Users Say InterfaithFamily Positively Influences Their Jewish Engagement

(Newton, MA) – February 20, 2014 – InterfaithFamily helps intermarried users with children at home engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices, and helps Jewish professionals work with them, according to the results of its just-released 2013 user survey.

survey

Of respondents who were intermarried, with children living at home, substantial percentages reported that InterfaithFamily had a positive effect in the past two years on their becoming interested in (53%), knowledgeable about (63%), and comfortable participating (49%) in Jewish life, and on their feeling of being welcomed by Jewish communities (46%). Sixty-one percent said InterfaithFamily positively influenced their incorporation of Jewish traditions and participation in Jewish rituals, 40% their participation in a program for interfaith families, 27% their sending their children to Jewish education classes or Jewish camp, 16% their making an initial contact with a synagogue, and 11% their exploring conversion.

In 2011 InterfaithFamily launched its Your Community initiative to offer comprehensive resources, programs and services in local communities. In 2013 InterfaithFamily/Your Communities in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia had a full year of activities (Boston was added in October 2013). The user survey data provide an early indication of the stronger positive impact of on-the-ground operations; in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia, among intermarried couples with children at home, 72% reported a positive effect on their knowledge about Jewish life (compared to 63% overall), and 72% on their interest in Jewish life (compared to 58% overall).

“We are pleased to confirm once again that interfaith families with young children, one of our key target audiences, find our resources valuable, and that we are influencing their decisions to make Jewish choices,” said Edmund Case, founder and CEO of InterfaithFamily.

According to the survey results, the majority (53%) of users are intermarried. But substantial percentages are parents of children in interfaith couples (19%) and converts or people in the process of converting (11%). Fewer are children of interfaith couples (8%) or interdating (6%).

Most users (79%) are Jewish, and most are female (75%), reflecting studies that have substantiated the lead role women tend to take in a family’s religious life. Nearly half of users (45%) are between the ages of 30 and 49, but 37% are 50 or older, and 18% are under 30.

Seventeen percent of users are Jewish professionals, including rabbis, educators and others.  Fifty-nine percent use InterfaithFamily as a reference for information on interfaith families, and 31% have used material from the site in a program they led or coordinated. They refer interfaith couples and families with whom they work to InterfaithFamily far more frequently than to any other organization. Sixty-five percent of professionals said IFF has helped them to see the potential for positive engagement in Jewish life by people in interfaith relationships, 57% to work with interfaith families, and 50% to develop welcoming policies and practices.

“We are pleased with the recognition of InterfaithFamily by Jewish communal professionals,” said Lynda Schwartz, IFF Board Chair. “Continuing to earn the confidence of rabbis and other professionals as a trusted resource for their constituents is very important to us.”

The survey shed light on why people come to the site and on what kind of resources and services they are interested in. A significant percentage (22%) come to the site for help finding Jewish clergy for their weddings. Twenty-three percent came to find out about Jewish organizations and events in their area; 52% said they are interested in information about events, and 34% about helpful professionals, all information available on the InterfaithFamily Network.

“Our user surveys help us to prioritize and most effectively use our available resources to serve our end users,” said Jodi Bromberg, InterfaithFamily President. “We are committed to ongoing evaluation of our offerings as key to our future growth.”

The survey was conducted between October and November 2013; 1,446 responded to the survey, and 1,107 completed it. The survey report can be found at: http://www.interfaithfamily.com/2013UserSurveyReport.

Interfaith Families Participate in Secular Christmas Activities While Raising Jewish Children

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jodi Bromberg, President of InterfaithFamily
e: jodib@interfaithfamily.com
p: 617.581.6804

(Boston, MA) – 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 were confirmed in the tenth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily, an independent non-profit with headquarters in Newton, Mass.

InterfaithFamily has surveyed how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the “December dilemma,” the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas, annually for the past ten 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’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 was 86%, up slightly from 83% 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 (99%) celebrates Hanukkah at home, while a little more than half (59%) 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 4.7% tell the Christmas story in their own home. While slightly more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (67%) compared to last year (63%), and slightly more (56.5%) will put up a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (49%), 88% view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature, the same as last year.

