2012 was a year of tremendous growth for InterfaithFamily (IFF). We are especially excited about the expansion of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, and our core learning, connections, and advocacy activities grew as well. Thanks to our generous funders we're on solid financial footing — and with significant additional investment we could capitalize on a major opportunity to transform the Jewish community's response to intermarriage to the positive.
There is growing consensus — including a group of national funders in 2008 and the UJA Federation of New York in 2011 — that engaging interfaith families Jewishly requires three things: an Internet platform so couples and families can find what's available to them, trainings for Jewish professionals to be welcoming to them, and targeted local programs for them. InterfaithFamily/Your Community provides exactly what is needed.
In its evaluation of the first year of our InterfaithFamily/Chicago pilot, JESNA said, "IFF/Chicago has begun to establish itself as the ‘go-to' place for resources to address interfaith issues or questions." Among JESNA's findings:
- Our workshops for new couples about how to make decisions about religious traditions, and our classes about raising children with Judaism, "raised the participants' comfort level in incorporating Jewish practice into their family life, and many respondents indicated that they are interested in learning more about Judaism and Jewish practice."
- 64% of non-professional respondents believe that IFF/Chicago is helping interfaith couples and families make connections to the Chicago Jewish community.
- 65% of clergy and professionals said their connection with IFF/Chicago led to increased awareness of issues facing interfaith couples and families.
In September, with increased funding from our major foundation supporters, we added Stacie Garnett-Cook to our staff as National Director of IFF/Your Community. In October we launched IFF/San Francisco, with funding gathered primarily by the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and we also launched IFF/Philadelphia, by merging a local organization, InterFaithways, into IFF, with support from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. We added two local Board members, Bill Schwartz and Laurie Franz, and the merger was the subject of a great story in the Jewish Exponent.
In January 2013 we had the first in-person meeting of our IFF/Your Community staff, with all three local Community Directors coming to Boston for two days of training and collaboration. We are creating a community of practice of people who will have extensive experience working with interfaith couples and families.
We spoke about our model at a session at the Jewish Federation of North America's General Assembly in November, and with several communities that are interested in bringing IFF/Your Community to their locales. Our Board has approved a Strategic Plan that calls for expansion to nine communities over the next four years. 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
We hope you like our new logo and tagline.
Although we'll always be web-based, we dropped the ".com" from our name because of the growth of our local on-the-ground programs and services. Our new tagline instantly conveys what we offer to our end users. We support interfaith families exploring Jewish life by helping them learn about and connect with Jewish life and community, and advocating on their behalf:
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 653,390 unique visitors, with over 121,000 repeat visitors. December 2012 was our best month ever, with 78,931 unique visitors. Facebook fans grew by 77% to 15,810 and Twitter followers by 52% to 2,195. We increased our bi-weekly email newsletter subscribers by 40% to 12,220.
Some highlights of the content that brought people to the site:
- We completed new designs and updated text for our accessible booklets for interfaith couples and families explaining Jewish holidays and life cycle events, all free and available to download and print from www.interfaithfamily.com/booklets. We also switched all our Resource Pages to their new format, and added a new one for Spirituality. The Jewish Denominations Resource Page, for example, explains the differences between the different streams of Judaism.
- We expanded resources for learning Shabbat and other holiday blessings, plus blessings for other times in our lives. We broke down the different trends in ketubot, making the wedding documents more accessible to all types of interfaith couples.
- We celebrated food — matzah ball soup or gefilte fish, anyone?
- We're thrilled that G-dcast is contributing a new Animated Torahlog to our site, blogging the weekly Torah portions with animated videos and contemporary perspectives.
- Recognizing that language can be a stumbling block for folks wanting to learn more about Judaism, we created a Jewish Language Cheat Sheet and completely overhauled the glossary on our site.
- We published a wide range of articles, including What To Discuss Before the Wedding About Life After the Wedding; Same-Sex, Interfaith and Procreating; Eight Nights of Hanukkah Family Time; Welcoming Esther: A Simchat Bat; and Convervsion, Shared Spirituality and the Memorial Prayer.
