A Major New Initiative for InterfaithFamily.com

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!

Slingshot, Hero, Online Group, Quite a Week at InterfaithFamily.com

It has been quite a week here at InterfaithFamily.com.

As we reported yesterday, scooped by Julie Wiener in a very nice post, InterfaithFamily.com has once again been included in the Slingshot guide to the fifty most innovative Jewish organizations. We are one of only nine organizations that have been in Slingshot in each of the past six years (see list below).

Even better than being included in the guide, InterfaithFamily.com was one of nine organizations (see list below) to receive $40,000 grants from the Slingshot Fund, which pools contributions from young funders and then makes grants to organizations included in the guide.

InterfaithFamily.com has received a Slingshot Fund grant in three out of the four years that grants have been made. This generous funding is very helpful to our ongoing efforts to expand the reach of our helpful information and welcoming message – and it makes a statement that the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life is important to the next generation of Jewish funders.

We are very grateful to Melissa Brown Eisenberg for her words in announcing the grant to IFF. It means a great deal to all of the staff at IFF to hear this kind of praise for our efforts and to be described as “crucial to the future strength and vitality of the Jewish community:”

Since 2001 InterfaithFamily.com has been the destination for individuals, couples, families and their children seeking information on how to make Jewish choices in their everyday lives.  The website itself is a resource for information-seekers on how to live Jewishly, be married Jewishly, celebrate Jewish holidays and raise Jewish children.  The site also connects interfaith families to each other for support, to local organizations that are inclusionary, and advocates for inclusive attitudes, policies and practices in the wider Jewish community.

With the intermarriage rate hovering at around 50%, the sheer number of non-Jewish partners, spouses and interfaith offspring is too large to ignore.  Our generation, the Slingshot generation, salutes the effort by interfaith families to see themselves as part of the Jewish community.  We believe in the significance of the work InterfaithFamily.com does to keep Judaism in the lives of those who could easily not identify as Jewish.  Between its website, referral services and ability to connect people, we see InterfaithFamily.com’s existence as crucial to the future strength and vitality of the Jewish community. 

Congratulations to Ed Case and the entire InterfaithFamily.com team on receiving a 2010 Slingshot Fund grant.  Ed, you are certainly one of Slingshot’s Jewish Community Heroes.

Melissa’s last comment was a reference to the second big news of the week – I made it into the top twenty vote getters in the Jewish Federations of North America’s Jewish Community Heroes contest. In fact I ended up at number 18, what I hope will turn out to be an auspicious number. Now a panel of judges picks one winner and four honorees, each of whom gets a grant for his or her non-profit.

We made a concerted effort to get out the vote, and I’m very grateful to the people who responded to the many email and Facebook voting reminders and the big orange pop-up on our home page. I hope it wasn’t too annoying – thank you to all for putting up with it. I didn’t seek the nomination and I’m not interested in personal glory – but it surely would be great if the federation world, at its important annual meeting, got a message from first the voters and then the judges that the cause of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life deserves recognition and priority. That’s what I hope the result of the contest is.

We were invited to submit a one-minute video explaining what an award would mean, and if the JFNA makes that publicly available, we’ll provide a link to it.

The last and perhaps most important development of the week isn’t a grant or an award – it’s the debut on Wednesday night of Love and Religion – Online, our first online group for couples to discuss how they can have religion in their lives. Four pioneering couples have signed up for an online version of a workshop Dr. Marion Usher has offered for 16 years at the Washington DC JCC. We had some technical difficulties to work out, but it was a great session.

It was reassuring and reaffirming to me to see bright, articulate, serious, dating or newly-married young couples thinking about important questions in their lives: whether they will be able to find a Jewish religious community where they will feel comfortable and welcomed, how they will incorporate celebrations of holidays, how the partner who is not Jewish will feel about raising Jewish children, how the Jewish partner will feel at his or her partner’s holiday times and religious services.