Many families (73%) celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered around the extended family.

Eighty-three percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 73% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity.

“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas continues to be common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily. “These families see their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity.”

The Pew study released this year, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, reported that 71% of interfaith families (where one partner was Jewish and one was not) had a Christmas tree in their home in the prior year. Likewise, in past years, some local Jewish community studies (Boston in 2005, New York in 2011) have reported on the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees, but acknowledged that the data does not indicate what having a Christmas tree means to interfaith families. The respondents to InterfaithFamily’s survey made hundreds of comments in response to open-ended questions that shed light on precisely that question:

  • Christmas does not have religious significance for many interfaith families who are raising their children as Jews.
  • They primarily are honoring the traditions of their parent and relatives who are not Jewish.
  • Children can understand clear explanations from their parents, such as that Christmas is not their holiday.
  • Interfaith families continue to grapple with the challenges of celebrating the holidays of two faiths in their families, and what it means for their, and their children’s Jewish identities.
  • Participating in Christmas celebrations can strengthen children’s Jewish identity by not letting them take it for granted.
  • Interfaith families raising Jewish children still experience Jews being uncomfortable with their celebrating Christmas and do not appreciate being questioned, censured or shamed.

For more information, read the attached report “What We Learned from the Tenth Annual December Holidays Survey.” It also can be found online here.

About InterfaithFamily

InterfaithFamily is the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities. We offer educational content at www.interfaithfamily.com; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities, including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: InterfaithFamily has developed a resource page for interfaith families around Christmas and Hanukkah that includes a Thanksgivukkah Guide, and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season which you can visit here.

Where I Stand on The PEW Study

I saw it first on Facebook, then my inbox and finally it was brought up at an “Interfaith Café” I attended last week. The Jewish community is abuzz with A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews. The first article I read on this study was quite inflammatory. Some of their “highlights” included:

Thirty-two percent of Jews born after 1980—the so-called millennial generation—identify as Jews of no religion, compared to 19% of baby boomers and just 7% of Jews born before 1927. Overall, 22% of US Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish.

The analytical side of my brain wanted to know what questions were asked, how they were asked and how the Pew Research Center defined the first layer of the question, “of Jews.” Thankfully, there was a sidebar defining who is a Jew.

Diagram

This diagram is from PewForum.org

I appreciate their stance, to “cast the net widely” such that if anyone answered yes to any of three statements, then they were considered Jewish for purposes of participating in the rest of the survey:

(a) that their religion is Jewish, or

(b) that aside from religion they consider themselves to be Jewish or partially Jewish, or

(c) that they were raised Jewish or had at least one Jewish parent, even if they do not consider themselves Jewish today

With that information, I was not surprised by the results. Liberal Jewish congregational professionals have long been talking about the decline in religion and what that means for the sustainability of their congregation.

I feel it especially in California where I would say many people (Jewish and not) are “not religious.” People connect with heritage, tradition and culture. This was especially true in our last Love and Religion workshop. It became very hard for spouses/partners who were raised in a faith tradition other than Judaism to understand their partner’s Jewish identity, when that identity was void of religion.

Rather than looking at the results as Wertheimer describes, “[a] very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to embrace other aspects of Judaism—beyond sitting in services and praying. I also feel this is an amazing opportunity for our interfaith families, in that there are so many ways they can connect with Judaism!

The Bay Area is rich with non-religious options for Jewish involvement and community. EcoJews of the Bay, G-dcast, PJ Library, The Contemporary Jewish Museum and Wilderness Torah are just some of the non-religious institutions that one can connect with in the Bay Area.

The future of Judaism is not doomed. This is an opportunity! Benji Lovitt’s response sheds light on another way of interpreting the data. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Embrace Gay Married Jews but not Intermarried Jews? I Don’t Think So

There is a pretty offensive article on the Forward today, Why Intermarriage Poses Threat to Jewish Life – But Gay Marriage Doesn’t. It’s by Yoel Finkelman, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and like most Israeli commentators, he doesn’t understand liberal Jewish life and community in the US.

