Monday, December 22, 2008

The Four Types of Interfaith Families

Jewish Demographics Studies
with Dr. Bruce Phillips

Over the course of years of studies, Dr. Phillips has come to identify interfaith families in four categories. They are:

Judaic - the only religion practiced in the household is Judaism.

Secular - no religion is practiced in the home. Both the Jew and the non-Jew (typically Christian) is not interested in religion.

Dual - two religions are observed, typically Judaism and Christianity. Family celebrates the holidays of both.

Christian - the only religion practiced in the home is Christianity.

There is an interesting error that most Jewish outreach stumbles on. The majority of outreach is directed at the Secular Family. This family has little to no interest in any religion. So efforts to draw them in are rarely successful. These individuals have no need or desire to have religion be a part of their lives. (I am using religion in its broadest terms here and including community.)

Additionally, Jewish outreach often shies away the Dual Religion family since Jews are uncomfortable with Christianity and do not support the idea of doing “both” religions in the home. Yet, these families are the most interested. Both partners are clinging to their religion and having trouble understanding how to sustain religion for each of them. They are the most receptive to learning about Judaism.

I do not want to down play how difficult programs for Dual Religion couples can be. They require a very centered and accessible facilitator who is comfortable with both hearing language that sounds like its neutralizing Judaism AND can express boundaries that are rational, not reactionary.

Studies: Who is a Jew?

Jewish Demographic Studies
with Dr Bruce Phillips

One thing that became evident early in our discussion with Dr. Phillips is the high level of political influence there is in Jewish demographic studies and how this impacts the resulting report. A question that has repercussions for every study is how the study’s authors define “who is a Jew?”

If you define a Jew as an individual who is the child of a Jewish parent, raised Jewish, still identifying as Jewish, you fail to learn about assimilation. Studies that question those individuals who identify as half-Jewish, of Jewish heritage, Christian Jews, etc., allow us to understand who is leaving Judaism and at what rate.

We learned that when this data is perceived of as too depressing or negative it has been entirely dropped by the funders of studies.

While this information may indeed be disturbing we need to be aware of it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Think Tank 2008

I realized I never posted photos from our gathering! So let me share with everyone some of our moments together.

Our plan for the gathering was to spend one day in creating a foundation of common knowledge on the topic of INTERFAITH MARRIAGE in the Jewish community and to move from that into our communal, programmatic, and personal responses from around the country. To create this overview of all current research we invited Dr. Bruce Phillips, sociologist, demographer, and author of many Jewish communal studies.

Our first night together we went out to dinner and established the comraderie that flavored the entire gathering.

From the left are: Natalie Rose, Rockville, MD; Dawn Kepler, Oakland/Berkeley; CA, Elana Perkins, Boston, MA; Bridget Wynne, El Cerrito, CA; at the head of the table, Bob Bernbaum a local friend who drove Bruce from the airport; Eve Coulson, Princeton, NJ; Dr. Bruce Phillips, our scholar for the Think Tank; Debbie Antonoff, Atlanta, GA; and Lynne Wolfe, New Jersey (office in New York).

We began our first morning with a thorough overview of all the current studies covering interfaith relationships in the American Jewish community. Quite fortuitously, Dr. Phillips had been retained to survey this same material and he came with a 23 page outline to share with us!

From the left: Dawn Kepler, Dr. Bruce Phillips, Marjorie Schnyder, Seattle, WA.

It was a round table dialog led by Dr. Phillips.

Participants from the left: Karen Kushner, San Francisco; Helena McMahon, San Francisco; Adam Halpern, Seattle, WA; Rosanne Levitt, San Mateo; Elana Perkins, Boston, MA.

The conversation never stopped.
Dinner with Natalie Rose, Rockville, MD; Bridget Wynne, El Cerrito; Phyllis Adler, Denver, CO.

The second day was an intensive discuss of on the ground experiences. Our reactions and thoughts on the data presented the previous day, programmatic approaches, current challenges from funding to marketing. There was a presentation of an extremely successful program with the opportunity to ask detailed questions.

We brainstormed about creating a "general" plan for community outreach but after extensive discussion we agreed that there was no such thing. Each community would have its own challenges, assets, boundaries and needs. Instead we developed an outline of how funders could support extending outreach in their own community and as a national agenda.

We agreed that we would mentor and assist any professional or community seeking to create or build outreach in their own community.

Before dinner we gathered for the requisite group photo.
Front row from the left: Natalie Rose, Debbie Antonoff, Karen Kushner, Elana Perkins, Margorie Schnyder, Dawn Kepler. Back row from the left: Lynne Wolfe, Rosanne Levitt, Eve Coulson, Bridget Wynne, Adam Halpern, Phyllis Adler.