I have been involved in interfaith family issues for over forty years now, first personally, then as a lay leader in the Reform movement, then professionally for the past thirteen years. I call the issues that the couples in our online group raised this week “eternal” in the sense that every pair of interfaith partners who are interested in having religion in their lives need to address and resolve these questions. They’re not “eternal” in the sense that they never get resolved, but the issues that came up forty years ago are still coming up today. Every community should offer discussion groups for couples to address these issues, and we are really pleased to make the option available on an online basis.

I feel very honored this week because of the Slingshot listing and grant and making it into the Jewish Community Heroes semi-finals, but what was most gratifying about this week was offering another resource that will help interfaith couples learn about and connect with Jewish life and community. That is what I really love about this work.

*  *  *
Organizations included in Slingshot for six straight years in addition to IFF: Advancing Women Professionals, Hazon, Ikar, JDub, Jewish Funds for Justice, Jewish Milestones, Reboot, and Sharsheret.

Organizations that received Slingshot fund grants this year in addition to IFF: JDub, Jewish Funds for Justice, Reboot, Encounter, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, Institute for Curriculum Services, Moishe House, Project Chessed, and Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists.

Slingshot: InterfaithFamily.com Named One of Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits

InterfaithFamily.com Selected to Receive Capacity Building Grant from Slingshot Fund in Recognition of Innovative Accomplishments

InterfaithFamily.com has been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’10-’11, a resource guide for Jewish innovation. Since 2005, Slingshot has become the definitive guide to identifying path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, tradition, and basic needs. InterfaithFamily.com is also one of only ten organizations to receive a capacity building grant from the Slingshot Fund.

As the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life, InterfaithFamily.com empowers these couples to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices and helps their families embrace the choices they make.

“We are thrilled not only to be included in the Slingshot guide for the sixth straight year, but also to have received our third Slingshot Fund grant,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “This represents a very important statement that the next generation of Jewish funders recognize the importance of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life, a field that has not been significantly funded in the past. This grant, and the additional funding it will help us raise, will enable us to reach many more people with our welcoming and helpful resources.”

According to Will Schneider, the Director of Slingshot, “2010 was the most competitive year that Slingshot has experienced.” Jonathan Raiffe, the Chairman of the Slingshot Fund Committee which set the policies for the Slingshot Fund shares, “The organizations in Slingshot have really challenged my views about what it means to be involved in Jewish non-profits and provide me with a strong sense of pride in my Jewish identity.”

Slingshot ’10/’11 was unveiled on October 18 at the second annual Slingshot Day launch event in Manhattan. Over the years, Slingshot‘s role in the national and international community has increased dramatically, which is evidence of the growing community of innovative nonprofits and the funders who support them.

About Slingshot
Slingshot was created by a team of young funders as a guidebook to help funders of all ages diversify their giving portfolios with the most innovative and effective organizations and programs in North America. This guide contains information about each organization’s origin, mission, strategy, impact and budget, as well as details about its unique character. Now in its sixth edition, Slingshot has proven to be a catalyst for next generation funding and offers a telling snapshot of shifting trends in North America’s Jewish community. The book, published annually, is available in hard copy and as a free download at www.Slingshot.org.

About InterfaithFamily.com
InterfaithFamily.com is the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and the leading web based advocate for attitudes, policies and practices that welcome and embrace them. Visit www.InterfaithFamily.com.

InterfaithFamily.com Welcomes Karen Kushner!

The Board and staff of InterfaithFamily.com are thrilled that Karen Kushner has joined us as Chief Education Officer. We are establishing a presence on the West Coast, with Karen in San Francisco, and want to extend a big and warm welcome to her and tell you about our exciting plans.

This development has been a long time coming. We’ve been talking with Karen for years about the possibility of working together, at least since the May 2007 conference IFF held for outreach professionals. Last fall we started talking with two foundations, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund. They had been among IFF’s first funders, and later funded Karen’s work first with Project Welcome of the Reform movement, and then on her own as the Jewish Welcome Network. Both foundations made “bridge/planning grants” to support Karen’s ongoing work in the Bay Area until June 30, 2010 and to plan for a transition into IFF, and then made generous grants to IFF to enable us to bring her on board. Needless to say we are very grateful to our funders!

