Providing quality experiences to enrich the lives of the community at large with award-winning preschool programs, summer camps and a wide array of enriching activities. JCC Chicago provides the opportunities to bring Jewish values to the lives of everyone from infants to adults.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
We just sent out the following press release, which we’re excited to share with you here. We’re honored to be recognized by the Slingshot Fund again this year, and included in their Slingshot guide as a Standard Bearer.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Edmund Case, firstname.lastname@example.org, (617) 581-6805
InterfaithFamily Named One of North America’s Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits Recognized Again as “Standard Bearer” for Continuing Innovation, Impact, Leadership and Efficacy
(Newton, MA) — November 5, 2012 — For the eighth consecutive year, InterfaithFamily has been included in Slingshot, the resource guide that features the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America. For the second time, InterfaithFamily is one of just fourteen organizations to be named a “Standard Bearer” as a leader within the community and a mentor to other organizations. The Standard Bearers, listed in at least five editions of Slingshot, were chosen not only for sustainability but also because they continue to achieve Slingshot’s core criteria of innovation, impact, leadership, and organizational efficacy.
Slingshot organizations grapple with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, social justice, and tradition, each with different missions, perspectives, and strategies. The Slingshot resource guide is distributed to 7,500 funders, foundation professionals, and organizational leaders annually, in addition to tens of thousands of online downloads. Readers use Slingshot to identify the most inspiring and trail blazing organizations, projects, and programs in the North American Jewish community today. Since its inception, Slingshot has highlighted 173 innovative Jewish organizations in North America. Organizations are selected from among hundreds of nominees by an independent panel of 48 foundation professionals from across North America.
InterfaithFamily, the premier resource supporting interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and inclusive Jewish communities, was chosen as a Standard Bearer because:
“[InterfaithFamily] is a perpetual innovator. Most recently, its work with InterfaithFamily/Your Community, expanding its impact beyond the already powerful website, is just another result of an ongoing drive to learn and grow. As one of the only organizations making waves in this space, the potential impact on the Jewish community is significant.”
“Being included in Slingshot and as a Standard Bearer is strong validation for our work,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily. “Efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life are still not well funded. We believe that our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative is the single best opportunity the Jewish community has to engage more interfaith families in Jewish life, which is essential to the community’s growth and vitality. Recognition of its importance by Slingshot, which represents the next generation of Jewish funders, should very positively influence the community’s willingness to support this critically important effort.”
According to Julie Finkelstein, Program Director of Slingshot, “Slingshot is a celebration of those Jewish organizations and projects successfully breathing new energy into Jewish life. The guide highlights both newly formed organizations and innovative projects happening at established Jewish institutions, all making an impact by meeting the changing needs of today’s Jewish community. The Standard Bearers also consistently raise the high standards that emerging organizations and projects in Jewish life aspired to match. This year’s guide is a testament to their continued impact and sustainability; in addition to the inclusion of four new Standard Bearer organizations on the list, all ten of last year’s Slingshot Standard Bearers reappear in the guide this year.”
Sarah Gelman Rueven, Slingshot Board member, shared, “The Slingshot guide promotes organizations that are pushing the boundaries and negotiating what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century, while at the same time, promoting transparent business practices and strong leadership. The Slingshot guide is important because by supporting Jewish innovation, we are really investing in the continuity of the Jewish people.”
Slingshot ’12-’13 was released on November 5, 2012. The community will meet on May 6th in New York City at the annual Slingshot Day, where over 250 not-for-profit leaders, foundation professionals, and funders of all ages will engage in candid conversations about philanthropy and innovation in the Jewish community.
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 eighth 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 for free in hard copy and as a download at www.slingshotfund.org.
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.
We’re excited to announce that we’re growing and expanding! We just sent out this press release — let us know what you think!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Edmund Case, email@example.com, (617) 581-6805
InterfaithFamily Announces Major Expansion of InterfaithFamily/Your Community Initiative Successful Chicago Model Opening in San Francisco and Philadelphia; Building a National Network of Local Community Programs to Engage Interfaith Families Jewishly
(Boston, MA) InterfaithFamily (IFF) today announced a major expansion of its InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative to coordinate and provide programs aimed at engaging interfaith families Jewishly in local communities across North America.
