News Roundup

In case you missed it, some interesting news pieces from the past week:

1: The Chicago Tribune ran a thorough article about the complications and hurdles lesbian couples face when trying to start a family, especially while state and federal laws differ in permission and scope. That the couple in the article is interfaith could certainly be an extra complication.

At first glance, Jennifer Snyder and Linda Borchew could not have been more different. Borchew grew up in Des Plaines and is Jewish. Snyder was raised Presbyterian in a one-stoplight town in central Illinois.

It also brought to mind two recent articles by Susan Goldberg, published on InterfaithFamily.com, about lesbian couples, parenting and the role of religion.

2: In the really random interdating news world, it turns out that Sandra Fluke is dating a Jew. To refresh your memory, Fluke came into the news at the end of February when Rush Limbaugh declared that her support of free, mandated contraceptives at Georgetown University made her a “prostitute” or a “slut.” Even more random: somehow dating a Jewish guy (Adam Mutterperl) means Fluke, by association, is part of the evil “socialist” Jewish mafia (aka, the Jewish Federations of North America).

3: If you live in the Sacramento area, you likely were super excited by the March 2012 / Adar 5772 edition of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region‘s newsletter. The spread of pages 10-11 is all about interfaith families. We get a nice shout out in “Welcoming all into the Jewish community.” It’s a good read!

4: Thanks to the five InterfaithFamily.com readers who sent this New York Times article to me. An Ohio youth of mixed heritage (“His father is black and Baptist from Georgia and his mother is white and Jewish from Iowa”), was the first person of color to win the world championship for Irish dancing, and he has won the contest for three straight years.

“They said, ‘We never thought it would happen, but we’re thrilled that it did,’ ” said Drew’s mother, Andee Goldberg. She added, “They don’t even know he’s Jewish. That hasn’t been broached. I think it would be too overwhelming.”

Good News (x2) for InterfaithFamily

We are extremely pleased to report that the Natan Fund has awarded InterfaithFamily.com a renewal grant for 2012. Natan’s announcement in eJewishPhilanthropy.com explains that Natan is a network of about 80 young philanthropists who pool their charitable resources and collaborate to make grants to emerging Jewish and Israeli nonprofit organizations. Natan received 350 letters of inquiry and made 47 grants to express “Natan members’ unwavering commitment to supporting innovative initiatives that aretransforming 21st-century Jewish life.” Board chair David Steinhardt says, “Natan continually takes risks on new ideas, new people and new initiatives, while at the same time remaining committed to current grantees that are demonstrating success.” We’re thrilled that the young funders participating in Natan have re-affirmed their confidence in the importance of IFF’s work.

Cindy Sher, Editor of Chicago’s Jewish newspaper JUF News, wrote a great article about InterfaithFamily/Chicago last week, Navigating Jewish living with interfaith families. She interviewed two Chicagoland interfaith couples, features our Love and Religion workshop that started last week and our Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family class that is starting at the end of the month, and highlights that “IFF/Chicago has teamed up with several Chicago-area Jewish organizations on interfaith programming, including PJ Library, the JCC’s Shure Kehilla program, and the Community Foundation for Jewish Education’s Principal Kallah.” We are very pleased with the progress of our InterfaithFamily/Chicago pilot and excited about the opportunities to replicate it in other communities.

Interfaith Families Prefer Programs Marketed as “For Interfaith Families”

At InterfaithFamily.com we’ve always believed that programs designed and marketed explicitly as “for interfaith families” — sometimes called “targeted” programs — are very effective in engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community. We’ve argued that the Boston Jewish community sees 60% of interfaith families raising their children as Jews in part because it is one of the few local communities that offers targeted programs. We’ve been dismayed at how little targeted programming is offered around the country, and with our InterfaithFamily/Chicago initiative we are piloting an approach that could turn that situation around.

