We made a big announcement at InterfaithFamily.com today. In July we will be launching InterfaithFamily/Chicago, a two-year pilot initiative to coordinate and provide a comprehensive set of local programs aimed at engaging Chicago-area interfaith families Jewishly.
This is big on two intertwined levels – programming and funding. In the almost ten years since InterfaithFamily.com was incorporated, the number of programs aimed at engaging interfaith families in Jewish life has declined. Boston, Atlanta and Denver have relatively comprehensive sets of these programs – but pretty much every other community has none, or one or two scattered offerings. Similarly, interest among major funders in the field of engaging interfaith families Jewishly has been level, if not declining. Funders have not been “sold” on the idea that any set of existing programs is replicable on a national scale.
We succeeded in attracting significant new funding — several major funders, including The Crown Family, the Marcus Foundation, and the Jack and Goldie Wolfe Miller Fund, are investing $175,000 a year, for two years. If the venture is successful, we will have created a highly replicable model of programming to engage interfaith families in Jewish life in their local communities. Hopefully, that will attract more funders, especially those who focus on their own local community, and we’ll see more programming.
This has been a long time coming. I’ve railed for years that the Jewish community was missing the boat in not providing programming aimed at engaging interfaith families Jewishly. InterfaithFamily.com has made numerous proposals to fill that gap that until now were not accepted. Back in 2008 a number of funders tried to implement a plan that would result in comprehensive sets of programs in local communities, but then Madoff and the economic downturn hit. Now as our tenth anniversary approaches, we finally have a golden opportunity to reverse decline and return to growth in funding and essential programming for our field.
Over the course of the first year, we plan to:
• Build out the Chicago listings in our existing Network so that local interfaith couples can find each other and welcoming organizations, professionals and programs.
• Personalize our existing Jewish Clergy Officiation Referral Service and help officiating clergy and the couples they serve stay connected.
• Bring our existing sensitivity trainings to Chicago to improve the welcome that interfaith couples experience from Chicago Jewish organizations and professionals.
• Offer our Love and Religion workshop, developed by Dr. Marion Usher at the Washington DC JCC, to help interfaith couples learn how to share religion in their lives, and we’ll do it in a new hybrid format with some sessions online and some in-person.
• Offer basic Judaism classes, in the hybrid online/in-person format, to help Chicago interfaith couples and families learn how and why to live Jewishly.
• Collaborate with others in the field. No one organization can provide all of the resources and services that a local community’s interfaith couples need. We will continue to publicize and coordinate with programs that are provided by others, or may be in the future.
Now the work begins!
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