Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
I’m a big advocate of Jewish-themed museums as a potentially potent tool for reaching unaffiliated intermarried and interdating Jews. They lack the religious baggage of synagogues and the political baggage of Israel Independence Day festivals. Unlike JCCs or synagogues, there is nothing clubby about them–they are essentially public spaces marked more by anonymity than community. And the less you know, the better–museums are fundamentally giant adult learning centers. Unlike almost all other Jewish institutions, museums make no assumption that visitors will come in with a pre-existing capital of Jewish knowledge.
A new addition to the Jewish museum scene is the Jewish Discovery Museum in Tampa, a temporary interactive exhibit where kids can learn about Judaism. The exhibit includes interactive components such as Noah’s Ark Theater, painting and weaving at Joseph’s Diverse Dreamcoat and Mr. Abraham’s Neighborhood, where children can learn to set a seder table.
Young unmarried Jews are just as interested in Judaism as their married peers, a surprising new study shows. What’s different, say co-authors Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, is that they avoid affiliating with synagogues, federations and JCCs in part because those institutions are so focused on the traditional family unit.
Uncoupled: How Our Singles Are Reshaping Jewish Engagement, conducted as part of the Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, with the support of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, looked at more than 1,700 non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 25 and 39 from the 2007 National Survey of American Jews. The authors compared their behaviors and attitudes to the behaviors and attitudes of inmarried non-Orthodox couples. Say Cohen and Kelman:
Overnight summer camp is awesome. I don’t know if I’ve ever met a former camper who disagrees.
But why do parents send their kids to summer camp? More specifically, why do Jewish parents send their kids to Jewish summer camp?
In a terrific essay for the (Vancouver, B.C.) Jewish Independent, Kelley Korbin writes of her shock at hearing that “many Jewish parents send their kids to Jewish camps so they’ll meet a Jewish spouse.” So why does she send her children to Jewish camp? “It’s simple really,” she writes. “I chose Jewish summer camp for my kids because that’s where I went.”
On Sept. 30, several hundred people gathered at a construction site at Fifth and Market Streets in Philadelphia to celebrate the groundbreaking on a new $150 million museum devoted to American Jewish history, according to the (Philadelphia) Jewish Exponent.
The National Museum of American Jewish History is just one of several ambitious Jewish museum projects opening around the country in the next few years. In San Francisco, the Contemporary Jewish Museum is reopening this spring in a dramatic 63,000-square-foot structure marked by a giant glass cube pirouetted on one corner. In Boston, plans are afoot for a $40 million New Center for Arts and Culture on the greenway covering the central artery. While nothing in the New Center’s mission explicitly says the museum will be Jewish, all of its previous events have been Jewish-themed and the project was first proposed by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston.
Across the spectrum, including among the Orthodox, synagogues have done an admirable job in recent years making themselves more welcoming to the unaffiliated, the intermarried and the just plain timid. There’s a long way to go, but between Chabad’s outreach, the Reform movement’s embrace of interfaith families and the Conservative movement’s push for keruv, religious life is more welcoming and more accessible than it’s ever been. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the practice of charging non-members for High Holiday tickets–and in some cases, barring non-members from attending–persists.
It’s one of the most shortsighted strategies in modern religion: during the small number of days that Jews actually want (or at least feel obligated) to go to synagogue, congregations charge them exorbitant prices to enter, either through one-off ticket prices or a requirement that the non-member pay dues to join the synagogue. Rather than use the holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah as an occasion to show non-members how welcoming they are, they use it as an occasion to show how restrictive–and expensive–they are.
Keeping with yesterday’s return-from-San-Francisco theme, j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California, and The Forward recently wrote about a clever new outreach strategy from Rabbi Moshe Langer of the Chabad of San Francisco: free trolley tours of the diverse and beautiful city. But unlike other Chabad marketing–free iPods in exchange for enrolling in Hebrew classes, “spa day for the soul”–the trolley rides are not about getting people to become traditionally observant or join Chabad. All that the bearded Rabbi Langer asks is that all his passengers, Jewish or not, perform one mitzvah (good deed) that day.
