Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
Thanks to all of you who responded to our December holidays survey.
The results are in! Earlier this morning, we sent out the following press release – let us know what you think of the findings.
Interfaith Families Participate in Secular Christmas Activities While Raising Jewish Children
BOSTON – December 14, 2011 – 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. These trends emerged from the eighth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily.com, an independent non-profit.
InterfaithFamily.com has surveyed how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the “December dilemma,” the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas, annually the past eight years. Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on interfaith families raising Jewish children participating in Christmas activities, arguing that interfaith families can’t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas. The results of InterfaithFamily.com’s surveys suggest that they in fact are doing so.
This year the percentage of interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Christmas celebrations increased to 83%, from 76% last year. These families still make clear distinctions between the holidays and are giving clear priority to Hanukkah over Christmas, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday. The overwhelming majority celebrates Hanukkah at home, while less than half celebrate Christmas at home.
Hanukkah is much more of a religious holiday for this population than is Christmas. Only 13% attend Christmas religious services and only 3% tell the Christmas story. While more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (60%) compared to last year (53%), and slightly fewer (46%) will have a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (48%), ninety percent view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature.
Many families celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered around the extended family.
Eighty percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 77% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity.
“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas is now common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “These families see their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity. We noted somewhat more Christmas celebrations on a variety of measures this year, but not of a religious nature.”
This year Christmas falls on the fifth day of Hanukkah. Despite this overlap, 62% said their holiday observances would not change. “We find it heartening,” Case said, “that many respondents noted they would bring their Hanukkah menorahs and light them at their Christian relatives’ homes.”
Other key findings on interfaith families raising Jewish children include:
Ninety-seven percent plan on celebrating Hanukkah at home, compared to 48 percent planning on celebrating Christmas there. Seventy-one percent plan on celebrating Christmas at the home of relatives.
Seventy-seven percent of the respondents participating in Christmas celebrations believe it will not affect their children’s Jewish identity.
Only 3 percent plan on telling the Christmas story at home while 48 percent plan on telling the Hanukkah story at home. Only 13 percent plan on attending religious services for Christmas.
Ninety-nine percent of respondents plan on lighting a menorah and 93 percent plan on giving gifts as part of their Hanukkah celebrations at home.
Forty-six percent plan on putting up a Christmas tree and 60 percent plan on giving gifts at home as part of Christmas.
The families are opposed to blending the two holidays. Eighty percent plan on keeping the holidays separate or mostly separate.
Six percent of the families will participate in Hanukkah celebrations in the office, versus 25 percent that plan to celebrate Christmas there.
InterfaithFamily.com is the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and the leading web based advocate for attitudes, policies and practices that welcome and embrace them.
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InterfaithFamily.com has developed a resource page for interfaith families dealing with the December holidays that includes resources such as “Handling the December Holidays: Ten Tips from InterfaithFamily.com” and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season. For more, visit http://www.interfaithfamily.com/decemberholidays.
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Do check out that full report, and let us know your thoughts!
Some very different videos to start getting you ready for this holiday season.
Let’s start with the basics. How do you spell the name of this holiday in English? And what’s the deal with latkes? From the senior citizens at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, some of the more pressing questions of the season:
A mashup of top hits from decades past (a different era for each night of Hanukkah?), rewritten to explain the history, story and rituals of Hanukkah:
I am not convinced that the American teaching agenda [of Hebrew] must be set by a dependence on Israeli teachers.
I agree! And I suspect that many parents who have or had children try to learn Hebrew in a synagogue’s religious or Hebrew school would also agree. Fluency in a language does not necessarily a teacher make.
Camps, schools and other infrastructure existed to teach children Ashkenazi Hebrew, in addition to it being the language of synagogues’ prayers. The transition to Sephardi pronunciation was gradual, and was aided by growing feelings of Zionism, the availability of Hebrew courses on college campuses taught in Sephardi Hebrew, sometimes by Israeli instructors, and other factors.