One of the most powerful things to come out of the conference was the question in the afternoon of the second day: How can we tell the funders how important this experience was for all of us and encourage them to do this again? Participants decided that they would each write a letter of thanks to be included with the grant report articulating how the Think Tank had helped them. It is our hope that the funders will understand the value of bringing together veteran professionals and will do this again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cultural Differences between America and Judaism

For years I have been discussing with interfaith couples the core disconnect between being - AMERICAN and JEWISH. America has a culture of autonomy and individual choice while Judaism is a culture of mutuality and sacrifice for the whole. Neither one is “right” but they are different. For an AMERICAN JEW the divergent ways of perceiving one relationships and responsibility can be confusing.

Here’s an interesting article that brings it up in terms of American and Israeli Jews.

The better we ourselves understand this and can articulate it to couples the better prepared our couples will be to discuss their differing views.

Several months ago I had a couple come to see me in which both of the individuals were first generation Americans and shared an “old world” view of one’s responsibility to family and the community of origin. They both believed that the promises made to their parents must be kept. They were disgusted with siblings who had fallen away from their parents’ faiths and traditions. I pointed out to them that they were out of step with American cultural norms and were likely to be told that they should change their way of thinking. But since they were in agreement with each other it made more sense to me that they retain their shared perspectives and negotiate from a place where their values met.

Two days later I met with a couple in which the Jewish partner was an immigrant from Iran and the Christian was American with no recent immigrant past. In their case their core perspectives were in conflict. By American standards the Jew seemed old fashioned and hampered by an antiquated attachment to parents who live within a small Persian community. For this couple it was important to validate the non-American values and to acknowledge that, although they are not mainstream in the United States, they are not bad or wrong, just different. For this couple we needed to deal with the new world/old world, American/immigrant, individual/communal views that informed their discussion about family, parents and children.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tips for Grant Applications

From Phyllis Adler

I recently had an opportunity to hear Peter Kiernan speak. Mr. Kiernan founded the Robin Hood Foundation and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Mr Kiernan offered some sound advice for our grant writing efforts. Have a strategic plan, where do you want to be in one year or three years? Create a roadmap explaining how you plan to meet your goals. Secondly, have measurable outcomes. How do you measure success? What does success look like? Lastly, know what your "competition" is. How is your agency different, what is your niche population and how does your particular expertise address a specific need.

Mr Kiernan indicated that it is essential to have these three elements in a grant. Proposals may be considered, or not, simply on the presentation of such information.

Friday, November 7, 2008

From a colleague:

Dear Lynne and Dawn,
This sounds like it must have been an eye-opening experience for all involved. I would be fascinated to know specifically what were the some of the most surprising elements of your work together with Dr. Phillips...
Do you have a plan in place to meet again? Thank you for continuing to include me in this valuable dialogue! I am often a silent participant simply because of the demands of my work, however I am learning more all the time about a new side of the Jewish tracks here at B'nai Israel
and am actively engaged in the work of Outreach as your partner even when you don't hear from me!!!
Thank you to all who attended the conference and for all the good work you are doing!
Very best,
Jane N. Young
Executive Director
Congregation B'nai Israel
Millburn, New Jersey

Jane -
We will indeed be sharing some of the fascinating information we learned over the coming weeks and months. There was SO DARN much that we'll be putting it on in manageable pieces.

We are hoping to plan another gathering. In fact that was the number one concern of the participants. They felt that it was so valuable to be together. We really are never together as experienced professionals. When there is a conference we are in the role of teachers and workshop leaders. We grab each other over meals and in hotel rooms to exchange ideas and experiences. This is the first time we were together for the sake of our own empowerment and education.

Dawn & Lynne

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Using Films at Programs

There are a number of good films that can be used in an outreach program. Many of us co-sponsor films in our local Jewish Film Festivals. Phyllis Adler of Stepping Stones Family has a social work intern who shares these comments after viewing the film, Out of Faith.