We issued a press release back on August 3 and our news has been covered in eJewishPhilanthropy, j the Jewish newsweekly of northern California, the (New York) Jewish Week, and Jacob Berkman’s Fundermentalist blog on JTA.

We think the media has been interested because the last few years have not been a time of growth in Jewish non-profits or in the field of engaging interfaith families in Jewish life. We hope our growth is a sign of positive change!

The reason we felt this combination was a great strategic idea is that Karen has tremendous expertise in precisely the two areas where IFF wants to grow: Jewish education, especially for families with young children, and training of Jewish professionals and organizations on how to attract and engage people in interfaith relationships.

IFF has been recognized by others, most notably the Slingshot guide to innovative Jewish organizations, as the central web address for people in interfaith relationships who are interested in Jewish life. Our strength has been in personal narratives by people in interfaith relationships about how they resolve common issues. We started on our own to develop more “how-to-do-Jewish” resources, most notably our series of eleven Resource Guides, but it was clear to us that we needed to expand these resources based on what we heard from users, including in our 2007 online User Survey. Karen has extensive experience creating exactly these kinds of resources. She is the co-author with Anita Diamant of How To Raise a Jewish Child, and at the Jewish Welcome Network she created a series of booklets that will now be offered by IFF. Our long-term goal is to provide a comprehensive set of text, video and multimedia resources, and online classes designed to respond to the unique perspective of interfaith couples and to support their engagement in Jewish practices. No one is better suited than Karen Kushner to direct this work for IFF.

With respect to training of professionals and organizations, the InterfaithFamily.com Network helps many rabbis and other Jewish professionals publicize their and their organizations’ work with interfaith families; we have a Resource Center for Jewish Clergy that is the only cross-denominational effort to help rabbis work with interfaith couples including on the issue of officiation; and we have a Resource Center for Program Providers (which has never been staffed) designed to support program offerings for people in interfaith relationships. Karen has excellent relationships with rabbis – for example, at the request of the CCAR (the Reform rabbis’ association), she participated in leading sessions at their recent conference. Karen is ideally suited to strengthen the work of the RCJC and will direct the RCPP in offering resources, models, and trainings for Jewish professionals and organizations. We plan to become the central web address, not only for people in interfaith relationships, but also for Jewish organizations and professionals who work with them.

This is definitely a win-win combination. Adding Karen to our staff strengthens IFF’s ability to accomplish our mission to engage interfaith families in welcoming Jewish communities, and expands the reach of Karen’s skills and expertise to our national web based platform. We will be opening a new office in San Francisco, and have added to Bay Area residents, Paul Cohen and Nancy Gennet, to our Board of Directors. We’re in the process of planning an event in San Francisco on October 28 to celebrate!

I hope you will join me in welcoming Karen Kushner to InterfaithFamily.com and I’m sure Karen would love to hear from you – you can reach her at karenk@interfaithfamily.com.

Two Ways to Help InterfaithFamily.com

We are working with marketing communications consultants to help improve our messaging aimed at attracting interfaith couples and at making the case for welcoming them. The consultant, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, is conducting a survey about interfaith relationships and current outreach efforts. They are particularly interested in input from people who have one Jewish parent and parents of interfaith children, as well as interfaith couples and professionals who work with them. Anyone who takes the survey is eligible for a drawing to win a $100 AmEx gift card! If you or others who you think might be interested want to take the survey, please go to http://www.interfaithfamily.com/about_u … rvey.shtml.

As announced in our June 22 email newsletter, our managing editor, Ruth Abrams, is going to be leaving us, so we’re looking to fill that position with the best possible replacement. Please check out the job description — if you are interested, please get in touch with us, and if you know people who you think would be interested, please forward the link to them.

One Way to Get It Right and a signal boost

How great to see another model of Jewish-Catholic intermarriage in a Chicago newspaper. Alexa Aguilar’s piece, Two Faiths Can Join To Make a Happy Family in the Chicago Tribune today, provides a welcome contrast to the debacle of the Reyes case, in which a divorcing couple fought over their child’s religious practice. Aguilar writes:

My husband is Jewish. I was raised Catholic. He went to Hebrew school, I went to Catholic school. He was a bar mitzvah, I received all my sacraments.