“The 2011 New York Jewish Community Study highlighted continuing high rates of intermarriage and the relative disengagement of interfaith families in Jewish life. But the Study also found that interfaith families that do engage Jewishly are comparable in attitudes and behaviors to in-married families,” said Edmund Case, IFF’s CEO and founder. “The key question is how to engage them in Jewish life and community. We are convinced that the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative is the single best opportunity the Jewish community has to do so.”
“There is growing agreement that engaging interfaith families Jewishly requires three elements: a world class web platform, inclusivity training of Jewish professionals and lay leaders, and a range of programs and services for interfaith families in local communities. That was the conclusion of a consortium of national funders in 2008, and of a Task Force of the UJA-Federation of New York in 2011,” said Mamie Kanfer Stewart, IFF Board Chair.
The five-part InterfaithFamily/Your Community model is designed to provide exactly what is needed, by placing staff in local communities to publicize and connect interfaith families to local community resources and enhance their experience finding Jewish clergy for weddings and life cycle events, train Jewish professionals and organizations to welcome people in interfaith relationships, help new couples learn how to talk about and have religious traditions in their lives together, and help people in interfaith relationships learn how – and why – to live Jewishly.
Launched in July 2011, the InterfaithFamily/Chicago pilot of the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative had a strong first year. “Participants in trainings report that they better understand the needs of interfaith families and learned new ways to be welcoming; 88% of responding workshop participants report they gained understanding of how Judaism can fit into their interfaith families; and 92% of responding class participants say they felt more knowledgeable about Judaism, with 77% saying their practices changed to include such things as signing up for PJ Library, having a Shabbat dinner and visiting synagogues,” said Rabbi Ari Moffic, Director of InterfaithFamily/Chicago.
Building on the success of the pilot, the IFF Board of Directors has approved a new Strategic Plan that calls for bringing the InterfaithFamily/Your Community model to nine communities in four years. In September 2012, Stacie Garnett-Cook joined IFF in a new position, National Director of InterfaithFamily/Your Community, to mange growth of the initiative.
InterfaithFamily/San Francisco launched in October 2012, with a grant from, and a major fundraising effort led by, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties. Rebecca Goodman joined IFF as Director of InterfaithFamily/San Francisco.
InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia also launched in October 2012. InterFaithways, a local organization, is merging into InterfaithFamily, with a grant and fundraising assistance from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Wendy Armon will be Director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia.
Case will highlight the InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative when he co-leads a program at the Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly on November 12 titled Engaging Interfaith Families: Programs and Tactics for Increased Community Involvement.
“Our goal is to build a national organization of networked programs for interfaith families in local communities across North America, leveraging our content, Network platform, officiation referral service, and trainings, programs, workshops and classes,” Case said. “Until now, no one has been able to provide this essential missing link in the field of engaging interfaith families Jewishly.”
About InterfaithFamily IFF 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 IFF’s officiation referral service and its Network listings and social networking functionality. Since 2010, IFF has provided resources and trainings for clergy, synagogue staff, and religious school and preschool directors and teachers. IFF’s 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.
There is a great deal of concern in the Jewish world about the degree to which interfaith families are engaged or disengaged in Jewish life and community. A headline of the New York Jewish Community Study of 2011, released in June 2012, was that interfaith families generally score low on that study’s index of Jewish engagement, while interfaith families who join synagogues or send their children to Jewish education score comparably to in-married families. Community studies like New York’s, and other available communal research, however, tell us precious little about what factors contribute to interfaith families joining Jewish organizations and expanding their connections to Judaism – or what they experience as barriers to that expanded connection.
Starting in December 2009, Interfaith Family’s annual December Holidays survey and Passover/Easter survey have asked precisely those questions. We’ve just published a report on the responses to those questions. Our surveys are not “scientific” or based on a random sample; the respondents are self-selected and some may have responded to more than one survey. But no one else is asking these questions, and our report sheds what is currently the most available light on these important issues: it summarizes and analyzes close to 700 responses from six consecutive surveys from respondents who were in interfaith relationships, were raising their children as Jews, and were members of a synagogue or Jewish organization.
Interfaith families are attracted, in order of importance, by explicit statements that interfaith families are welcome; inclusive policies on participation by interfaith families; invitations to learn about Judaism and, to a much lesser extent, invitations to convert; the presence of other interfaith families; programming and groups specifically for interfaith couples; and officiation by rabbis at weddings of interfaith couples. Read the full report for the data and many comments to our open-ended questions.