It’s what the Jewish Outreach Institute calls “Public Space Judaism,” whereby the Jewish community engages the global community wherever they are: grocery stores, coffeeshops, even trolleys on Powell Street. I particularly admire the Chabad Cable Car because it doesn’t sound like Rabbi Langer is pushing his religious agenda. By “soft-selling” Judaism and showing people of all creeds how welcoming and friendly a strongly Jewishly identified person can be, he’s making Judaism appealing to unaffiliated Jew and non-Jew alike. That can send a powerful message to interfaith couples.
Turns out, though, that Rabbi Langer is only following in his dad’s footsteps. His father, Rabbi Yosef Langer, has been dubbed “Rally Rabbi” after blowing the shofar during the San Francisco Giants’ Jewish Heritage Night. At this year’s Jewish Heritage Night in August, the Giants will be giving out Rally Rabbi bobbleheads.
I returned from San Francisco today, where I attended the 2007 conference of the American Jewish Press Association, the professional association of Jewish publications and websites. This was the fourth conference I attended and the sessions tend to be similar from year to year. There’s always one or two on how to make your print publication work on the Internet, there’s always one where everybody bemoans their inability to reach young readers and there’s always one on media coverage of Israel. The irony in the perpetual inclusion of the first two sessions is that few significant Jewish websites are members of the AJPA and almost none of the few Jewish media outlets that have had some success reaching young Jews–Heeb, American Jewish Life, Jewcy or Jewschool, for starters–are members either. So the conversations about web presence and youthful audience occur in a vacuum, led by old media print editors.
Rabbi David Forman, the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights, wrote a provocative op-ed in the Jerusalem Post arguing that the Reform movement needs to change if it hopes to engage Jews in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Germany. While Chabad has emerged as a dominant Jewish force in many of these places, and other more far-flung communities, the Reform movement “has barely made a dent in the consciousness of Jews in these places.”
He doesn’t blame the the leadership of the international Reform movement (the World Union for Progressive Judaism) or the leadership of the North American Reform movement (the Union for Reform Judaism), but rather the constitutents of the North American Reform movement.
Not sure why I hadn’t thought of sharing this yet, but we wrote this article on marketing Jewish day schools to interfaith families for RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network. It will be published in their issue coming out in December, I believe. It’s specifically targeted to the boards and administrators of Jewish community day schools, so forgive the somewhat-dry language.
How to market community day schools to interfaith families
Of the estimated 500,000 children in intermarried households, only 5,400 (Kotler-Berkowitz, 2005), or barely more than 1 percent, attend Jewish day school. So clearly there is growth potential in the intermarried market.
When thinking about marketing to interfaith families, the most important thing to keep in mind is that interfaith families who are considering a Jewish day school education are probably not very different from inmarried families considering a Jewish day school. As Jennifer Rudin-Sable, the former Jewish life coordinator at the Rashi School in Boston has said, “Inter-faith and intra-faith families are much more similar than they are different and… the key to bringing them into our community is not identifying ‘who or what’ they are but rather identifying ‘where’ they are and ‘what they need’ to take the next step in their journey.” There is no magic bullet to reaching this diverse market; the best advice we can offer is to make sure your advertising and marketing materials emphasize your acceptance of the children of interfaith families.
My Yom Kippur experience was especially meaningful this year–I hope yours was too. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on and evaluate my life, and consider what I can do better. I feel I have an entire clean slate of a New Year to fill, and the prospect is very exciting.
I think my main motivation in founding InterfaithFamily.com, Inc. was my belief, based on my own experience and that of many friends, that participating in Jewish life can be a great source of meaning and fulfillment, not just for Jews, but in particular for interfaith couples. The Yom Kippur opportunity to reflect and evaluate is one example of that. Coincidentally or not, a wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is another great example.