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Contact:Â Liz Polay-Wettengel, National Director of Marketing and Communications
INTERFAITHFAMILY RECEIVES $250,000 GRANT FROM THE JEWISH COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF
(Newton, MA)âInterfaithFamily is honored to be the recipient of a Cutting Edge Grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. The grant of $250,000 over three years enables InterfaithFamily to start a new project, InterfaithFamily/Los Angeles, to coordinate and provide a range of services and programs aimed at engaging local interfaith families Jewishly.
âWe are delighted to support this innovative program connecting families to resources that will enable them to incorporate Jewish traditions and engage in Jewish life,â said Marvin Schotland, President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation.
âWe believe the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative is the single best opportunity we have to engage significant numbers of interfaith families in Jewish life and community,â said Lynda Schwartz, IFF Board Chair. âInterfaithFamily/Los Angeles will be a âcrown jewelâ in our growing network of local communities working on this most important issue for the Jewish future. We are deeply grateful to the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles for making this possible.â
About The Foundation
We here at InterfaithFamily believe, like the rabbis of old, that language is extremely important. The rabbis of the Talmud wrote about the power of words. God created the world with words. God said, âLet there beâŚâ and there was. The rabbis said that to embarrass someone was akin to killing their soul (bringing blood to the face). They spoke against lashon harah (gossipâliterally the evil tongue). There are prayers about guarding our tongues from evil and our lips from deceit. The Amidah, the central prayer in the Jewish worship service, begins with a line asking God to open our lips that our mouth can declare Godâs glory. The old adage, âsticks and stones can break our bones but words can never hurt usâ is indeed not very Jewish. The words âthingâ and âwordâ in Hebrew share the same root âdâvarâ teaching that our words create reality.
It is because words are so important that you may notice that we avoid using the term, ânon-Jewâ because we donât promote the idea that someone can be a ânon-entity.â We rather say, âsomeone not Jewish.â You may feel that this is just semantics, but we disagree.
Many Jewish institutions ask people if they are affiliated with a congregation on membership forms and surveys. The Jewish world wants to know who is a member of a synagogue and what behaviors they have as opposed to people who are not members of a synagogue. We are also interested in tracking synagogue membership for dozens of other reasons (although the topic of another blog, I personally believe it is extremely difficult to raise children with Judaism without the help of a congregation or organized community whether school, community center or chavurah).
Here are my top five reasons for not using the word âunaffiliatedâ anymore:
Language matters. Labels matter. This is how people end up feeling connected or disconnected. If we stop calling people âunaffiliatedâ and start talking about who they are, what they are interested in or what would make them want to join or help create an organized Jewish community, we may find more answers.
One of my favorite things about living in the Northeastern United States is apple picking. Relating to the Rosh Hashanah tradition of eating apples and honey, an apple picking event is a wonderful opportunity to build community.
In mid-September, InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia co-sponsored an apple picking event on a Sunday morning in Chester County with jkidphilly. It was a beautiful day and the orchard (Highland Orchards) was a wonderful spot. I was fortunate enough to be working with Robyn Cohen from jkidphilly and we assisted the kids in making a fun craft.
Did you know that with a small plastic horn blower and a paper plate, kids can make their own shofar? The kids decorated the paper plates with apple stickers and crayons and behold, the shofars were fabulous. The kids could make some noise with their new shofars and it didnât bother anyone! And if they got a little âenergeticâ there was a playground right next to our picnic tables for them to let off a little joyous energy.
The parents and kids were able to mingle and learn a little about the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. I particularly love the comparison of a shofar to an alarm clockâwaking us up from our daily activities and alerting us to the new possibilities of the fall, a New Year and renewed spirit. There is something special about the fall sunshine on an orchard that warms the soul. Apples are so sweet and the kids love being involved in harvesting the fruits of their labor. There were over 25 families who attended the pre-Rosh Hashanah apple picking in Chester County. If you are interested in attending similar events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!
[This piece, by Edmund Case and Jodi Bromberg, was published in eJewishPhilathropy on September 11, 2014.]
Taglit-Birthright Israel may well be the most effective program ever designed and implemented to strengthen Jewish engagement among young Jews. A just-released study confirms many positive impacts of Birthright Israel on marriage and family choices.