Our Network grew to list 1,029 organizations and 863 professionals that welcome interfaith families, as well as 3,863 listings of people in interfaith relationships, extending four years' of growth:
We responded to 2,127 requests from all over North America to our free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service — 1,854 for weddings and 273 for baby naming, conversion, bar or bat mitzvah, counseling, and funerals.
We added resource materials to our Resource Center for Program Providers and our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, spoke at numerous venues, including the Jewish Federations of North America's TribeFest and General Assembly, and conducted our annual Passover and December Holidays surveys.
Local Jewish community studies like New York's do not address what factors attract interfaith families to engage in Jewish life — but our holiday surveys do. In September we issued an important report on what we've learned from our surveys, and had op-eds on that report published in the New York Jewish Week and Huffington Post.
Jewish community studies like New York's have also started to report on the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees, but say their data doesn't show what that "means" to the families; we issued a press release about the results of our ninth annual December Holidays survey that is filled with answers to exactly that question.
What People Are Saying
Once again, we've been included in the Slingshot guide as one of the fifty most innovative Jewish organizations, recognized for the second year as a "Standard Bearer." The Slingshot guide write-up has a wonderful quote:
IFF is a perpetual innovator. Most recently, its work with InterfaithFamily/Your Community, expanding its impact beyond the already powerful website, is just another result of an ongoing drive to learn and grow. As one of the only organizations making waves in this space, the potential impact on the Jewish community is significant.
We're always gratified to receive thankful comments like these:
- I am the product of an interfaith family, value Judaism, and am now marrying someone not Jewish, but want to keep a connection to the history, faith and community. Just wanted to say thanks for the Wedding Guide — so helpful! And also, thank you so much for the statement — over the years of varying levels of engagement with temples/Jewish organizations I have encountered a lot of resentment of people who aren't Jewish on both sides, and it made me feel really happy to see a Jewish organization committed to being welcoming. — August 2012 post on IFF's Facebook page
- My fiance and I have chosen to use Rabbi M as our wedding officiant. We were put into contact with her through your referral service. We can already tell from our first meeting that Rabbi M is warm, thoughtful, and lovely to work with. We are very much looking forward to our wedding ceremony with Rabbi M! — Lisa W, November 2012
- This story [My Journey to Judaism] is an inspiration to me. For the past two years I have been struggling with the decision to declare my identity as a Jew. My father is Jewish, and my mother is Catholic. All of my life, even when I sat in Sunday school at 9 years old, I felt that I was Jewish, though I knew little about the faith. I've been studying it, learning Hebrew, and going to services with my father, but I'm still really scared about officially converting. Your story has helped me feel at ease with my journey, and I thank you. — Kyoung, August 2012
We do a User Survey every two years and are due for one in 2013. We're always exploring interfaith families' interests — the Passover and Easter survey currently underway is testing interest in trips to Israel for groups of interfaith families.
We had a very strong 2012 financially. We raised income of almost $1,313,000 compared to expense of $1,314,000. Our institutional supporters in 2012 include the Marcus Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, Lippman Kanfer Family Foundation, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund (San Francisco), Lawrence and Anne Rubenstein Charitable Foundation, Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, Natan Fund, Keel Foundation, Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Max and Tillie Rosenn Foundation, and a private gift.
Our merger with InterFaithways was effective as of December 31, 2012. We have funding available for the year, raised primarily by the InterFaithways Board, which we are fortunate to have continuing as our InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia Advisory Council. Support for the merger comes from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the family of InterFaithways' founder Leonard Wasserman, and several generous individuals.
We are currently projecting 2013 expense of $1,606,000 and income of $1,780,000. As a result of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community expansion, we are seeing a broadening of our funding base, with less reliance on foundations, and more support from federations and individuals.
In October our Board approved a new Strategic Plan, developed with the help of Yvonne Randle of Management Systems. We need to build our national infrastructure so that we can respond to the increased demand for our InterfaithFamily/Your Community model. Our priorities include 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 content staff, and development support.
* * * * *
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