,” and our re-designed Booklets all free and available to download and print, remain our most popular content, and our Animated Torahlog presented by G-dcast continued to make the weekly Torah portions relevant to our audience. In addition, in the past six months:

 

Connections

 

Our Network grew to list 1,079 organizations and 1,007 professionals that welcome interfaith families, as well as 4,814 listings of people in interfaith relationships. The Network and our content management system are now integrated with Facebook.

Since January 1 we responded to 1,121 requests from all over North America to our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service – 955 for weddings and 166 for other life cycle celebrations, including 48 for baby naming, 26 for conversion, 40 for bar and bat mitzvah, 17 for counseling, and 14 for funerals.

Advocacy

 

In an issue of Sh’ma devoted to “leaders by choice,” our Board members Mamie Kanfer Stewart contributed No Conversion Required, and Lydia Kukoff wrote Radical Choices: Conversion and Leadership. eJewishPhilanthropy published my essay, Are Interfaith Families Included in Inclusive Jewish Philanthropy? In response to "buzz" about the very worthy causes of inclusivity of Jews with disabilities and LGBT Jews, I asked when the Jewish Funders Network and the Jewish Federations of North America would partner in efforts aimed at interfaith families, which have the potential to include vastly greater numbers in Jewish life and community.

We continue to be interested in helping Conservative synagogues to be more welcoming. I spoke at Beth El Temple (where I grew up) in West Hartford CT on March 10; we published a blog post about a Conservative rabbi’s discussion of the need to work with interfaith couples getting married, and Conservative Conundrum, an article that illustrates the past personal experiences that need to be overcome.

We covered the ordaining intermarried rabbinic students issue; Naomi Schafer Riley’s book, ‘Til Faith Do Us Part; a rabbi in Kansas City who changed his position on officiation; young Jews alienated by off-putting attitudes about intermarriage; our Passover/Easter Survey; and how Israel Doesn’t Want Reform Converts. In Sadness and Hope we responded to several negative comments about intermarriage by Jewish leaders, and blogged about comments by Jane Eisner, The Forward's editor-in-chief, and J.J. Goldberg, The Forward's editor-at-large, and offered A Razzie Award for the Jewish Media.

What People Are Saying

 

We’re always gratified to receive thankful comments like these:

 
  • I found a Rabbi to officiate our wedding, one of the Rabbis in the list you sent me.  Thank you so much for providing this service!  The Rabbi I grew up with wouldn't officiate my interfaith marriage, so I was left scrambling and had no idea how to start.  We wound up choosing Rabbi C to perform our wedding, he has been incredible helping us shape a unique ceremony that incorporates both of our backgrounds. This is an incredible service you provide, it made the daunting task so much easier. – Jenna, April 16
  • For about 6 years now my heart strings have been tugging at me to convert (due to my father's heritage and me having dated a Jew and celebrated and observed High Holidays), I am now on my path to fulfilling one of my purposes in life and am starting the process of conversion at a Conservative synagogue…. I am so happy that there are organizations such as InterfaithFamily that pointed me in the right direction. Thank you... – Martha, March 5
  • As Temple… Interfaith Outreach Committee Chair, I am giving a presentation tomorrow night to our board about our Outreach committee and temple policies and am using IFF's recent research regarding "What Attracts Interfaith Families to Jewish Organizations"… to explain the "state of affairs" for today's interfaith families.  As a temple, we are in line with your policy implications.  We are also in the process of finalizing our brochure where interfaithfamily.com is used as a resource. – Cathy, February 3
  • InterfaithFamily has been the MOST helpful resource not only to me, but to my friends, the keruv group from my synagogue, and to my daughter. Thank you and your team for your continued interest and help!! – Elise, January 23
  • We are starting on a journey that neither of us know about.  With InterfaithFamily… this journey will be less bumpier [sic]. – Alex, January 11
 

We’ll be launching our 2013 User Survey in October. We’re always responding to interfaith families’ interests – the fact that this year’s Passover and Easter survey showed strong interest in Israel trips for interfaith families supported our successful request for funding for a trip for Philadelphia couples.

Board and Staff Evolution

Lynda Schwartz
New Board Chair, Lynda Schwartz; Former Board Chair, Mamie Kanfer Stewart; and new Board Member, Michael Cedillos
In October our increasingly national Board will gather in Brooklyn where InterfaithFamily's new Board Chair, Lynda Schwartz, will lead us in honoring Mamie Kanfer Stewart for five years of service as our Board Chair during a period of tremendous growth. We are also grateful to Lydia Kukoff and Dana Levenson, who have transitioned to our Advisory Board, and pleased to welcome Michael Cedillos, from Chicago, to the Board. 
 

We’re in the midst of a search for a new President position, to bolster our senior management and provide for leadership succession. We led a session at Slingshot Day on May 6 on leadership transitions.

Since January 1, Lindsey Silken joined us at the Boston headquarters as our new Managing Editor, Rabbi Robyn Frisch joined InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia as Director, and Marilyn Wacks is the new Project Manager at InterfaithFamily/San Francisco Bay Area.

Staff Retreat
We've grown to 13! All of the IFF staff at our July retreat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Financial

 

We are extremely fortunate to have a group of very supportive major institutional funders: since January 1, 2013, every one of them has made renewed and increased grants. We also became a “core grantee” of the Natan Fund. We are currently projecting income of over $1.8 million this year, against projected expense of $1.6 million.

Our funding priorities under our Strategic Plan continue to focus on building our national infrastructure so that we can respond to the increased demand for our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model: strengthening our senior management, a staff position and increased spending focused on marketing, a director for our Resource Centers for Jewish Clergy and Program Providers, additional national staff to support the local communities, additional content and development staff, web design and programming services and outside evaluation.

 

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As always, we appreciate your support and interest very much, and welcome your feedback. If you don't receive our bi-weekly email newsletter highlighting our newest content and would like to, sign up here. On Facebook? "Like" our page. On twitter? Follow @interfaithfam.

Please help us by forwarding this Update to anyone who might be interested in our work.

With best regards,

 

 

Edmund C. Case, CEO

For more information please contact Edmund Case at edc@interfaithfamily.com or 617-581-6805.

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." Hebrew for "15th of [the month of] Shevat," both a date and the name of a holiday celebrated on that date. A holiday that falls in January or February, it's the New Year for trees. 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." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A Summer holiday commemorating the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it is also known as the Feast of Weeks, as it comes seven weeks after Passover begins. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "bringing close," a term meaning Jewish outreach. 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.
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