The policy implications of these findings are that Jewish communities that want to increase engagement by local interfaith families need to:
Ensure that local interfaith families receive explicit messages of welcome from the community and its organizations and leaders.
Ensure that there are some Jewish clergy in the community who will officiate at weddings of interfaith couples so that their experience with the Jewish community at that critical point in their lives will help them connect to Jewish life.
Offer programs and classes explicitly marketed as “for interfaith families,” and foster the formation of groups of interfaith couples and families in which they can explore and experience Jewish life together.
I read a post on the Reform Judaism blog with great interest, as, based on the title alone, Youth Engagement is Not The Curriculum – It’s THE Curriculum clearly jibes with my beliefs. The authors offer 12 tips to keeping youth engaged in/with Judaism through the end of high school. As too many youth end their education with their bar/bat mitzvah, this is a great model. However, I see concerns with point # 4. To quote:
Treat teens as young adult learners. If you are successful, they will learn the other topics that you think are important later in life; for now, try to ask (and answer) the question, “What do the kids want to learn?” Ours, for example, are interested in Jewish/Christian/Muslim issues and our popular yearly program titled “Choosing a College Jewishly.”
Basic Jewish literacy is not only the key to the Jewish community’s survival, but it fills one’s life with meaning, awe, purpose, joy, connectedness and so much more. Teens may take a Jewish studies class in college, but if synagogues have not prepared our most involved students to live Jewishly we have failed. Our students must be able to confidently walk into their colleges’ Hillel, participate in and even lead tefillah (prayers), and talk with facts and context about liberal Judaism. A basic knowledge of both conversational and liturgical Hebrew is essential.
I meet with many late 20-somethings who are getting married. Over and over I have seen the partner who is not Jewish asking their love what Judaism believes about life after death and the meaning of suffering, how we bring the messiah, what they believe about God, what meaning they find in the prayer book and the stories of the holidays, what the Jewish perspective is on Bible stories, and the Jewish partner is clueless. They immediately explain it away by identifying as a cultural Jew or by saying they’re more spiritual than religious. It is the partner who isn’t Jewish and remains curious that often pushes the Jew to learn about their own religion, traditions and faith; inevitably the Jewish partner talks about how they learned nothing in religious school or remembers nothing.
Our teens learn other languages, read great literature in high school, know about art, have opinions about current events, and yet are not exposed to the depth and complexity of their own religion. Why? We think learning about Judaism will be boring, will feel irrelevant!
It is wonderful if our teens go to Israel, enjoy Jewish summer camp and take part in social justice work. But if our teens are functionally illiterate about Judaism, none if it will have any deeper meaning or enduring value.
I recently spent an hour with college juniors, talking about how the Jewish community can respond to interfaith couples and families. There was resistance when I suggested that synagogue websites translate all Hebrew/Yiddish terms and any insider language so that anybody new to Judaism – a new member of a Jewish family or anyone Jewish who lacks this knowledge – can fully access the content, and its meaning, on the website. I have encountered similar resistance when suggesting religious school or preschool teachers take on this same practice when sending emails home or having students work on projects.
For instance, if a class makes a “hamotzi placemat” (a placemat that includes the blessing over bread), the prayer could be pasted to their placemat in Hebrew, English and transliteration so that any parent can use it with the child. I have wondered why there would be resistance to this simple idea for sensitivity and inclusion. The comments I have heard in opposition to this are that parents will think that nobody knows anything Jewish in this synagogue or that the message gets watered down or dumbed down if no Hebrew can be assumed to be known. Others have said that it is so easy in the age of Google to look something up that if there was real interest in learning the Hebrew or the term it could be easily ascertained. If we make things too easy for folks, they will not take the initiative to learn it themselves, which is empowering.
I have been caught off guard by these statements. I hadn’t thought there could possibly be resistance to making Judaism as accessible and meaningful as possible.
As I have tried to unpack this dilemma, here is the insight I have come up with: I think the idea that people who aren’t Jewish will require the Jewish community (members of a synagogue, religious school or preschool teachers, or Jewish family members) to offer translations and explanations, could, potentially point out the community’s own inadequacies or illiteracy with Hebrew and Jewish terminology and this feels threatening or unsettling.