Finkelman says that liberal American Jewry has a lot to gain from embracing LGBT married Jews, but that embracing intermarried Jews is an “uphill climb” that will “depend on a huge investment” that he clearly thinks is not worth making.

This analysis is misguided on many levels, but what immediately comes to mind is the very small numbers of people who would be impacted by embracing LGBT married Jews. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of including LGBT Jews – and their partners – in Jewish life and community. But it is well known (perhaps not to Finkelman) that the rate of interfaith relationships is much higher among LGBT Jews than among straight Jews. The 2011 New York community study, for example, found (at 249) that while 22% of married Jews there were intermarried, 44% of LGBT married Jews were intermarried.

These wedge-driving arguments are really troublesome; many lay Jews are already upset with rabbis who will not officiate for interfaith couples but will officiate for LGBT couples if both partners are Jewish. I can’t imagine that advocates of Jewish LGBT inclusion would agree with Finkelman’s analysis and encourage more attention to the LGBT community at the expense of efforts to engage the intermarried. There has to be room in our communal efforts to do both.

Our Passover/Easter Survey Results Are In

Thanks to all of you who responded to our Passover/Easter survey.

The results are in! We just sent out the following press release — let us know what you think of the findings.

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

Interfaith Families Continue To Participate in Secular Easter Activities Without Compromising Their Children’s Jewish Identity; Trend Towards More Comfort with Easter, Steady Observance of Passover

(Boston, MA) — The ninth annual Passover/Easter Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily, an independent non-profit, again shows that interfaith families raising their children Jewish address the “Spring dilemma,” the confluence of Passover and Easter, by continuing to participate in secular Easter activities and continuing to believe that doing so does not compromise their children’s Jewish identity.

Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on this behavior and argue that interfaith families can’t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas or Easter. The results of InterfaithFamily’s surveys suggest that they are doing so.

Interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Easter celebrations are giving clear priority to Passover over Easter, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday:

  • Virtually all plan on hosting or attending a seder; 40% will host or attend Easter dinner, an increase from 31% in 2012.
  • Small minorities engage in “religious” Easter activities like attending church (9%) or telling the Easter story (only 1%).
  • Sixty percent see their Easter celebrations as entirely secular, down from 70% in 2012, but only 4% see their Passover celebrations as entirely secular.
  • A full 86% of the respondents believe that their participation in Easter celebrations does not affect their children’s Jewish identity.

“For nine years about half of interfaith couples raising Jewish children have told us they participate in Easter celebrations,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily. “This year’s survey confirmed that these families by large measure see their Easter celebrations as secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity.”

“This year we observed somewhat more comfort in participating in Easter celebrations (45%), reversing a past decline from 47% in 2010 to 40% in 2011 to 32% in 2012,” Case added. “Meanwhile, the percentage of respondents who are not Jewish who reported being comfortable participating in Passover remained steady at 75%.

For more information, read “What We Learned from the 2013 Passover/Easter Survey,” available online at: http://www.interfaithfamily.com/files/pdf/WhatWeLearnedfromthe2013PassoverEasterSurvey.pdf.

About InterfaithFamily
InterfaithFamily empowers people in interfaith relationships — individuals, couples, families and their children — to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices, and strongly encourages Jewish communities to welcome them. We are the premiere resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities, offering educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and our new InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, providing coordinated comprehensive offerings in local communities including Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: InterfaithFamily has developed a resource page for interfaith families dealing with the Passover and Easter holidays that includes resources such as “Tips for Interfaith Families: How To Make a Seder Inclusive” and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season. For more, visit www.interfaithfamily.com/passover.

The Inside Group is the Outside Group

We are experiencing a “profound demographic shift in American life,” according to Marc Dollinger, the keynote speaker at a Lehrhaus Judaica (non-denominational Jewish studies school for adults that’s open to people from different backgrounds) event last year during which he illuminated the intermarriage rate in the San Francisco Bay Area. National statistics suggest 50% of Jewish families are intermarried. In the Bay Area we have found that rate to be higher and, as demographer Dr. Dollinger states, “intermarriage rates where I live in Marin County are 75%, which is actually artificially low. Adjusted for age, it’s actually 90% for families with young children.”