We think that one of the reasons so little targeted programming is offered is that too many people have the notion that interfaith families are not interested in targeted programming, that they don’t want to be “segregated,” that they prefer to attend general programs for everyone. We’ve always believed that while some interfaith families don’t want to be singled out and prefer general programs, many others are interested in programs designed specifically for them, or in attending programs where they will find others like them. We’ve always believed that when couples first put a toe in the water of Jewish life and community, they are likely to be more comfortable with others like them, while later on they may no longer feel that need. These beliefs have often been dismissed as mere “anecdotes.”

Two years ago, we started adding questions to our annual December Holidays and Passover/Easter surveys, in an effort to get some data on what interfaith families really do prefer. We finally analyzed the data in four surveys, and the responses of just under 500 intermarried parents raising their children as Jews confirm what we believed: significant percentages of interfaith families are interested in targeted programs and are attracted to organizations that offer them.

We’re issuing a press release tomorrow, and posting it below. You can find the full report on the surveys here.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Edmund Case, edc@interfaithfamily.com, 617-581-6805

Surveys Reveal That Interfaith Families Prefer To Attend Programs Marketed As “For Interfaith Families” Attracted To Jewish Organizations That Offer Targeted Programs As Well As Programs For Everyone

(Newton, MA) – October 19, 2011 – Jewish communities and organizations offer very few programs that are designed and explicitly marketed as “for interfaith families.” Many Jewish professionals say that interfaith families do not want to be “singled out” and prefer to attend Jewish programs that are for everyone. New surveys by InterfaithFamily.com (IFF) reveal for the first time that in fact, interfaith families are attracted to Jewish organizations and synagogues that offer programs marketed as “for interfaith families” and prefer to attend programs targeted to them as well as general programs for everyone.

Respondents to InterfaithFamily.com’s annual Passover/Easter and December Holidays Surveys starting in December 2009 were asked whether they preferred to attend programs described as “for interfaith families” or programs for everyone, and what attracted them to Jewish organizations and synagogues.
• Out of 498 responses from people who were intermarried and were raising their children Jewish, 13% said they preferred programs “for interfaith families” – and another 64% said that it “depends on the program.”
• Fully 88% of respondents said that it was “important” in attracting them to a Jewish organization or synagogue that it offered programs described as “for interfaith families,” with almost three-quarters saying it was “a lot” or “somewhat” important. 
• In the most recent survey, 61% said that the program title “Raising a Jewish Child in Your Interfaith Family” would be more likely to interest them than the title “Raising a Jewish Child.”

“Our survey responses are illustrative of the attitudes and behaviors of interfaith families who are interested in Jewish life: significant percentages of them are interested in programs that are marketed as ‘for interfaith families’ and are attracted to synagogues and Jewish organizations that offer such programs,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. Respondents explained the reasons behind their preferences:
• they want to be with and share stories with others like them;
• interfaith families have unique issues and some topics are best addressed in interfaith family specific programs;
• programs for interfaith families are more comfortable for partners who are not Jewish.
Some pointed out that when interfaith couples start out, they may be more interested in interfaith family specific programs, than when they feel more integrated. And some pointed out that the fact that an organization offers programs for interfaith families is important as a statement that interfaith families are welcome.

The need for explicitly targeted programs at a wide range of Jewish organizations and especially at our gateway portals like Jewish Community Centers has increased and will continue to increase as interfaith relationships continue to grow and the population of adult children of interfaith marriages of the 80’s and 90’s reaches maturity and considers their religious choices. “This is an opportunity that the Jewish community ignores at its peril,” said Karen Kushner, the director of InterfaithFamily.com’s Resource Center for Program Providers. “Attracting interfaith couples and families to Jewish programming successfully will determine the Jewish future of the children of today and tomorrow.”

About InterfaithFamily.com
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. Visit www.InterfaithFamily.com.

We Need Your Help (We’ll Make It Worthwhile)!

Every now and again, once upon a third blue moon, infrequently*, we turn to our readers and ask for help.