I wonder how many of us could translate the name of our congregation into English or the names of most major holidays into English? This is in no way a critique of anybody with a lack of knowledge. Hebrew, even when translated directly into English, sometimes needs extra explanation and context. (“sukkot">Festival of Booths” comes to mind.)
Sometimes people who grew up Jewish just know or “get” something cultural while not being able to articulate it easily. Some Jewish people may want to remain in a tight-knit community in which there is a sacred language (even when not exactly understood, the individual still finds meaning). Being insular in some ways, set-apart and even having insider language feels authentic and means continuity for some. One would think that meaning leads to continuity but maybe Hebrew leads to continuity through connectedness to the past and particularism. Maybe one doesn’t have to understand everything to have meaning. And my asking people to translate everything demystifies it in some ways and makes the message too secular and mundane.
This has been an interesting conundrum for me to think about. I look forward to hearing your insights!
My 5-year-old daughter just started violin lessons. Her lessons use the Suzuki method; parents come to lessons and learn along with the child so that when then child practices at home, the parent can help. Parents are expected to take notes during lessons and often video pieces of the lesson to watch with their child at home for reinforcement. I have not only thoroughly enjoyed the uninterrupted time with my daughter, but I have loved the pursuit of gaining these skills with her – new skills with which neither of us has any familiarity. Hannah teaches me and reminds me just as much as I help her. When we practice at home, we laugh a lot, we concentrate a lot, we learn together and get better together.
It recently occurred to me that this concept of Teacher, Parent-Learner-Teacher and Child-Learner-Teacher could be a great model to bring into the religious school classroom. Family education has become normative and popular in most synagogue congregations. Parents spend time in the classroom and engage in projects with the child. But what if family education meant that the parent and child were as engaged and highly focused on mastering the skills, on learning the techniques, on understanding the rhythm as they are in these violin lessons? What if parents prized the possibility of their child learning how to do Jewishly: how to perform rituals and traditions, how to read and speak Hebrew, how to study Torah and how to live based on mitzvot (commandments)? What if parents took notes in the religious school classroom, and all were silent, mouths gaped open in awe, as the teacher hummed a niggun (wordless melody), offered an appropriate blessing or translated a portion of Torah? What if the teacher gave homework that the parent and child had to do together and gave stickers when the parent-child team brought back their weekly homework chart filled in?
In some ways, many families have outsourced their child’s Jewish education to the synagogue school. Just as there is no way violin or a foreign language can really be learned unless it is practiced at home, there is no way Judaism can be learned unless it is practiced at home. I think that for interfaith families in particular, in which one parent did not grow up with Jewish knowledge and traditions, it would be even more powerful to gain these insights with their child. And, for a parent who grew up Jewish and has a deep level of knowledge, they can learn from the teacher how to teach and transmit that knowledge to their child. There is a parent in our Suzuki class who teaches flute. She knows music. She doesn’t know the violin. She is learning with all the other parents who don’t have her musical background. For a parent who grew up Jewish and needs a refresher, what better way than with your child?
I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts about how this could translate to the religious school classroom. Could you imagine making the commitment to learn with your child each week and then practicing at home? If you believe Judaism provides the framework for structuring a life of meaning, joy, order and purpose, it would seem to be worth the time and effort!
[table][tr][td][/td][td] Developed by a psychologist who specializes in marriage counseling, Love and Religion is offered throughout the country, usually housed in Jewish community centers. If you are not in Chicago and you or someone you know would like to take part in a Love and Religion workshop, it is highly possible a JCC near you is or could offer it. Just [firstname.lastname@example.org]email Dr. Marion Usher[/email], the creator of the program, [/td][/tr][/table]to ask her where and when it is being offered. In Chicago we have already offered the workshop twice and we have two more sessions coming up in August and October.
This program is only four sessions long. It is meant for interfaith couples (where one partner is Jewish and the other partner is not (whether or not they practice another religion) or is new to Judaism) who are engaged or were married within the last couple of years. The first night we meet, we treat all of the couples to dinner in the city so that we can get to know each other. The next 3 sessions take place from the comfort of your own home: couples use WebEx’s video conferencing on their computers or smart phones. So, for four Thursdays you devote an hour to thinking about your relationship, about religion and spirituality, and about which traditions you find important and want to establish in your home.
