Last week was blog-free because I was at InterfaithFamily.com’s first-ever conference, a retreat for outreach professionals called “Nurturing Outreach: Embracing the Other, Taking Care of Ourselves.” Taking place at the Capital Camps and Retreat Center in Waynesboro, Pa., it was the first-ever national conference for professionals working exclusively in outreach to interfaith families.
More than 50 people attended, including:
- every regional director of outreach for the Reform movement;
- the national director of outreach for the Reform movement, Kathy Kahn;
- Rabbi Chuck Simon, the head of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, who has been doing pioneering outreach work in the Conservative movement for years;
- Rabbi Samuel Gordon, the founding rabbi of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Illinois, a congregation that caters to the needs of interfaith families;
- Rosanne Levitt, the creator of Interfaith Connection at the JCC of San Francisco, one of the first outreach programs in the country (1986);
- Rabbi Gary Schoenberg and Rabbi Laurie Rutenberg, the creators of Gesher, an innovative 17-year-old outreach program in Portland, Ore., that immerses unaffiliated Jews in home-based Jewish celebrations;
- and other longtime veterans of the field, like Debbie Antonoff, Dawn Kepler, Karen Kushner and Lynn Wolfe.
Among the highlights were a Biblical text study of midrash relating to intermarriage, led by Rabbi Brian Field; a session on research on outreach and intermarriage, led by Dr. Sherry Israel of Brandeis University; and a model outreach program visioning session. One of the most exciting developments was the broad-based support–the hunger, really–for a national organization of outreach professionals. Many of the people who work in outreach work in isolation, with little professional respect and for not much pay, and an organization could help them connect and share information in a way they haven’t done before. It could also potentially advocate for them, and the field of outreach in general, among major Jewish funders. As Eve Coulson, former assistant director of the Jewish Outreach Institute and IFF board member, said at the conference, we need to make outreach a fixture in Federation funding, like day schools, camps and Israel.
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