Be a Fly On the Wall: Hear What Jewish Leaders Talk About

InterfaithFamily/Chicago co-lead the Community Foundation for Jewish Education (CFJE) Principal’s Kallah on Sunday and Monday, January 29 and 30. About 20 Chicagoland Jewish educators (including directors of lifelong learning, religious school principals and early childhood directors) from the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative denominations gathered at the Schaumburg Hyatt Place on Sunday evening. Anita Diamant was the key-note speaker; she spoke about the American Jewish family in the 21st century. She taught us about the growth in number of conversions to Judaism. Did you know that the rate of conversions to Judaism has not been this high since 500 C.E.? She talked about how the rabbinic codes and laws concerning conversion were written at that time to be open and welcoming.

Today, American Jews are so successful and assimilated into every aspect of American culture (including the outspoken and proud Jon Stewart), that marrying someone Jewish seems like a realistic and wonderful choice for someone who grew up a different religion and is not practicing, or even for someone who still practices another religion.  American Judaism is open, flexible, adaptable, and so young couples think intermarriage “works.” 

She said that it is now statistically normative to be intermarried, which is a powerful statement with many ramifications. She spoke about how labels can impact our sense of identity. She said at the end that she is optimistic about the future of American Judaism and wouldn’t want to live at any other time than now. 

On Monday, Karen Kushner (who lives and works in San Francisco) and I ran three workshops for the Kallah participants.

The first workshop involved getting to know each other and starting to think about the most welcoming language for synagogue membership forms. Filling in a form should leave one with the feeling that this synagogue is inclusive and respectful of all backgrounds. All of the educators at our conference said that they work with interfaith families. Many said that they were sure they had students in their classes who felt that they were “half and half” or confused about their religious identity. Many affirmed that they have children from interfaith homes who feel proud to be Jewish, love their family and feel whole and secure. So, we spoke about how interfaith families come through our doors with different needs, issues, desires, backgrounds, questions and more. 

It was so interesting for the educators to take a good look at their own congregation’s website and their school forms. Many confessed that they hadn’t read through the language in quite some time and were either pleasantly surprised by how inclusive their language was or turned off by the lack of specific mention that interfaith families are welcome in their community. We had the educators circle or highlight every Hebrew or Yiddish word on their forms, all “insider” language terms and references to synagogue lingo that some parents may not “get.” We debated if one should actually translate the words, “Shabbat,” “matzah” and “Torah” for example as “everyone knows what these words mean…” Interestingly, many may not know the origins of even these Hebrew words. For instance, Shabbat comes from the Hebrew word for rest; Torah has the same etymological root as horim and morim (parents and teachers) and means learning. 

We ended Monday with a session on how children form a sense of self and gain a Jewish identity. We spoke about the challenges to having a “full” Jewish identity when a parent is bringing Christianity or another religion into the home. 

We talked about how these issues aren’t black and white, but full of grays. For some, a Christmas tree or Easter egg hunt are purely secular, so adding these elements into a Jewish home doesn’t feel like they create theological problems. I see this, for example, when I meet with couples who are preparing for their weddings. I usually start by saying, “Tell me your life in a nutshell…” I sometimes ask myself what children growing up in interfaith homes will they tell their rabbi before they get married. Will s/he say that their Jewish story is that they grew up going to a temple, attended religious school, celebrated Jewish holidays in the home and that mom or dad also celebrated another religion’s holidays, and they occasionally went to church with family members but that they want a rabbi at their wedding because they feel a core inside connection to Judaism…? It will differ for each child.

We do know, however, how important a connection to a synagogue is. We do know how important it is to have positive, joy filled, meaningful Jewish experiences that touch the senses. These experiences stay with us, and we want our children to experience them too. This is how we pass on our values, our memories, and live with and through our children fully.

There was definitely a lot of discussion. Many people asked questions. Many answers, suggestions and opinions were shared. The most important thing is that 20 Chicagoland educators devoted two days from their hectic schedules – juggling childcare, work obligations and more – to think about the precious subject of the American Jewish family today and how we can best bring interfaith families into the tent of Jewish living. It was an honor to be part of such a workshop.

InterfaithFamily.com Named a “Standard Bearer” by Slingshot!