We’re not asking for a donation (though, if you find our resources useful, subscribe to our bi-weekly eNewsletter, share our articles with friends and family, or otherwise want to support the work we, a non-profit, do to advocate for interfaith families, we wouldn’t say no to a donation!), we’re just asking for a few minutes of your time.

In order to make sure that the work we are doing (the articles we publish, resources we create, downloads and synagogue/What_To_Expect_At_A_Synagogue_-_Video.shtml:dni5xdlk">multimedia content we make available; the free Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service; the  Resource Center for Jewish Clergy and Resource Center for Program Providers with tips and advice for professionals, the in person trainings we offer; our mission… everything!) is what you actually want and need, we would greatly appreciate your spending a few minutes to fill out our User Survey.

And, as if helping us out isn’t reason enough (don’tcha feel warm and fuzzy?) we’ll make it worth your while: take our User Survey and you could win a $500 Am/Ex gift card!

Thanks for helping!

*[sub]in other words, every two years[/sub]

More on InterfaithFamily/Chicago

There’s been a lot of interest since we announced InterfaithFamily/Chicago yesterday. We expect to make an announcement in June that we’ve hired a Director and that work will get started as of July 1. In the meantime, here is some more information about the project.

The objectives of IFF/Chicago are:
• People in interfaith relationships are aware of and connected with Chicago Jewish community resources;
• People are aware that the Chicago Jewish community welcomes interfaith families;
• Jewish professionals and organizations are trained to attract, welcome and engage people in interfaith relationships;
• Couples find it easy to find officiating clergy, and officiating clergy stay connected with those couples and help keep them connected to Jewish life and community;
• New couples learn how to talk about and have religion in their lives together, and people in interfaith relationships learn how — and why — to live Jewishly.

The InterfaithFamily.com Network lists Jewish organizations and professionals that welcome and work with people in interfaith relationships, and programs of interest to them. The Network’s social networking functionality allows individuals to become members and connect with other members who live near them or who share similar interests. The InterfaithFamily/Chicago Director will localize and fully utilize the Network’s functionality to inform and connect people by recruiting Jewish organizations and professionals to list themselves and their programs on the Network; recruiting individuals to join the Network and communicating with those who joined to ascertain their interests and needs; and connecting individuals with others who live near them or who have similar interests, including by forming groups on the IFF Network; and, when appropriate, connecting such groups with Chicago professionals who could serve their needs.

On a national level, InterfaithFamily.com sends a bi-weekly email newsletter, publishes personal narratives and “how-to” content and blogs, tweets and posts on Facebook daily, seeks mentions in national Jewish and secular media, and speaks and exhibits at national Jewish gatherings. The IFF/Chicago Director will localize these efforts to raise awareness that the Chicago Jewish community welcomes interfaith families by recruiting subscribers and writers; publicizing information about Chicago Jewish organizations, professionals, programs and events; seeking mentions in the local Jewish and secular press; and participating in local events.

Karen Kushner, InterfaithFamily.com’s Chief Education Officer, and Rabbi Lev Ba’esh, the Director of our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, are experienced inclusivity trainers, working to date with synagogue staff, early childhood educators and clergy. The InterfaithFamily/Chicago Director will coordinate and participate in the offering of trainings for Chicago Jewish professionals and lay leaders, and in connection with the trainings create affinity groups on the Network for those professionals.

IntefaithFamily.com’s Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service assists people in interfaith relationships from all over the country to find rabbis and cantors to officiate at their weddings and other life cycle celebrations. So far in 2011 we are responding to 185 requests for officiants a month; we have over 425 rabbis and cantors on our national referral list. Our goal is to have the InterfaithFamily/Chicago Director become the repository of as complete information as possible on the practices of all of the Chicago community’s Jewish clergy as to officiation at weddings and other life cycle events for interfaith couples and families, and to respond personally to inquiries from couples looking for Jewish clergy to officiate at their weddings and other life cycle events so as to respond to their particular needs and build relationships with them. The Director also will help rabbis stay in touch with couples for whom they officiate and keep them connected to Jewish life and community, again through affinity groups on the Network.