At InterfaithFamily we greatly appreciate that participation in Birthright Israel is open to young adult Jews whose parents are intermarried; the new study says that 17% of participants from 2001 to 2006 have one Jewish parent and that recent trip cohorts include a larger proportion of those individuals. We have published several articles by trip participants about their very positive trip experiences and hope they have had some effect in alleviating any concerns children of intermarried parents might have about whether they will be truly welcomed. Our staff have participated in training Birthright Israel tour operators to be sensitive to participants whose parents are intermarried and have advised Birthright Israel staff on sensitive questions to determine trip eligibility. We seek to promote Birthright Israel Next activities where we have local staff in our InterfaithFamily/Your Communities â currently Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Boston, and coming in the fall of 2014 in Los Angeles and Atlanta.
We support Birthright Israel because it strengthens Jewish engagement among young Jews and in particular young Jews whose parents are intermarried. A 2009 evaluation study found that 52% of trip participants who were intermarried viewed raising children as Jews as very important, almost twice as many as 27% of non-participants. The new study again reports higher percentages of intermarried trip participants than non-participants having that view. The new study reports that the group of intermarried trip participants who have children at this time is too small to assess the impact of Birthright Israel on actual child raising; the authors do say it is possible that an impact will surface in the future, and that is what we fully expect to see. Higher percentages of intermarried trip participants than non-participants also have a special meal on Shabbat, attend religious services, and are otherwise engaged Jewishly.
The new study focuses on marriage choices and highlights that trip participants are more likely (72%) to marry other Jews than non-participants (55%). It finds that the impact of participation on marriage choices of participants whose parents are intermarried is âparticularly striking;â for them, the likelihood of in-marriage is 55%, compared to 22% of non-participants whose parents are intermarried.
At InterfaithFamily we think it is wonderful when a young adult Jew falls in love and partners with or marries another Jew. That more participants on Birthright Israel trips marry Jews, and more participants whose parents are intermarried marry Jews, are very positive results. We also think Jewish communities need to genuinely welcome all newly-formed families, whether both partners are Jewish or not. Offering a sincere âmazel tovâ is the first of many needed steps that can contribute to interfaith couples deciding to engage in Jewish life and community.
We donât doubt the studyâs conclusion that Birthright Israel has âthe potential to alter broad demographic patterns of the American Jewish communityâ and change trends of in-marriage, intermarriage and raising Jewish children. We also donât doubt that significant numbers and percentages of young adult Jews â whether they have the great good fortune to participate on a Birthright Israel trip or not â will continue to intermarry. In the new study, of all trip participants who are married, 28% are intermarried. Of participants who are married whose parents are intermarried, 45% are intermarried. The studyâs authors note that some evidence suggests that the magnitude of the marriage choice effects may moderate over time â the likelihood of in-marriage decreases for participants as their age at marriage increases, and participants tend to marry later.
Further, large numbers of young adult Jews have not participated and sadly will not participate on a Birthright Israel trip. A large number of young adult Jews have already aged out of eligibility. It would be truly wonderful if resources could be raised and more young Jews attracted to participate on Birthright Israel trips, so that the annual number of participants would represent more than the current one-third of the eligible age cohort. Even if half or two thirds of those eligible could participate, a significant percentage still would not. At the studyâs current rates, close to half of non-participants will intermarry.
The studyâs authors note that discussion of the Pew Report âhas, for the most part, ignored the contribution of improved and expanded Jewish education programs âŚ to both the current contours of American Jewry and to its future trajectory.â The authors are referring in particular to Israel education programs, but they clearly believe that Jewish education programs work. At InterfaithFamily we believe it is imperative to offer Jewish education programs designed for and marketed explicitly to interfaith families â whether they participated in a Birthright Israel trip or not â like those offered as part of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative. The study includes numerous quotes from its survey respondents about their memorable Jewish experiences including Shabbat and holidays; our Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family class elicits multiple examples of the same kinds of comments. The study also notes that intermarried survey participants who had a sole Jewish officiant at their wedding were far more likely to be raising their children Jewish than those who had another type of officiation at their weddings; thatâs why our personalized officiation referral service is so important.
Again, Birthright Israel may well be the most effective program ever designed to strengthen Jewish engagement among young Jews, and we wish it great continued success, especially in attracting and strengthening Jewish engagement among young Jews with intermarried parents. Services and programs designed explicitly for interfaith families are badly needed too, and can work together with and in mutual support of Israel engagement programs, all with a goal of greater engagement in Jewish life and community.