[sup]We're excited and honored to be recognized as a “Standard Bearer” by Slingshot. We just sent out a press release, and thought we'd share it here too, below:[/sup]

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joanna Rothman, joannar@interfaithfamily.com, (617) 581-6804

InterfaithFamily.com Named One of North America’s Most Innovative Jewish Nonprofits Recognized as “Standard Bearer” for Continuing Innovation, Impact, Leadership and Efficacy

(Newton, MA) – October 18, 2011 – For the seventh consecutive year, InterfaithFamily.com has been included in Slingshot, the resource guide that features the 50 most innovative Jewish organizations in North America. This year, InterfaithFamily.com is one of just ten 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 is used by philanthropists, volunteers, not-for-profit executives, and program participants to identify path-finding and trailblazing organizations grappling with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition. Organizations are selected from among hundreds of nominees by a panel of 36 foundation professionals from across North America.

As the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life, InterfaithFamily.com empowers 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 seventh straight year, but to be one of ten organizations to be honored as a Standard Bearer,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “Efforts to engage interfaith families in Jewish life have not been well funded in the past. Recognition of the importance of those efforts by Slingshot, which represents the next generation of Jewish funders, will influence the community’s attitudes to change in a positive direction. Being named a Standard Bearer can only help InterfaithFamily.com to grow our capacity and take our programming to the next level.”

According to Will Schneider, Executive Director of Slingshot, “Seven editions of Slingshot ago, Jewish innovation was still largely undefined and unexplored, and 66% of the organizations listed in this year’s guide weren’t even founded yet. Over the years, the Standard Bearers consistently set, exceeded and reset the high standards that emerging organizations and projects in Jewish life aspired to match. In truth, we had trouble selecting a name that would set them apart as examples of ongoing excellence without placing them on an “emeritus” list or implying that their innovative days were behind them. We settled on Standard Bearers because these groups set benchmarks for the field and led by example with ongoing innovation and relevancy.”

Jonathan Raiffe, the Chairman of Slingshot shared, “The Slingshot guide makes a statement to the Jewish community and beyond that next gen funders embrace change, innovation, and evaluation when meeting the needs of our community. Slingshot promotes organizations that hold themselves accountable to all their stakeholders and up to the same scrutiny as for-profit organizations, while pushing the boundaries of how to solve the most pressing issues. Slingshot is about making a statement as to what we believe are the greatest needs and what organizations are doing the best job to fulfill those needs.”

Slingshot ’11/’12 was released on October 18, 2011. The community will meet on March 14 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.

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 seventh 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.slingshotfund.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.

Jewish Women’s History Month

In honor of May being Jewish Women’s History Month, we’re participating in a social media experiment with the Jewish Women’s Archive.

At least once a week, we will be tweeting about something from their encyclopedia that we find interesting. I’m trying to keep the content relevant to the scope of InterfaithFamily.com.

So, for the first entry…

In the last three decades of the twentieth century, scores of film and video makers gave voice to enduring Jewish themes of historic oppression, resistance, immigration and exile. Some independent feature films have reached much broader audiences, especially when they situate specifically Jewish characters in romantic and/or comedic stories. But what may characterize independent Jewish cinema most, including those works made by Jewish women, is its lack of unifying discourse. While the major signifiers of Jewish life in the post-World War II era continue to be Judaism as religion, the Holocaust, and Israel, independent American Jewish cinema seems to subvert that triumvirate with images of hybrid identities, interfaith romance, oppositional politics, and jump-cut collective memories.

I enjoy that the entry on “Filmmakers, Independent North American” points out that there isn’t just one way to do/be Jewish in Jewish films. And that one of the variances among our communities, that’s reflected on the screen, is that interfaith relationships can be a norm.

Have you seen a film that reflected your interfaith relationship? Your interfaith family?

To follow other people and organizations tweeting about this, follow the hashtag #jwapedia.

Passover Hodgepodge the Third

In case the first two Passover blog posts weren’t enough, here’s the third, and final, installment:

Gateways: access to Jewish education just announced their Passover resources for kids with special needs. Or, as one employee put it, “a whole lot of ways to help kids who have special needs (or just get bored, or are pre-readers!) to participate in and enjoy the seder.” You might also check out Gayeways’ Seven Strategies for a Successful Seder for All Learners – Pointers for a perfect Passover from Gateways’ Special Educators, Therapists & Specialists.

JewishBoston has a Passover youtube playlist. Seriously. It includes Les Matzarables (which we at InterfaithFamily were singing, and had stuck in our heads, a few weeks ago)…

Having recovered from that Shalom Sesame video (or maybe to help you recover?), check out the Passover Martini on the Gloss. (I’m not sure why there’s so much Passover cocktail action this year, but the first post also had cocktails.)

The BJPA (Berman Jewish Policy Archive, out of NYU) offers up four articles, representing the four cups of the seder, on the “mixed, modern seder.” Mixed marriages, Jews and Christians, Jews and Palestinians, and Jews and Jews.