One of the most important kinds of program for interfaith couples is a discussion group or workshop in which new couples (newly married or seriously dating) learn how to talk about and decide how to have religion in their lives. “Love and Religion” is a four-session workshop developed by Dr. Marion Usher and offered for sixteen years at the Washington DC JCC. InterfaithFamily.com has offered Love and Religion – Online! in an online format using a multiple video-conferencing system. We will offer Love and Religion for Chicago-area couples in a hybrid online/in-person format with the first session meeting in person, and the other sessions taking place online. Another of the most important kinds of program for interfaith couples are basic Judaism classes. InterfaithFamily.com offers a great deal of substantive, “how-to-do-Jewish” content, and a great deal of personal narrative content about what it is like for people in interfaith relationships to participate in Jewish life. We are in the process of developing this material into basic Judaism classes that we will also offer in a hybrid online/in-person. The Network’s group functionality will foster participants (and facilitators) staying in touch after the workshops and classes end. The IntefaithFamily/Chicago Director will coordinate and participate in these workshops and classes.

*  *  *  *  *

We welcome input and participation from all elements of the Chicago Jewish community interested in engaging people in interfaith relationships Jewishly, and we welcome inquiries from other interested communities. Until our Chicago Director is in place, please contact me at edc@interfaithfamily.com or 617 581 6805.

Slingshot: InterfaithFamily.com Named One of Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits

InterfaithFamily.com Selected to Receive Capacity Building Grant from Slingshot Fund in Recognition of Innovative Accomplishments

InterfaithFamily.com has been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’10-’11, a resource guide for Jewish innovation. Since 2005, Slingshot has become the definitive guide to identifying path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, tradition, and basic needs. InterfaithFamily.com is also one of only ten organizations to receive a capacity building grant from the Slingshot Fund.

As the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life, InterfaithFamily.com empowers these couples to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices and helps their families embrace the choices they make.

“We are thrilled not only to be included in the Slingshot guide for the sixth straight year, but also to have received our third Slingshot Fund grant,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “This represents a very important statement that the next generation of Jewish funders recognize the importance of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life, a field that has not been significantly funded in the past. This grant, and the additional funding it will help us raise, will enable us to reach many more people with our welcoming and helpful resources.”

According to Will Schneider, the Director of Slingshot, “2010 was the most competitive year that Slingshot has experienced.” Jonathan Raiffe, the Chairman of the Slingshot Fund Committee which set the policies for the Slingshot Fund shares, “The organizations in Slingshot have really challenged my views about what it means to be involved in Jewish non-profits and provide me with a strong sense of pride in my Jewish identity.”

Slingshot ’10/’11 was unveiled on October 18 at the second annual Slingshot Day launch event in Manhattan. Over the years, Slingshot‘s role in the national and international community has increased dramatically, which is evidence of the growing community of innovative nonprofits and the funders who support them.

About Slingshot
Slingshot was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios with the most innovative and effective organizations and programs in North America. This guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. Now in its sixth edition, Slingshot has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America’s Jewish community. The book, published annually, is available in hard copy and as a free download at www.Slingshot.org.

About InterfaithFamily.com
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. Visit www.InterfaithFamily.com.

My Cleveland Talk on Youtube

I gave a talk at Cleveland’s Siegal College on November 2, and they took video, which they’ve posted to Youtube. I made a playlist so you can watch the whole thing–gesticulations and all. It was a general talk on the state of interfaith families in the Jewish community, and most of the time was devoted to questions and answers.

Enjoy.

My Talk In Cleveland

I went to Cleveland to speak at the Siegal College of Judaic Studies about the current state of interfaith families in the Jewish community. I grew up in Cleveland and my mom earned a second BA in Hebrew Literature and a Master’s in Hebrew Literature at Siegal College back in the 1970s when it was the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies. In the 1990s, after she’d completed her PhD at Case, they hired her to be the Dean. She retired as Dean of the College two years ago, but it’s still a very important place to our family.

