Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
In the fall of 1998, Edmund Case, a Jewish former lawyer, and Wendy, his wife, a social worker who was not Jewish at the time, were asked to contribute a pair of articles for the first issue of a new online magazine called InterfaithFamily.com. Little did Ed know that nine years later, he'd be running that Web Magazine as part of an organization that is at the forefront of the Jewish community in promoting the interests and needs of interfaith families.
|Our original logo, which we used from November 1998 to March 2001.|
Back in '98, InterfaithFamily.com was just one of many online magazines published by Jewish Family &Life!, an innovative Jewish non-profit founded by Jewish journalist and social activist Yossi Abramowitz. Essential to InterfaithFamily.com's development in these early days was Ronnie Friedland, the first--and only--Web Magazine editor InterfaithFamily.com has ever had, and Paula Brody, the Reform movement's regional outreach director in Boston, who consulted extensively on every aspect of the new publication. But it was nonetheless a small enterprise, publishing only four or five articles in each issue. Friedland had to find time to edit the magazine while juggling five or six other online publications for JFL.
But Case, who had studied intermarriage issues while getting his master's degree at Brandeis University, saw a great potential there. In the spring of 1999, he was hired by Jewish Family & Life! to be its executive director and the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com, which was his main interest. In 2001, he co-edited with Friedland a compilation of essays from the website titled The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook, (Jewish Lights Publishing) which has sold more than 3,000 copies. In the fall of '01, he started a new non-profit and bought the website from Jewish Family & Life! with the goal of making InterfaithFamily.com the grassroots address of interfaith families exploring Jewish life.
Where the publication had previously published only personal narratives from interfaith families and interested rabbis and outreach workers, Case saw the potential for InterfaithFamily.com to become a political advocacy tool, a platform from which the Jewish community could be lobbied to be more welcoming and supportive of interfaith families. The Jewish world took notice: in November of '01, the Forward, America's only national Jewish newspaper, included Case in the Forward 50, a list of the 50 most important, forward-thinking personalities in the Jewish world.
|Our second logo--and the last one before our current logo (see top of page)--which we used from March 2001 to August 2003.|
The new non-profit began operations in January 2002. The Web Magazine remained the heart and soul of its operations, but InterfaithFamily.com expanded to include an advocacy arm and Connections In Your Area, a searchable database of organizations and events for interfaith families that now includes listings from more than 375 organizations.
In December 2002, InterfaithFamily.com faced its first major advocacy challenge. The leadership of the Reform movement made a series of budget cutbacks that included the elimination of 13 regional outreach directors spread across the country. This was a serious setback to the outreach field, which the Reform movement itself had invented 24 years earlier. If the creators of outreach were cutting funds to reach out to interfaith families, how likely was it that the rest of the Jewish world would even enter the field?
Alongside a group of rabbis from around the country, InterfaithFamily.com launched a petition campaign to restore the funding for the positions; by the spring of 2003, funding was secured to maintain four of the positions (and more recently, for two others).
While the advocacy helped raise InterfaithFamily.com's profile, the grassroots contributions and feedback of writers and readers remained the core of the operations. From April to June 2004, InterfaithFamily.com conducted an essay contest, "We're Interfaith Families… Connecting with Jewish Life," that attracted 135 entries. Some of the contributors to that contest remain among our best and most prolific writers, including Gina Hagler, Cheryl Coon, Johanna Karasik, Sue Eisenfeld and many more. User contributions formed the basis of new compilations of ideas for wedding ceremonies, birth ceremonies and bar and bat mitzvahs for interfaith families. And the advocacy and grassroots contributions of our users came together in 2004, when InterfaithFamily.com started administering two surveys a year to determine interfaith families' behaviors during the December holidays and Passover and Easter.
In 2005, Heather Martin was hired as vice president to oversee the organization's growing operations; by the end of 2005, InterfaithFamily.com was so well-established as the first stop for information and resources for interfaith families that the organization was covered by Time, Newsweek, USA Today and the Associated Press.
In 2006, we expanded to hire a full-time online managing editor and full-time community connections coordinator and launched our Resource Pages, a series of topic-centered pages that included links to helpful resources and articles on our site and on our site partner, MyJewishLearning.com. 2006 also saw InterfaithFamily.com receive significant press for its role in the most positive bit of news ever to hit the outreach world: a demographic study of Boston's Jewish community that showed that 60 percent of the intermarried population were raising their children Jewish.
At the beginning of 2007, on the occasion of the web magazine's 200th issue and the organization's fifth anniversary as an independent non-profit, InterfaithFamily.com has accomplished a lot--but much work remains to be done. InterfaithFamily.com still only reaches a minority of interfaith families with Jewish partners. Outreach to interfaith families still gets less than one tenth of one percent of the Jewish community's funding.
We have big plans for the coming years. In 2007, InterfaithFamily.com will hold its first conference, a gathering of members of our Professionals Advisory Circle, a group of outreach professionals from across the country. It will greatly expand a new resource launched in 2006 for rabbis interested in information about officiating at intermarriages (the officiation referral service is one of the fastest-growing pieces of InterfaithFamily.com). There are also discussions to create a new section of the site devoted to young adults from interfaith homes, and grandparents whose children are intermarried. Let us know what new features you'd like to see by filling out our new user survey. And reconnect with our discussion boards, which have been overhauled and redesigned to be more user-friendly.
It's not easy writing the history of an organization whose primary presence has been on-line. There are no milestones like platinum status, reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller list or selling one billion hamburgers. There's no way to quantify the emails we receive thanking us for what we do and offering to contribute to the Web Magazine. As a grassroots organization, there is only one way to express our thoughts over five years of success and 200 issues of interesting, moving perspectives: thank you.