“The late Gary Tobin of Bechol Lashon offered a critique of organized Jewish life. [Tobin asked,] ‘what percentage of American Jewish families were traditional,’ which he defined as: ‘a mom and a dad, neither ever divorced, both born Jewish, with children, who were not adopted.’ The answer, 5%, and that’s a national number. We can only imagine how much lower that percentage is here in the Bay Area.”

Dollinger continues, “Of my parents’ four kids, we have one Jewish-Jewish family, another Christian-Christian family, and two Jewish-Christian. God bless America! … We [Jews] have integrated ourselves so successfully that the same parents who raised a Jewish studies professor who appears so darn conventional, also raised a Christian convert.”

What did he say? 90% of families are intermarried? What a wonderful opportunity for the Jewish community to reach out to so many families and provide programs specifically designed for interfaith families, welcome interfaith families into the general programming, and listen to the needs of our interfaith families so that we can create new programs for you.

I look forward to the day when all parents can embrace their children and the choices their children make. Jewish-Jewish, Christian-Christian, or Jewish-Christian (or any other religion). Let us all focus on being good people. I encourage you to listen to Dr. Dollinger and discover for yourself what his family’s next generation looks like. America truly is the land of opportunity!

When is a Christmas Tree Just a Christmas Tree?

It’s interesting that so many in the Jewish community put an emphasis on Christmas. Specifically, whether or not interfaith families observe Christmas. And the assumption has been that if Christmas is observed, these families couldn’t be raising their kids in a Jewish home. And the focus of these Christmas celebrations has often been the tree.

Two local Jewish community studies (Boston’s from 2005 and New York’s from 2011 (released in 2012)) noted the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees. Both studies also noted the lack of data indicating what a Christmas tree means to interfaith families. Wouldn’t you know it? We’ve been asking just that question in our annual December holiday surveys!

To those of you who took our survey in September-October, thanks!

Read on for more about the results of our 9th annual December holidays survey, interfaith families, and the December dilemma:

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

Interfaith Families Participate in Secular Christmas Activities While Raising Jewish Children

(Boston, MA) — 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 were confirmed in the ninth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily, an independent non-profit. The survey examines how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the “December dilemma,” the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas.

Eighty-three percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 80% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity. As one family mentioned, “One day out of the year isn’t going to make or break their Jewish identity. It’s how you raise your kids as Jews the other 364 days that counts.”

“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas continues to be common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily. “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 at home this year, but also more Hanukkah celebrations in the synagogue.”

Some local Jewish community studies (Boston in 2005, New York in 2011) have reported on the frequency of interfaith families having Christmas trees, but acknowledged that the data does not indicate what having a Christmas tree means to interfaith families. The respondents to InterfaithFamily’s survey made hundreds of comments in response to open-ended questions that shed light on precisely that question:

  • Christmas does not have religious significance for many interfaith families who are raising their children as Jews.
  • They primarily are honoring the traditions of their parent and relatives who are not Jewish.
  • Children can understand clear explanations from their parents, such as Christmas is not their holiday.
  • Participating in Christmas celebrations can strengthen children’s Jewish identity by not letting them take it for granted.
  • Jewish identity should be based on positive reasons, not on what people avoid or do not do.
  • Interfaith families raising Jewish children still experience Jews being uncomfortable with their celebrating Christmas and do not appreciate being questioned, censured or shamed.

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’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 was 83%, the same as 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 (98%) celebrates Hanukkah at home, while a little more than half (56%) celebrate Christmas at home.

Hanukkah is much more of a religious holiday for this population than is Christmas. Only 10% attend Christmas religious services and only 3% tell the Christmas story. While slightly more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (63%) compared to last year (60%), and slightly more (49%) will put up a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (46%), 88% view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature.

Many families (73%) celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered on the extended family.

For more information, read the attached report “What We Learned from the Ninth Annual December Holidays Survey.” It also can be found online at: http://www.interfaithfamily.com/files/pdf/WhatWeLearnedfromthe2012DecemberHolidaysSurvey.pdf.

