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From the Editor: Looking Back... and Looking Ahead

Could four years truly have passed--and more than 500 articles been published--since InterfaithFamily.com was created?

Initially conceived by Yossi Abramowitz, the founder of Jewish Family & Life!, as an integral part of his mission to make Judaism accessible, relevant and vital to various subgroups within the Jewish community, InterfaithFamily.com has grown in many ways since it was created.

I remember the countless hours we spent trying to come up with a name that would clarify what the magazine was about and pull the greatest number of people in without pushing others away. So many people helped with this quest, especially Paula Brody, Director of Outreach Training and Programs for the Northeast Region of the Reform Movement, who has served as our expert consultant; Susan Berrin (editor of Sh'ma, who also helped create the magazine); Yossi; and other Jewish Family & Life! staffers.

We rejected names that included the word Jewish, fearing that using the "J" word would alienate non-Jewish partners, whose participation in our endeavor was crucial. After all, our mission is to welcome intermarried families to the Jewish community and invite them to make Jewish choices. To do that, we have to reach out to and welcome the non-Jewish partners.

We chose InterfaithFamily.com because it seemed to convey our goal--to reach an audience that included the whole family of interfaith partners--parents, siblings, grandparents, and children. The interfaith part indicated that people came from two different religious traditions, even if they are no longer practicing that religion, or any, now.

I still remember the wonderful conversations I had with writers when I called to ask them to write the first articles for the magazine, back in the summer of 1998. As I contacted each person and explained why I had called, almost everyone reacted with delight that we were creating a new online magazine for intermarried families and appeared eager to participate.

That kind of interaction with the writers for InterfaithFamily.com has, for me personally, been a great source of pleasure these past four-and-a-half years. Usually over the phone or via email, occasionally in person, the give and take with our thoughtful, reflective, smart and perceptive writers has been a delight for me.

In addition to Paula Brody's lists of creative topics and possible writers--many of whom were fellow outreach workers and Jewish and Christian clergy, to whom we are so grateful for their willingness to take time from busy lives to contribute--many excellent articles were suggested by writers themselves, based on their own interfaith experiences. I recruited some of our regular writers after they posted interesting comments in our online discussions. Often, posters were surprised to receive an email from me inviting them to write an article. Yet, many of them went on to become frequent contributors.

Some participants in our online discussions have formed their own support groups, and conduct private online chats on topics such as raising Jewish children when you yourself are not Jewish. These members of support groups have expressed deep gratitude to InterfaithFamily.com for having provided the medium through which they first connected.

Occasionally I am contacted by a reader who wishes to be put in touch with other people in her situation. When I do that, I find that each person benefits--the person who contacted me, as well as the person to whom I linked her (it is usually a woman). Often, a provocative article topic will emerge from their conversations, which benefits our magazine and readers. Most recently, one such topic was: "feeling culturally Catholic and philosophically Jewish"--a topic I immediately assigned and can't wait to read about.

Looking back to our first issue, I see that Ed Case and his wife Wendy each wrote articles, offering Jewish and non-Jewish points of view on parenting children in an interfaith family--possibly the most difficult area intermarried partners face. Ed, who had approached Jewish Family & Life! to share his passion about creating resources for intermarried families, soon came to work at Jewish Family & Life, and ultimately became the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com.

Since Ed became publisher, the website has expanded. In the magazine, we added a News section (in which we reprint news articles relevant to interfaith families), and a Dialogue and Debate section (in which people debate controversial issues regarding interfaith families). We also expanded the website to include our "Connections in Your Area" section that lists programs for interdating or intermarried couples in different parts of the country. We are still expanding that section and in 2003 will include all regions of the country.

For the past two years we have collaborated with the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI)--the first major Jewish organization to advocate for including intermarried couples in the Jewish community. We now publish monthly columns written by JOI, and see our role as reaching out directly to individuals and families while JOI primarily works with organizations.

As I review the helpful material we have published, I realize how much I have learned--from the wisdom of interfaith family members who generously shared their experiences, as well as from seasoned family educators, outreach workers, and clergy. Despite the fact that I began my own interfaith journey nearly 30 years ago, when I married an atheist who was raised Protestant and who agreed to raise our future children as Jews (we divorced about seven years ago), I have gained so much more insight into interfaith dynamics since I began editing the magazine.

Some of the issues the magazine addressed that I personally have found most illuminating were: meeting the needs of non-Jewish parents raising Jewish children, telling your non-Jewish parents you'll be raising Jewish children, baby ceremonies, religious journeys, teaching children about "the other" religion, grandparenting, and mourning.

Just a year ago, our book--The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook--was published by Jewish Lights Publishing. A compilation of some of the best articles the magazine had published up to that point, it is now in its second printing, and it has been extremely rewarding to hear from readers who have found the book helpful.

Last year, InterfaithFamily.com separated from Jewish Family & Life!, becoming an independent non-profit, yet sharing office space and an affiliation with JFL. More recently, InterfaithFamily.com added a third person to our team--Kathy Bloomfield, a Jew-by-choice--whose role is to develop our communities, including by recruiting members to the InterfaithFamily.com Network, an organization we created to advocate for policies and practices within the Jewish community that will increase the likelihood that interfaith families will make Jewish choices.

Over these past four years I am proud that our readership has grown tremendously. In November 2002, we had 13,250 unique visitors who visited the site over 33,500 times.

With the support of our readers and writers, we hope to continue to expand and to meet your needs. One particular area we hope to increase our coverage on is couples who are Jewish and Asian or Jewish and Latino and what it is like for their children to grow up in these families. We also hope to delve more deeply into issues faced by interdating couples and the many step-families with interfaith issues. If you are part of any of these situations and would like to write for us, or if you have ideas of topics you would like us to address, please contact me at ronnief@interfaithfamily.com.

To all our readers and writers, thank you for your support and contributions.

Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.

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