So what does that mean? The majority of Jews in the U.S. are of German and Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi). Many of them spoke Hebrew with their community’s pronunciation, which included pronouncing some “t” sounds (the Hebrew letter tav) as “s” (sav), “o” sometimes became “oy”, and “a” sometimes was “o.” There were many other differences too. (Which we’ll be sharing a resource on shortly!)
Sometimes, because of the push to standardize Hebrew in the U.S., fuelled, in part, by Zionism and a desire to align our Diaspora Jewish communities with Israel, the “old school,” Ashkenazi pronunciations are seen as backwards, stupid, and sloppy. I strongly diagree. In fact, I call that bullshis. (See what I did there?)
And here we return to the article that didn’t make the cut. Because she, and I, found it offensive. It’s archived from a URJ email discussion list, and we don’t know much about it. But the author, Burt, says in part:
Over the course of the last eight years I have discovered something deeply frustrating within our Reform congregational world. The struggle to instill a knowledge and love of standard, modern Hebrew is challenged not only by the centrifugal pulls of assimilation, the extracurricular demands on our children, the challenges of maintaining two-income households and a terminal case of “pleasure principle”, but by the persistence of archaic and inaccurate pronunciation of Liturgical Hebrew due to old habits, ce , pseudo-orthodox affect or cultural sentimentality. The widespread use of this strange half-Hebrew, half-Yiddish dialect I call Ashkebonics (the Jewish equivalent of Ebonics), subverts the proper teaching of Hebrew and exacerbates a cultural and cognitive gap with between the American Jewish Community and Israel. The fact that so many of our Jewish professionals use and reinforce Ashkebonics is to me both puzzling and deeply frustrating.
If you want to read his rant, by all means. But I’ll stop quoting there. In essence, he argues that this historical, cultural, familial Hebrew pronunciation system should be squashed once and for all. He wants to see all Americans using the Hebrew pronunciation of Israel.
Would that simplify things, help folks learn? Perhaps. Perhaps it would be less confusing if we all referred to the 25 hours of Friday evening through Saturday night as “Shabbat” instead of some people saying “Shabbos.” But then, doesn’t learning about our multitude of cultures and histories make us a stronger, deeper, more enriched community as a whole? When we recognize that there is more than one way to speak or pronounce Hebrew, just as there is more than one way to be or do Jewish, just as there is more than one way to claim Judaism as our own… the whole community benefits.
When I last blogged, I asked two questions: Do interfaith families want their own unique programs and opportunities within synagogues, JCCs and other organizations? And should we be asking more about the religious background of parents and couples in organizational membership forms? These are two important questions that we should be talking about so that Jewish institutions have best practices to follow. The key challenge, however, is that the vast majority of interfaith families are not affiliated with synagogues and other organizations, making such data hard to gather.
That truth raises my broader question of this week: how do we bring unaffiliated interfaith couples and families into Jewish organizations? This is a huge question that everyone wants to know the answer to, although communities around the country sadly have invested very little resources of time and money to try to address. The assumption behind the question is that being part of organized Jewish life leads to identification of the family as Jewish and children growing up affirming their identity. What happens in a synagogue that leads to this? Finding the answer is not easy, since studies about the effectiveness of religious school in instilling knowledge and identity is mixed. Yet, what synagogues succeed in doing is creating a context for Jewish life. The harder job is complimenting that context in the home. The best way to instill identity and an appreciation for Jewish values is to compliment what happens at home with what happens in the synagogue. At the same time, we can find new ways to strengthen Jewish life in both the home and the synagogue, recognizing that not every family will have the opportunity to maximize Jewish life in both settings.
On the synagogue side, we need to put resources into making membership open and accessible to as many families as possible and to making synagogue life as engaging, relevant and meaningful as possible. And, it makes sense to look to every model of Jewish community from synagogues with buildings, to those sharing space with other organizations, to more informal havurot (Jewish fellowship groups).