But we are two people who believe there are many paths to God, and who recognize that much of our faith is intertwined with our warm memories of childhood. When we decided to marry, we were intent on being a couple who would be open-minded and respectful of each other’s traditions.

I really liked the subtitle at the top of the webpage: “Interfaith marriage: One way to get it right.” Because there is more than one way to get it right, just as there are so many ways to get it wrong.

Aguilar’s family goes to Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors, the congregation where our frequent contributor Rachel Baruch Yackley has had a leadership role. (It’s more of a havurah than a synagogue so there isn’t just one leader.) That was kind of nice to see, too.

I also want to boost the signal for Hila Ratzabi‘s project, an anthology of pieces by women in Jewish interfaith relationships. She has a blog post up about it on The Forward‘s The Sisterhood blog–a nifty Jewish web resource I should mention in any case.  (I find the internet slang “boost the signal” oddly amusing, don’t you? It sounds so technical.)

My Cleveland Talk on Youtube

I gave a talk at Cleveland’s Siegal College on November 2, and they took video, which they’ve posted to Youtube. I made a playlist so you can watch the whole thing–gesticulations and all. It was a general talk on the state of interfaith families in the Jewish community, and most of the time was devoted to questions and answers.

Enjoy.

My Talk In Cleveland

I went to Cleveland to speak at the Siegal College of Judaic Studies about the current state of interfaith families in the Jewish community. I grew up in Cleveland and my mom earned a second BA in Hebrew Literature and a Master’s in Hebrew Literature at Siegal College back in the 1970s when it was the Cleveland College of Jewish Studies. In the 1990s, after she’d completed her PhD at Case, they hired her to be the Dean. She retired as Dean of the College two years ago, but it’s still a very important place to our family.

In the morning I was invited to speak to a group of 25 Jewish educators and rabbis who meet regularly to talk about adult and family education issues. It was incredibly cool to have people there from all of the large and medium-sized Reform and Conservative congregations and the relatively new Reconstructionist synagogue. The Conservative synagogues are very creative about outreach. One of the Conservative rabbis disagreed about IFF’s approach and I am hoping to get him to write for us about it. There were also some educators from the Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, and I got to meet Jeffrey Grover, an actor and playwright who has created a non-profit that does education on subject of interfaith families

In the evening I gave a longer presentation to 65 people as part of Siegal College’s fall series. (Only about half a dozen of the people in the crowd were my relatives, but they count–especially my father’s cousin Jo Anne Randall, who wrote a beautiful article for me about her interfaith marriage early in my tenure at IFF.) I got to meet more of the Jewish educators and outreach workers in the evening, too.

I also got to meet Elizabeth Meyer, who wrote My First Yom Kippur, and her husband. (I gave her a hug.) They are thinking of starting a group for young interfaith couples and I encouraged them to coordinate it through our site. If you have created such a group yourself, drop me a line–I would love to have an article about how to do that.

I spoke for an hour, showed off the website and took questions. The college staff took video that they are going to post on Youtube. I don’t have to summarize much, because you’re going to be able to see most of it, I think!

The crowd was very receptive to what I had to say. They were also funny. First one woman on one side of the room raised her hand to complain that I was being too positive. I said, “Well, I have a list of positive approaches, but I’m sure you’ll figure out from them what the problems are.” Then another woman on the other side of the room said, “You’ve outlined all the problems, how about some possible solutions?”

One of the comments from the audience–from a same-faith Jewish family who are South American–was about one their children being turned away from Hillel when he got to college because the person who met him at the door thought he looked Latino and therefore “not Jewish.” I remembered her son as a very small boy, it was kind of crazy when she came up afterward to tell me that he is now a PhD in Mathematics! It bothers me every time I hear or read these stories about people being effectively told to go away when they come into Jewish settings. Someday I want to do a David Letterman-style Top Ten list of what the Jewish community should not be doing if we want to retain and attract people! I do try to stay positive but sometimes it’s frustrating to know that a lovely kid like that could be turned away.