About InterfaithFamily
InterfaithFamily is the central web address for people in interfaith relationships interested in Jewish life, with over 640,000 annual unique visitors, growing at 35% a year, accessing both extensive helpful content and connections through a free Jewish clergy officiation referral service, its Network listings, and social networking functionality. Since 2010, InterfaithFamily has provided resources and trainings for clergy, synagogue staff, and religious school and preschool directors and teachers. Our surveys are an excellent source of information on what attracts interfaith families to Jewish organizations. Visit www.interfaithfamily.com/yourcommunity for more information on the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: InterfaithFamily 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 www.interfaithfamily.com/decemberholidays.

What Draws Interfaith Families To Jewish Life

I’m pleased to report that the New York Jewish Week has published my op-ed, What Draws Interfaith Families to Jewish Life. A considerably longer version is on the Huffington Post, A New Year To Engage Interfaith Families in Jewish Life.

Having just come off Yom Kippur’s intense period of introspection about the past and the future, it feels that the time is now right for this call for a new sustained effort to engage interfaith families in Jewish life and community.

You can find the report on the first year of our InterfaithFamily/Chicago project here, and the report on our holiday surveys here.

Fear of Disappearing

The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent ran a piece on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s 2009 “Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia.” Apparently Philadelphia’s Jewish community has a high rate of interfaith marriage and a low rate of people in those marriages deciding to raise Jewish children. In the greater Philadelphia area, 45 percent for Jews under 40 marry non-Jews with only 29 percent of intermarried couples of all ages raising their children solely as Jews. In the Philadelphia area, 60 per cent of same-faith Jewish couples affiliate with synagogues, but only 9 per cent of interfaith couples do.

The community then asks two familiar questions: Can we stop Jews from marrying non-Jews, and can we simultaneously welcome interfaith families to stay in the community? The reporter talked with different leaders in the Jewish community, some who advocate doing one, and some the other.

It’s really difficult for people outside of our community to understand this fear, but articles like these make it clear–it’s a fear of disappearing. It’s also clear what direction we should take. The article quotes:

Mindy Fortin, a mother of three, who’s married to a Catholic man and is a former board member of the synagogue, has overseen those efforts, which have included weekly classes with the rabbi for both Jewish and non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages.

“I understand the panic” over the numbers, she said. But she explained that all the difference in her own spiritual life has resulted from folks in her synagogue not writing her off, but encouraging her to become more involved.

“The biggest mistake is to equate intermarriage with apathy toward Judaism and write off immediately a Jew who has intermarried,” she said.

Michael Jackson and His Interfaith Kids

I have been trying to tune out all of the sad news about Michael Jackson passing away. This must be very hard on Michael Jackson’s three children whom he was raising. The two older children’s mother is Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe, who is Jewish. When the couple divorced in 1999, she signed over her parental rights to Jackson but later took him to court to contest the contract and win the right to become more involved in their lives. In 2006, the year after Jackson was acquitted of child molestation, Rowe won her case against Jackson in an appeals court, but later they settled out of court to leave the children in his custody.

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal reported that Ms. Rowe was upset that her children were being exposed to the Nation of Islam through their nanny and Rowe wanted them to exposed to her religion as well. According to the JTA, there are conflicting reports about whether Ms. Rowe will seek custody.

Jackson was a Jehovah’s Witness, as are his parents. He has one brother who converted to Islam. Jackson and his children spent a year in Bahrain in 2005 after his trial for child molestation, during which time he was seen in public in an abaya, a woman’s head covering, in order to maintain anonymity.

To complicate the story further, Jackson was also at one time a close friend and protégé of Rabbi Shmuely Boteach. At the time of Jackson’s death, he had not spoken with Boteach for five years. Boteach has expressed his sorrow for Jackson and his children.

I hope all of Michael Jackson’s children are able to make peace with their father’s death and remember him lovingly. I also wish Jackson’s two older children, son Prince Michael I, 12, and daughter Paris Michael Katherine, 11 are also given the opportunity to explore their Jewish heritage.