On the home front, we can continue providing opportunities for learning and engagement. To that end, we will be offering a class called Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family. Chicagoland parents will be able to take this class this spring, and it will include eight sessions online and two in-person family gatherings. The goal of the class will be to introduce and teach home traditions that can feel comfortable, spiritual and meaningful for interfaith families to incorporate into their lives. From bedtime to meal-times, from daily blessings to weekly and annual holidays, to doing good deeds, learning together, cultivating a sense of spirituality and plotting out our personal and family’s religious journeys, there is much parents with young children can do to bring Jewish traditions and customs into their regular parenting. I hope many interfaith families will register for this class and carve out time over two months to think about and experiment with their own home observances. When interfaith families consciously engage with Judaism in the home, children will internalize the holiness inherent in struggling, learning and compromise and come out richer people for being part of that ride.
Basically, the Israeli government wants to convince its citizens to remain in, or return to, Israel. That’s not so bad – most countries likely share that desire. So the government has launched a campaign, targeting Israelis living in the US. Jeffrey makes some suggestions for great campaign slogans:
How about, “Hey, come back to Israel, because our unemployment rate is half that of the U.S.’s”? Or, “It’s always sunny in Israel”? Or, “Hey, Shmulik, your mother misses you”?
Unfortunately, this isn’t the route taken by Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Instead, they’re running ads that claim Israelis will lose their Jewish identities if they stay in the US too long. Worse,
The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America — one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they’re celebrating, she says “Christmas.” In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day.
So here are the videos. The translation of the Hebrew text at the end is mine.
They always remain Israeli.
Their children do not.
Help them return to Israel.
They always remain Israeli.
Their spouses do not always understand what that means.
Help them return to Israel.
I watched the videos, read the article, and was amazed and disgusted. Forget intermarriage, these ads seem to be saying that Israeli Jews shouldn’t marry American Jews!
I wasn’t sure what else to say about it. Thankfully, Jeffrey came to the rescue there too:
The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik (if you don’t mind me resorting to the vernacular). The message is: Dear American Jews, thank you for lobbying for American defense aid (and what a great show you put on at the AIPAC convention every year!) but, please, stay away from our sons and daughters.
2. A clip from Samon Koletkar’s “Mahatma Moses Comedy Tour,” during which he discsusses being a Jew in America. (Warning, he also drops the “r” word, too many times, at the end. To counter that, a PSA from Glee‘s Becky and Sue.)
Both quantitative and qualitative studies have found that if the intermarried Jew is a woman, the children will more likely be raised Jewish. Further, intermarried Jewish men stand a greater chance of raising children to identify as Jews if the organized Jewish community will count those children as Jews.
Intermarried Jewish men can raise Jewish children as effectively as intermarried Jewish women provided they are able to integrate work and family, currently a national challenge evident by President Barack Obama urging ìTake time to be a dad, today.î Increasing the contemporary understanding of the relationship between gender, religion and culture will be what determines how Jewish is the Jewish population in the future.
5. Last week, I was unable to go to the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. (Luckily, Joanna and Ed were able to go and represent InterfaithFamily.com.) There, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer gave the opening address, bravely (given his audience) talking about how “continuity” should not be the Jewish community’s focus. Instead, he suggested, it should be learning. From the op-ed version of his speech:
Jews, like all people, are searching for meaning, substance and connection. The more we are inundated with e-mails, status updates and tweets, the more we want to go deeper. Our souls are calling out for engagement; our hearts are crying out to be opened.
Judaism, at its core, is a response to that yearning, an answer to that call. What are we “continuing” with our calls for “continuity”? Why does Judaism need a future? Because Judaism offers a system, a covenantal language, a heritage and tradition that responds to the human need for meaning, substance and connection. It is our system, our language, our heritage; it is relevant, and that is the reason that we need a Jewish future.
We Jews have a word for the pathway to meaning, substance and connection. It is called Torah. I don’t just mean the Torah scroll that sits alone in the ark, or even just the words of the five books of Moses. I mean the sum total of Jewish sources and texts — the wisdom stored up in our textual heritage.
