One of the highlights of my new work as Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago has been meeting with area rabbis and educators. We have been having the most interesting discussions about the families in our communities, the meaning of religiosity and identity today, whether interfaith families want programming just for them, how to bring in the 85% of interfaith families in our midst who are unaffiliated, and more.
Over and over, I’m hearing the same questions asked. If you are in an interfaith family or are a Jewish professional interested in working with interfaith families, you can respond to either or both of these questions by leaving comments.
1. Do interfaith families who are members of a synagogue want their own programming?
According to our latest User Survey, the majority of interfaith families would appreciate their synagogue to reach out to just interfaith families for certain programming. This way there would be safe space for parents to share and discuss their own issues about how to celebrate the other partner’s holidays, how to dialogue and welcome in family members who don’t have a background with Judaism, how to honor certain parts of one parent’s religious background while maintaining a Jewish home and raising children who identify as Jews, etc.
Some Jewish professionals I have met with feel that the interfaith families who are members of their synagogues have already worked out these issues. They no longer need the support of other interfaith families as they talk about these issues easily and freely at regular synagogue programming and while milling around with other parents during religious school.
In addition, I have heard the notion that all members of a synagogue could benefit equally from, and enjoy, a “how to do Shabbat” program, an “introduction to Jewish Thought” type classes, a “parenting with spirituality” course, or the like.
2. Should we be asking more about a family’s background on a membership form?
Some synagogues ask about both partners’ religious backgrounds on membership forms and keep an email list of interfaith families (those families that have one parent who is not Jewish or did not grow up Jewish). Synagogues email these families for interfaith havurot, discussion groups, etc.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy creates an atmosphere in which the clergy and professionals at the synagogue don’t know much about the religious backgrounds of the parents and cannot engage them in conversations that would be relevant and pertinent to their own situations. Sometimes one partner only considers conversion when he or she is actually approached. The idea of being too scared to broach these topics, for fear of offending people, cuts us off from real conversations and opportunities for exploration.
These are just two of the many questions we have been talking about. I look forward to hearing your feedback and comments.
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