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Facing Interfaith Issues in December and Beyond

This article first appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate and is reprinted with permission of the author. Visit

Interfaith couples and families wrestling with dueling December holidays had places to turn for help. "December Holidays: Dilemmas and Delights," a workshop for interfaith couples, led by an experienced facilitator, explored the challenges and opportunities of the holiday season. The Jewish Family and Children's Service program ran at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 in Cambridge and at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 at Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton. There was a $5 per-person suggested donation. Call Diane Richler at (617) 558-1278 for details.   

Also on Dec. 2, Striar JCC on the Fireman Campus in Stoughton hosted a "Creative Judaica Interfaith" program for families with children ages 3 to 9, with storytelling, music and creating a ceramic family menorah. There was a suggested donation of $10 per family. Call Carole Neitlich at (781) 341-2016, ext. 293.

For many, such one-time programs open the door to the desire for more in-depth explorations. "The issues of an interfaith family don't fade away on Jan. 1," says Paula Brody, Director of Outreach and Training Programs for the regional Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the Reform movement. "The holidays are an added stress blip, but the issues couples face and the need to work on communicating run through the entire year." In 1996, Combined Jewish Philanthropies began a pioneering effort to directly fund programs of outreach to interfaith couples and families throughout Greater Boston. These programs were provided in the first years by the UAHC Northeast Council, the Conservative Movement's Gerim Institute, and Jewish Family & Children's Service and, more recently, by the Conservative Movement's local Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue offices.

A soon-to-be-released study conducted locally reveals the value of these outreach programs which tend to target those having little contact with the Jewish community. An overwhelming majority rated their participation in the programs as helpful in terms of strengthened interpersonal relationships and an increased involvement in Jewish life. The results also point the way to expansion of outreach programs. "These programs are effective because we are filling a real need in this community with a team of welcoming, creative professionals," says Ed Case, publisher of and Project Director on the study.

Here's a menu of ongoing interfaith programs in the area. For updates, check and the Boston-area interfaith events and programs listed on

In addition to their holiday program (above), JF&CS offers monthly discussion groups, counseling and a resource center. Upcoming programs include: two three-week workshops: "Raising Children in an Interfaith Family" and "Raising Jewish Children in an Interfaith Family," a one-evening workshop on "Celebrating Passover in an Interfaith Family" and a workshop for those who have chosen Judaism. For details or to register, call Diane Richler at (617) 558-1278.

In addition to their December program, the JCCs of Greater Boston will offer a free "Purim Mask-making" program for families with kids ages 3-9 on Feb. 10 at Michael's Arts and Crafts in Natick, from 10 a.m.-noon and repeating 1-2 p.m. On March 10, families make their own seder plate at "Creative Judaica Interfaith Celebrates Passover" from 2-4 p.m. at the Leventhal-Sidman JCC in Newton and 2-4 p.m. March 17 at the Striar JCC on the Fireman Campus in Stoughton.

On April 21, from 2-4 p.m., there's "Creative Judaica Interfaith Celebrates Shabbat" at Striar and 2-4 p.m. on April 28 at Leventhal-Sidman. Call Carole Neitlich at (781) 341-2016, ext. 293 for more information.

UAHC's Jewish Outreach programming includes "Yours, Mine & Ours, " a six-week (or one weekend) couples workshop that explores feelings and strengthens communication. "A Taste of Judaism: Are You Curious?" is a free, three-week class on Jewish spirituality, ethics and community. "Introduction to Judaism" is a 16-week opportunity for individuals and couples to learn about Jewish life. "And Baby Makes Three" is a supportive three-week workshop designed for expectant and new interfaith parents who have decided to raise children within Judaism while respecting the faiths of both parents. Also offered: "When Your Son or Daughter Falls in Love With Someone from Another Faith" and "New Beginnings - Becoming Jewish," for those considering or in the process of choosing Judaism. For more information or to register, call Joyce Schwartz at (781) 449-0404.

Through Keruv, the Conservative Movement offers programs and resources on interfaith issues, as well as workshops for synagogue professionals and lay leaders. "First Steps: An Invitation to Judaism" is a series developed for interfaith couples interested in learning and exploring basic concepts of Judaism. Locations include Metrowest, the South Shore, and Brookline/Newton/Needham. For more information, call Judy Greene at (617) 964-8210.

In addition, through Gerim Institute, New England's Conservative rabbis and synagogues offer a 22-week course, "Jewish Life, Thought and Practice," for individuals and interfaith couples. The next session begins Jan. 3 at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. For more information or to register, call Gerim's Rabbi Myron Geller at (978) 281-3878.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "bringing close," a term meaning Jewish outreach. Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Deborah Fineblum Raub

Deborah Fineblum Raub is Senior Public Relations Manager at Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston and a freelance writer whose work is frequently published in The Boston Globe and Hadassah Magazine.

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