One of the highlights of my new work as Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago has been meeting with area rabbis and educators. We have been having the most interesting discussions about the families in our communities, the meaning of religiosity and identity today, whether interfaith families want programming just for them, how to bring in the 85% of interfaith families in our midst who are unaffiliated, and more.
Over and over, I’m hearing the same questions asked. If you are in an interfaith family or are a Jewish professional interested in working with interfaith families, you can respond to either or both of these questions by leaving comments.
1. Do interfaith families who are members of a synagogue want their own programming?
Some Jewish professionals I have met with feel that the interfaith families who are members of their synagogues have already worked out these issues. They no longer need the support of other interfaith families as they talk about these issues easily and freely at regular synagogue programming and while milling around with other parents during religious school.
In addition, I have heard the notion that all members of a synagogue could benefit equally from, and enjoy, a “how to do Shabbat” program, an “introduction to Jewish Thought” type classes, a “parenting with spirituality” course, or the like.
2. Should we be asking more about a family’s background on a membership form?
Some synagogues ask about both partners’ religious backgrounds on membership forms and keep an email list of interfaith families (those families that have one parent who is not Jewish or did not grow up Jewish). Synagogues email these families for interfaith havurot, discussion groups, etc.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy creates an atmosphere in which the clergy and professionals at the synagogue don’t know much about the religious backgrounds of the parents and cannot engage them in conversations that would be relevant and pertinent to their own situations. Sometimes one partner only considers conversion when he or she is actually approached. The idea of being too scared to broach these topics, for fear of offending people, cuts us off from real conversations and opportunities for exploration.
These are just two of the many questions we have been talking about. I look forward to hearing your feedback and comments.
At IFF we are always interested in who our users are, and in what they are looking for and whether they find it with us. We’re especially interested in our impact, and so are our funders and Jewish professionals with whom we seek to work: are we changing the attitudes and behaviors of people in interfaith relationships, and of Jewish leaders?
Every two years we do an online user survey – so far, we haven’t had funding to have an independent consultant do an evaluation for us – and we’re issuing a press release today on our 2011 User Survey Report. The results are very, very positive.
Some key points about our users (referring to site visitors who responded to the survey):
• More than 85% are either intermarried, interdating, the parents of intermarried children, or the children of intermarried parents; 14% are professionals. We’d like to reach more men (currently only 19% of users) and children of intermarried parents (currently just 9%).
• 13% come to the site for help finding a rabbi to officiate or co-officiate at their wedding or other life cycle event – reaffirming the importance of our Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service.
• Over the past year, we’ve been really ramping up our “how-to-do-Jewish” materials, with booklets, videos, audio files, downloadable blessings, articles and more. In 2011 many more users are coming to the site for those materials – 35% came for information about Jewish holidays, for example, compared to just 25% in 2009. I don’t know whether more are coming because we’re offering more, but clearly there is an interest and need for the kinds of materials we’re providing. Almost half are interested in the booklets that we began to offer in 2010.
• Many users are interested in the social networking-related functions that our Network offers – information about local events (45%), listings of local professionals (40%), meeting other interfaith families online (24%). More than 50% of professional users are interested in the kinds of resource materials and trainings that our Resource Center for Program Providers is offering and developing for clergy, synagogues and other organizations.
• Intermarried couples with children at home report that IFF had positive influence on the factors that we believe lead to Jewish choices: knowledge about Jewish life (79%), interest in Jewish life (72%), and comfort participating in Jewish life (59%), as well as feeling welcomed by Jewish communities (54%).
• Intermarried couples with children at home also report that IFF had positive influence on their Jewish choices, including participation in Jewish rituals and life-cycle events (62-69%), deciding to join a synagogue (34% — up from just 24% in 2009), and deciding to send children to Jewish education classes (32% — up from 25% in 2009).
• Jewish professionals report that IFF has helped them to see interfaith families in a more positive light (71%) and to develop welcoming policies and practices (57%).