In the morning I was invited to speak to a group of 25 Jewish educators and rabbis who meet regularly to talk about adult and family education issues. It was incredibly cool to have people there from all of the large and medium-sized Reform and Conservative congregations and the relatively new Reconstructionist synagogue. The Conservative synagogues are very creative about outreach. One of the Conservative rabbis disagreed about IFF’s approach and I am hoping to get him to write for us about it. There were also some educators from the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, and I got to meet Jeffrey Grover, an actor and playwright who has created a non-profit that does education on subject of interfaith families

In the evening I gave a longer presentation to 65 people as part of Siegal College’s fall series. (Only about half a dozen of the people in the crowd were my relatives, but they count–especially my father’s cousin Jo Anne Randall, who wrote a beautiful article for me about her interfaith marriage early in my tenure at IFF.) I got to meet more of the Jewish educators and outreach workers in the evening, too.

I also got to meet Elizabeth Meyer, who wrote My First Yom Kippur, and her husband. (I gave her a hug.) They are thinking of starting a group for young interfaith couples and I encouraged them to coordinate it through our site. If you have created such a group yourself, drop me a line–I would love to have an article about how to do that.

I spoke for an hour, showed off the website and took questions. The college staff took video that they are going to post on Youtube. I don’t have to summarize much, because you’re going to be able to see most of it, I think!

The crowd was very receptive to what I had to say. They were also funny. First one woman on one side of the room raised her hand to complain that I was being too positive. I said, “Well, I have a list of positive approaches, but I’m sure you’ll figure out from them what the problems are.” Then another woman on the other side of the room said, “You’ve outlined all the problems, how about some possible solutions?”

One of the comments from the audience–from a same-faith Jewish family who are South American–was about one their children being turned away from Hillel when he got to college because the person who met him at the door thought he looked Latino and therefore “not Jewish.” I remembered her son as a very small boy, it was kind of crazy when she came up afterward to tell me that he is now a PhD in Mathematics! It bothers me every time I hear or read these stories about people being effectively told to go away when they come into Jewish settings. Someday I want to do a David Letterman-style Top Ten list of what the Jewish community should not be doing if we want to retain and attract people! I do try to stay positive but sometimes it’s frustrating to know that a lovely kid like that could be turned away.

I have news for you

I have a few links for you and the first one is an interview with me. I know, it seems a bit solipsistic, but it’s kind of exciting to be interviewed by my hometown Jewish newspaper, the Cleveland Jewish News. They interviewed me because I’m going to be speaking on Monday night at Siegal College of Jewish Studies about interfaith families and my work at InterfaithFamily.com.

One of the things I want to discuss at the talk is how welcome for interfaith families can come from everyone in the Jewish community, regardless of denomination. I was thinking about this yesterday reading an article on Chabad preschools by Ellen Umansky on Tablet Magazine‘s website. One interesting aspect of the piece was how Chabad, which is a Hasidic Orthodox outreach group, is thinking about children from interfaith families:

The open-mindedness that characterizes Chabad’s activities in general is certainly evident at the schools. The directors I spoke with said they’ll admit any child whose family is interested in a Jewish education. “Look, I don’t like labeling. We have everyone; we have families with two mommies, we have everybody,” says Chai Tots’ Hecht. “We have families that, halachically, are they Jewish? No—the father is Jewish but the mom is not—but they want it, they want the Jewish school.”

It’s kind of mind-boggling to read the Jewish press on interfaith families. It seems that all these different groups of Jews–Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, secular–are quietly thinking about how to integrate interfaith families into the Jewish community while we simultaneously argue in public about how that can possibly work. It was fun to read Maskil‘s post to the Jerusalem Post blog on recent discussion of interfaith marriage. As he put it,

We need to reframe the issue. Rather than saying “Intermarriage is the greatest threat to Jewish survival, etc.,” ad nauseum, we should be saying “integrating the intermarried into our communities is our greatest challenge, and our greatest need.”

I’m really looking forward to discussing this with people from my hometown.