I have news for you

I have a few links for you and the first one is an interview with me. I know, it seems a bit solipsistic, but it’s kind of exciting to be interviewed by my hometown Jewish newspaper, the Cleveland Jewish News. They interviewed me because I’m going to be speaking on Monday night at Siegal College of Jewish Studies about interfaith families and my work at InterfaithFamily.com.

One of the things I want to discuss at the talk is how welcome for interfaith families can come from everyone in the Jewish community, regardless of denomination. I was thinking about this yesterday reading an article on Chabad preschools by Ellen Umansky on Tablet Magazine‘s website. One interesting aspect of the piece was how Chabad, which is a Hasidic Orthodox outreach group, is thinking about children from interfaith families:

The open-mindedness that characterizes Chabad’s activities in general is certainly evident at the schools. The directors I spoke with said they’ll admit any child whose family is interested in a Jewish education. “Look, I don’t like labeling. We have everyone; we have families with two mommies, we have everybody,” says Chai Tots’ Hecht. “We have families that, halachically, are they Jewish? No—the father is Jewish but the mom is not—but they want it, they want the Jewish school.”

It’s kind of mind-boggling to read the Jewish press on interfaith families. It seems that all these different groups of Jews–Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, secular–are quietly thinking about how to integrate interfaith families into the Jewish community while we simultaneously argue in public about how that can possibly work. It was fun to read Maskil‘s post to the Jerusalem Post blog on recent discussion of interfaith marriage. As he put it,

We need to reframe the issue. Rather than saying “Intermarriage is the greatest threat to Jewish survival, etc.,” ad nauseum, we should be saying “integrating the intermarried into our communities is our greatest challenge, and our greatest need.”

I’m really looking forward to discussing this with people from my hometown.

Slingshot

We’re very proud and pleased to announce that for the fifth year in a row, InterfaithFamily.com has been included in Slingshot: A Resource Guide For Jewish Innovation.

The Slingshot guide is “an annual compilation of the 50 most inspiring and innovative organizations, projects, and programs in the North American Jewish community today.” It’s very prestigious, because hundreds of organizations apply, and a team of top foundation professionals evaluate them; being included gives a invaluable hechsher, a stamp of approval, to other funders who are looking to find and support innovative causes. To download or order a copy of the guide, click here.

The Slingshot guide was first published in 2005, and only twelve organizations, including IFF, have been included each year. In this year’s guide, the “five-timers” are featured with an introductory article about how organizations can grow and remain relevant to the next generation of the Jewish community. We are thrilled to be included with a group of organizations like Hazon, JDub Records, Jewish Funds for Justice, Jewish Milestones,Mayyim Hayyim, and Moving Traditions.

The Slingshot guide is produced by the Slingshot Fund, which has been hosted at the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and is significantly supported by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund. We were thrilled to receive grants from the Slingshot Fund in 2007, the year they first made grants, and again in 2008. We didn’t get a grant for a third year in a row, but want to congratulate the fine organizations that did, including our friends at Mayyim Hayyim, the Jewish Funds for Justice, Keshet, synagogue/:2eyoxwqz">Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, and Footsteps.

Each year there is a “Slingshot Day” which brings together most of the organizations included in the guide and many funders. This year’s Slingshot Day was last week on October 15. There were great plenary sessions with leading thinkers from both the non-profit and for-profit worlds, including Leslie Crutchfield, author of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Non-Profits, Phillip Holmes, LA Director of Blue State Digital, Nancy Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org, and Adam Werbach, author of Strategies for Sustainability. There were also great breakout groups; I attended one lead by Sarah Meyer of the Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation and Nancy Schwartz Sternoff of the Dobkin Family Foundation on “Defining Innovation.” Slingshot Day is a great networking opportunity, not only because of the excellent presenters, but also for the relatively rare opportunity it affords for non-profit leaders to connect with each other. We’re very fortunate to be included.