• Almost one third of users are interested in workshops for new interfaith couples about how to have religion in their lives and in classes on raising children with Judaism in interfaith families and adding value to their lives through Jewish practices – the programs we will be offering in 2012 as part of our InterfaithFamily/Chicago pilot initiative.
As members of the Jewish community settled into their seats recently at Yom Kippur services, everyone had a pretty good idea of what to expect. It’s the annual spiritual cleansing, dedicated to recognizing a long list of human failings — from jealousy to gluttony to gossip.
But in many Reform synagogues across Chicago and the nation, the faithful heard something that had nothing to do with atonement and everything to do with celebration: a blessing for non-Jewish spouses.
“We want to tell you how much you matter to our congregation and how very grateful we are for what you have done.”
With that one line, sleepers suddenly snapped to attention.
At synagogues large and small, the myriad paths traveled were recognized. “Some of you are living a Jewish life in virtually all respects,” the blessing continued. “Some are devoutly committed to another faith. Some of you do not define yourself as religious at all.”
But by agreeing to raise Jewish offspring — “giving up the joy of passing your own religious traditions down to your kids” — the non-Jewish parent ensured a future for a very small tribe, the tribute said.
The blessing also cited other contributions: Driving Hebrew school carpool, nagging kids to get up on Sunday mornings, learning to make kugel (a noodle pudding) and latkes (potato pancakes), and even trying to like gefilte fish (an acquired taste, exempt from any marriage vows).
“With all our hearts, we want to thank you for your generosity and strength of spirit in making the ultimate gift to the Jewish people.”
It’s wonderful to hear such a public thank you as blessing!
“You should have told me that I was going to need Kleenex,” Lauren Kern told Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, after services at B’nai Yehuda Beth Shalom in Homewood. Back in 1985, when she married her lapsed Christian husband, John, neither could have envisioned such inclusiveness.
Tears were also on hand at Oak Park Temple, where Rabbi Max Weiss led the congregation in paying tribute to some 75 to 100 spouses. The morning after, Weiss received a flurry of email. “I doubt that spouses make this commitment with the expectation or even the need of thanks,” wrote one woman. “And that’s what makes it even more important.”
Has your congregation thanked non-Jewish spouses in a similar way? Does your community have other ways of showing thanks and inclusion? Let us know!
It’s been a while since I last blogged in hodgepodge style. With the fall holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, sukkot/Sukkot_and_Simchat_Torah.shtml">Sukkot and SimchatTorah) behind us, a new year begun and so many interesting things happening the the Jewish community and wider communities around us, it seemed like a great time to share some interesting articles and blog posts that I’ve come across. Let me know what you think!
1. In the Creation story in Genesis (the first book of the Torah), we read that a snake tricked Eve into tasting a “forbidden fruit” (and she, in turn, gave it to Adam to eat). On DovBear, they wonder what the unnamed fruit might have been. With 125 comments so far, this is far from an easy question to answer. Apple? Maybe. Figs? Perhaps. What about a pomegranate?
4. Many organizations, including ours, examinestatistics, look to data to know if we’re having an impact. One such source was the last national Jewish population survey, done in 2000-2001. Over ten years later, another study hasn’t come along to update those numbers. Gary Rosenblatt, in The Jewish Week, asks, How Many U.S. Jews, And Who Cares?
5. You know who cares? Pat Buchanan. And he seems to have it all figured out. “In his new book, Suicide Of A Superpower, Pat Buchanan takes a look at the Jewish population of the United States and concludes that Americans Jews are disappearing because they decided, as a group, to have lots and lots of abortions.” Seriously. He blames the Jewish women who were among the leaders of the feminist movement and… oy, just read about it all here.
6. And in Israel a campaign has been launched, encouraging “parents of non-Jewish children to inform them of their [non-Jewish] status in childhood.” This stems from patrilineal descent, largely among Israel’s Russian population. And the implication, according to the campaign, is that patrilineal descent Jews are finding out that they’re “not Jewish” as adults, which means they need to convert to Judaism in order to get married. I wonder if this is a common issue or discovery in North America, where the Reform movement also holds by patrilineal descent?