And food. So much food, recipes, yumminess to share!

For those of you who are addicted to your iPhones, Tablet Magazine has a round up of apps that “offer everything from a simulated candle for ferreting out hametz to a Ten Plagues noisemaker that you never knew you needed.” And how else would you know which of the half dozen haggadot to download or which games? (And, thinking ahead, they also review iPhone apps for counting the Omer. My favorite, that I’ve been using since 2008, is Sefirat HaOmer.)

There are great resources for kids on Uncle Eli’s site, but be warned: it hasn’t been updated since the late-90s, so be prepared for frames and music!

For the more social justice inclined, a hodgepodge can’t be complete without mention of two more resources. COEJL (the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life) explains the value of Hunger Seders, “to celebrate the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, introduce the challenges our nation faces in regard to hunger and nutrition, and present opportunities for action and advocacy opportunities to combat hunger.” Then there’s the Uri L’Tzedek Food and Justice Haggadah Supplement, as reviewed on Jewschool. The supplement, featuring 26 articles and insights about food, justice and Pesach, is available via free download.

Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) has a Passover Torah study on the diversity of the ancient Israelite community. Their Passover resources include recipes, lesson plans, global traditions and more.

And with that, I wish you all a happy Passover – chag sameach!

The Second Passover Hodgepodge

Ok, so maybe the last Passover Hodgepodge didn’t contain everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Passover, but it had a lot to offer. Still, there was more I could have shared.

On the Reform Judaism blog, Ben Dreyfus approaches a seemingly simple question: how many days is Passover, 7 or 8? “When does Pesach end? Why do some calendars say it ends April 25 and others say April 26?  The answer in most Reform Jewish communities is April 25, but the history is complicated….”

G-dcast presents a new spin on the Passover story of the Four Sons: 

Atlanta Interfaith are hosting an Interfaith Pesach Seder, which is great. But what makes it even better? It’s for a suggested donation of $10!

Serious Eats, one of my favourite foodie blogs, has a delicious-looking recipe for “matzo brei with pear and dried sour cherries.” Wow. I will definitely be trying it this year. (For more recipes, don’t forget to check out our Jerusalem Post has a feature on “non-traditional items showing up on seder plates. Of particular interest, did you know that some folks put an artichoke on their seder plate to symbolize interfaith families (this was actually taken from Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael’s article on our site!) while others use a kiwi (this is from Jim Keen’s article on our site!). (The JTA has a similar article.)

I’ve tweeted (and posted to Facebook) a Peep S’mores interfaith video before (see below). Now there’s an instructional article on JewishBoston.com too!

If you’re looking for yet another free, downloadable Haggadah, you might want to check out Including Women’s Voices: The Jewish Women’s Archive edition of JewishBoston.com’s The Wandering Is Over Haggadah.

For a current reinterpretation of the seder plate, Tablet has a News Junkie’s Seder Plate, complete with Qaddafi charoset and bitter Boehner herb.

And stay tuned. There’ll be one more Passover hodgepodge before the seders start!

The Passover Hodgepodge

It’s been a while since I’ve rounded up some favorite links, but what better excuse than Passover? There’s something for everybody!

Let’s start with Passover and Easter in a Box. For your convenience, you can now get Passover standards (matzah, a seder plate and grape juice) packaged with Easter treats (candy, chocolate bunnies and Easter cookies).

Sweets aren’t your thing? Is that skewed a little young for your tastes? There’s always the Sipping Seder, a seder in cocktail form! If this isn’t a great way to introduce Passover to your friends and family (of legal age), I don’t know what is.

Looking for the 2011 version of the Passover story? Check out this video:

This year we found a great crop of Haggadahs for all tastes and styles:
[list][*] – JewishBoston.com has a Haggadah and a Leader’s Guide, which is free, downloadable, and easy to edit;[/*]
[*] – haggadot.com">Haggadot lets you pick and choose, for free, which components you want to use and download, as you crowd-source your customized Haggadah;[/*]
[*] – and The Forward has a review of seven more that you can find at your favorite store.[/*][/list]

Following her recent post on religion, exploration and making Passover kid-friendly, Galit Breen has blogged about more ways to make Passover fun for kids.

My buddies at JewishBoston.com are to blame (or be thanked) for this punk seder cover song:

You might enjoy the interfaith Passover video ecard, featuring Rabbi David Wolpe and an interesting version of “Eliyahu Ha’Navi” in the background.

That’s it for now…. Enjoy!

Slacker Hamantashen

Our friends at JewishBoston.com have been hard at work. Well, as “hard at work” as “slackers” can be. You see, they’ve come up with the simplest hamantaschen recipe ever.