The couples participating in the past two sessions have felt that their understanding of their partner (and other couples) increased through this sharing process. They nodded their heads as each one told of the feelings they had for their partner when they met; they shared so much camaraderie around coming from two different religions. For many couples, the fact that they are two different religions is not a big deal; neither family expressed concerned about this. In lots of cases, either or both partners grew up with family members of different religions and celebrated all of the holidays with joy and cheer. The specifics of theological or cultural differences seem minimal in comparison to the sense that they have found their soul mate. This workshop does not create issues where there are none. It does help couples come to articulate aspects of what’s important to them religiously that maybe they hadn’t yet thought about. And, of course, couples makes decisions about a whole host of major life issues over time and with change. This workshop helps set a foundation for making those decisions together as they arise.
The hardest part about offering this workshop is finding interfaith couples who are engaged or recently married. The workshop is normally just $36 per couple, but mention this blog post and it’s free! Please share this blog post with anybody you know who lives in Chicagoland if you think they would get something out of having an experience like this. Whether a couple is getting married by a rabbi, a rabbi and clergy from another religion, only clergy from another religion, a Judge or by a friend; whether the couple is getting married for the first time or whether one or both has been previously married; whether the couple is LGBTQ or straight; everybody should know that this is open to them. At InterfaithFamily/Chicago our goal is to reach interfaith couples with programs in which they can strengthen relationships, find ways to connect with Judaism and with the Jewish community, and to understand more about the role Judaism can play in an interfaith relationship, in ways that will feel natural, comfortable, accessible and meaningful to both partners.
The InterfaithFamily/Chicago initiative began this past July. Since then, I have connected with clergy across the denominations, with religious school and preschool teachers working in Jewish settings, with Jewish communal professionals, with couples getting married and with interfaith parents with young children.
With professionals, I have talked about how to be welcoming to interfaith families, how to be more inclusive and accessible. With couples and parents we have spoken about creating a religious life that feels comfortable to both parents and which leaves children with a strong sense of self.
I have begun meeting with those who work with interfaith couples to plan weddings and other life cycle events that take into account two different cultures. These event planners figure out how both cultures can be represented in the ceremony, in the setting, in the food and in the ambiance. These professionals work with interfaith couples who may not even know that there are resources available to them in the Jewish world, nor Jewish clergy who want to work with them.
Through all of these meetings, classes and workshops, I still know that there are so many who do not know that InterfaithFamily/Chicago exists and is here for them. I am on a continual awareness campaign. I even think about going to jewelry stores to meet people who help interfaith couples find engagement rings – they could tell the couples about our Love and Religion Workshops or wedding guide!
One of the most effective ways of engaging is reaching out in partnership with Chicago's vast cultural landscape. For example, InterfaithFamily/Chicago is partnering with Spertus on a program that is geared towards interfaith couples engaged or newly married. On June 20 at 6pm, their beautiful gift store will be open with discounts on items for weddings and the home. Couples will enjoy food and wine as they shop. Spertus staff will be on hand to answer questions about the traditions behind the items and to share information about the artists who made them; they sell everything from menorahs to mezuzahs to blessings for the home. We will also enjoy a tour of the magnificent building, receive Spertus membership giveaways and more. If you live in the city and are engaged or have gotten married recently, please come by after work. Email me at email@example.com to RSVP. This event is free of charge.
Each Monday I am now posting a discussion question on the Chicagoland Community Page. One way I hope to get to know more interfaith couples and parents in Chicagoland is by reading your responses to my questions. I look forward to learning with you in this way.
I hope to see you at Spertus, June 20th, and your responses, online, soon!
She wrote that the great thing about having the material online is that she could come to it in five minutes here or there and get a nugget of content to ponder. Even though this class has ended, the material can still be accessed online. If any Chicagoland interfaith families with young children would like to learn more about this class, just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chai also wrote about whether it is possible to get to know the other families in a primarily online class, which was one of our goals. I think families learned from each other's posts, but building friendships can only happen if they see each other for shared experiences. To that end, I will continue to share opportunities for our community to meet in person, like the JCC’s Got Shabbat or PJ Library programs.