It’s so simple, all you need are two ingredients. Seriously. It’s great for making hamantaschen at your office (as they did) or in a dorm room. And if my count is correct, you only need five other items in addition to your two ingredients: a paper cup (“cookie cutter”), a paper plate (serving double duty as a “spatula” and a “plate”), a can opener (optional, depending on your hamantaschen filling), a spoon (optional, depending on the filling type) and a toaster oven. Done.

Watch their video for the recipe and instructions. (You might recognize Liz from our Hanukkah video!)

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you might also check out our other hamantaschen recipes, submitted by InterfaithFamily.com readers like you.

Enjoy!

Tu Bishvat

Tu Bishvat is just a few days away, a one day holiday starting Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, at sundown. It’s a minor holiday and, as such, I think it gets lost among the bigger, better known holidays. But there’s a lot to it – and it’s a great way to gather friends and family in your home on a cool winter’s night to remind ourselves that, if nothing else, spring will soon be here.

I feel like there are some basics that could be explained for many of us.

For starters, why are there so many different spellings of the holiday name? I’ve seen Tu B’shvat, T’u B’shvat, Tu Beshvat, Tu Beshevat, and more. On this website, we use Tu Bishvat. Why? Check out Mah Rabu, a great blog, for the explanation.

One of the ways people celebrate Tu Bishvat is by having seders. The Jew and the Carrot explained,

Over the last decade, seders for Tu Bishvat have spiked in popularity. This growth is largely due to the contemporary Jewish community’s interest in “greening” ritual and holidays. Every year, the number of organizations turning to Tu Bishvat to inject some sustainability-awareness into their annual programming grows, as does the collection of environmentally-inspired haggadot for Tu Bishvat available online. (Like this one from My Jewish Learning, this one from Hillel, and this one from Hazon.)

The downside is that some people shy away from celebrating the holiday precisely because it feels too “hippie” or eco-spiritual. But while the Tu Bishvat seder, which was originally developed as a mystical celebration by kabbalists in 16th century Safed, provides a helpful structure for celebrating Tu Bishvat, there are no official rules for the holiday. The lack of halakhic requirements means that seders can be tailored to meet their hosts’ personalities–even if they happen to prefer fine china over bicompostable dishware.

The Seder Structure

Borrowing from Passover’s four cups of wine, the kabbalistic seder for Tu Bishvat is divided into four parts that correspond to four “worlds.” This notion of the importance of the number four repeats itself in multiple ways: through assigning a season and mystical attribute to each world, through drinking four cups of wine, and by dividing the foods eaten during the seder (generally a feast of fruits and nuts) into four categories that reflect human nature. Each of these components attempts to coax another level of contemplative thought, creativity, and wonder from seder participants.

You can also check out this quick video I made, explaining a basic Tu Bishvat seder structure:

The Jew and the Carrot continues, listing example menus for different Tu Bishvat seder types: the hippie, the sophisticate, the newbie, the multi-culturalist and the chocolate lover. Check them out.

You can also check out a few other organizations for their accessible and easy to follow (or adapt) seders: Hillel, My Jewish Learning, Hazon, nfty.org/_kd/Items/actions.cfm?action=Show&item_id=5275&destination=ShowItem:uhj5fnxk">NIFTY (pdf), JOFA or NeoHasid.

Another option, which I’ll be doing this year, is straight from television:

“I’d like to make an impression on those guys. Man, I love the Office Halloween Party. It is so much sluttier than the Office Christmas party. Though, not as freaky as the Office President’s Day Rave. Or the Office Tu Bishvat Pajama Jammy Jam.” – Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother

If, like me, you’re a fan of the show How I Met Your Mother, you might have caught this reference back in October, 2010. My housemate and I were watching when we heard Barney (played by Neil Patrick Harris) mention a Tu Bishvat Pajama Jammy Jam. None of the characters on the show are Jewish, and yet they all just nodded, as if this was a totally normal holiday (and normal way to celebrate it). We knew we had to host our own. So this year, in addition to a seder, we’ll be inviting our friends to show up in their pajamas, we’ll be watching fruit-themed movies (like The Apple and James and the Giant Peach). See? Tu Bishvat really can be celebrated in many ways…

So gather some friends and family and give Tu Bishvat a try this year!

Take a Break

It’s that busy time of the year (is there ever not a busy time of the year?). Hanukkah’s over but we’re still celebrating the December holidays with friends and family, colleagues and communities. You need a break, we need a break, time for a hodgepodge of links. Happy reading!

Take a break…

 

And now back to the holidays…

Until the next hodge podge…

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.