The last point she made was particularly interesting: What does the term "interfaith" imply? I'm not sure how many kids use this term to describe their own family. Interfaith families run the gamut from families who want to incorporate both religions and traditions, to those in which one partner converts and they still feel that they are "interfaith" because they have extended family that isn't Jewish, to those in which one partner does not feel they have (or were raised in) any faith. When both partners are on the same page religiously they may feel that they are "just Jewish" or whatever other labels they give themselves. When families in similar religious situations can participate together in a program, it often leads to meaningful conversations about ideas that came up, what other people do, etc., and families often feel that having these affinity-type groups is meaningful. Congregations and communal organizations do wonder, though, what the best term is to use when wanting to reach all families across the interfaith spectrum. One congregation, temple-har-zion">West Suburban Har Zion, uses the term “multi-culti.” Whatever the term, I look forward to hearing from Chicagoland families who have a partner who is Jewish and one who didn't grow up Jewish or isn't Jewish: let us know what you are interested in, what challenges, if any, you have, and how we can better connect with you.
Chai mentioned wanting to find a welcoming congregation. Check out the amazing congregations from an independent minyan like Mishkan to all of the Humanist, Reform, Reconstruction, Conservative and other congregations in your area on our Chicagoland community page.
Lastly, as for requesting gluten-free challah as a pre-requisite for a congregational fit, this blogger is in complete agreement! Maybe fellow gluten-free families should have a challah-making group every Thursday afternoon. Or better yet, let's just meet at Rose's in Evanston!
All interfaith families with young children in Chicago, who want meaningful Judaism and spirituality in your lives, there are so many options and resources for you. Help us get to know you so we can point you in the right direction.
We just finished an online class called Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family. Participants came to their computers on their own time and read essays, watched videos, read narratives written by other interfaith families and discussed with each other the content and meaning of the eight sessions. The sessions were about major aspects of parenting, from bedtime to meals to raising ethical children, and the wisdom Judaism can provide about these areas.
An interesting discussion arose about Shabbat family worship. Parents said that Friday evening services were too late for young children. Tot Shabbat was fun for the children but didn’t fill the adults with spirituality or insight. Parents who were raised Christian said that they had warm memories of attending Church as a family on Sunday mornings: adults were able to participate in communal worship and children could join in or attend the nursery program. The whole family had an enriching experience that grounded their week and brought them together.
Why did this not exist within liberal Judaism, they wondered? It seemed as if Reform temples had essentially private bar or bat mitzvahs on Shabbat mornings, with no childcare for young children. Some Conservative synagogues had more options on Shabbat morning for the whole family, but parents who aren’t Jewish worried that they wouldn’t know enough Hebrew and would feel out of place somehow. I encouraged all of the participants to try both Reform and Conservative worship to see how they felt in reality, as assumptions and apprehensions may or may not come true. But the frustration was clear. Parents spoke about how their Jewish neighbors were taking the kids to soccer and swim lessons and anything other than Shabbat family worship.
I can relate to this frustration. I have worked at different Reform congregations around the country, and at least once a year it seems the senior staff would get together to talk about what to do with Shabbat! Were there ways to meet for earlier Friday evening family programs with dinner? If it was too early, parents who worked outside the home couldn’t attend. Every idea for Shabbat morning family worship would be put forth: musical services, services with crafts and projects at the end for the children, services ending with lunch, and other ideas to make the service more “attractive” or “appealing.” However, time and time again no matter how Shabbat morning got programmed, few families would attend. Even when rabbis preached about the need for this gift called Shabbat, the gift of time, of joy, of changing pace if only for an hour or two, of re-connecting… nobody seemed to bite.
Some rabbis explain this by saying that Judaism is a religion of the home, and it is not cultural to feel a pull to attend congregational worship. Families often do the Shabbat blessings over their own special dinner and have friends over. The kitchen table is referred to as the mikdash m’at (a miniature temple) in rabbinic writings because what goes on around the Shabbat table is worship. But that still does not answer our questions.
Perhaps this challenge can help bring positive changes to our Jewish communities. Maybe interfaith families will take the lead in bringing Shabbat family worship to liberal Jewish families who may not even realize what spending an hour or two on a Saturday morning together in song and peace would do for their family. Imagine if it became the cultural norm for families to come to synagogue from 9:30-11:00 on Saturday mornings in order to ground their week in hope, love and community. It will be exciting to see what ideas congregations can come up with for participatory, inclusive and engaging family worship with nursery options and learner’s services so that the whole family can come together in making meaningful memories.
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