* * *

I am a Catholic raised graduate student in the school of social work here in Denver. At the suggestion of my supervisor I attended a movie showing at the Aish synagogue in Denver. The movie was entitled Out of Faith and was a feature-length documentary that follows three generations of a family torn apart by conflicts over interfaith marriage. The family’s matriarch, Leah Welbel, and her husband Eliezer, both survived nearly three years in Auschwitz; however, in their minds, their grandchildren marrying non-Jews represents a posthumous victory for Hitler. Out of Faith examines the complex and emotionally charged issues surrounding assimilation and interfaith marriage. The film compels Jew and non-Jew alike to reconsider the classic query of “melting pot or salad bowl?” Does this country of immigrants gain its strength from homogeneity or heterogeneity? Out of Faith examines these issues by capturing the intimate details of one family’s attempt to persevere in the face of a heart wrenching interfamilial conflict; a conflict that impacts countless families in multicultural societies. I was a bit hesitant to go to this event since I had never been to a synagogue and did not know how people would react (if at all) to my presence. However, I found myself in a friendly and warm place. People present at the event were friendly and greeted me when I arrived and when I left. The film itself was extremely moving and while my personal history allowed me knowledge about the holocaust and the controversy around intermarriage, being surrounded by people that were so profoundly moved and affected was a great cultural experience. The discussion that followed the film was equally moving with comments from the young and old about their perspectives. One woman offered that she felt pressure from her family to marry Jewish but in reality you cannot help who you love, another man said that the intermarriage rates as well as rates of children being raised Jewish were a sad reality and something to be concerned about. The facilitator made an excellent point that as parents if you want your child to marry Jewish you better have a good reason, and that reason should not be “because” or the “holocaust.” I left having mixed feelings, first I was so touched and found new meaning about the holocaust and its effects and the realities for Jewish people, I was pleased with how I was received at this event, and at the same time I was saddened by the struggles of this family, and had a new understanding of intermarriage and the implications that it has on the Jewish community.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Community of Practice

Lynne Wolfe writes:

We solidified ourselves as a community of practice during three days in September

A lone thinker or a group within the same discipline could not bring to an endeavor the level of creative process that took place. This was an exceptional moment in time!

Five veteran Jewish Outreach Professionals who work with Intermarried Families planned, received funding, and brought together nine other “on the ground” colleagues from different parts of the country with considerable experience in this field. One day was spent with Dr. Bruce Phillips, a demographer/ researcher in the Jewish Community. He discussed with us his research and that of others. We shared and exchanged the experiences of those we have actually worked with who are in the world he studies.

The commitment to ongoing dialogue with Dr. Phillips became mutually evident. It was clear that we need to communicate and “feed off of each other” so that we know we are reaching out to all those possible, and that the questions asked of participants in a study and answers given in future studies, be looked at in ways that speak to us in what we do. This approach would assist in the possible redesign, or validation of our programs. We further suggested that we participate in writing the questions to be asked so as to know the results of our expected outcomes.

For me this was one of the important outcomes that I anticipate will help to move our profession/discipline forward. Many of us this past year have been asked by Jewish Philanthropic Foundations about best practices…as a pioneer in this work having done it for over 17 years, I am in a position to elaborate. However, I believe it is time for the researchers to know more accurately what we are doing in order to collaborate so we can honestly validate or redesign and be able to move more effectively to share and widen our Jewish World.

Monday, October 13, 2008

After the Think Tank

The three of us from the Alliance were amazed and thrilled - we expected things to go well but we just didn't know the Think Tank would go this well! A million thanks to each of you who participated and to our wonderful funders, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation and the Walter and Elise Haas Sr. Fund. We are in the midst of writing up the results of our conversations.

Our guest speaker was Dr. Bruce Phillips, a well respected sociologist and demographer. We spent the first day with Dr. Phillips reviewing the current data on interfaith marriage. Fortunately for us, Dr. Phillips was recently asked to review all the current data for a book.

We look forward to sharing our experiences with others in this field.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

September Think Tank

In just a few days a group of the long-time professionals in Interfaith Outreach will gather. Our purpose is to develop a foundational understanding of interfaith marriage by looking at all the research to date. We will compare it to our own on-the-ground experience. By combining a study component with Dr. Bruce Phillips and our own first hand knowledge, we plan to work together to draw up a proposal for communities to use as they create outreach programming in their own towns, shuls, JCCs, and agencies.

We are so looking forward to this invigorating experience! So rarely do we have the opportunity to be together and share at this level.

We have been blessed to be supported financially by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Fund and the Walter and Elise Haas Fund.

Stay tuned as we move forward.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Using Technology for What?

The cover story on the Technology & Business page for the SF Chronicle this week was “Who is Doing What with Technology?” It is about a new survey titled, The State of Consumers and Technology: Benchmark 2008.

Here is the SF Chron story:

You can find the survey at:,7211,44126,00.html

It’s worth taking a look at the trends for the four age groups identified. As our population ages we see the techno-savvy Gen X (also called Millennials) and Gen Y becoming the population to which our programs are directed. Understanding their use of the internet to access Jewish life is important. If you listen to some speakers they will imply that these groups are using online social networking for all their social connections. I believe it is the more astute individual that says these groups use the internet to arrange for face-to-face social experiences. The need for human contact has not disappeared, it’s just that technology is being use to create it in new ways.

If you are so fortunate to have a small in home social science laboratory – also known as a teenage child – you will note that they reflect some of the messages we are being given by the marketing professionals. I am lucky enough to have both a teenage son (age 17) and a just-out-of college daughter (age 22). My two use technology differently from each other!

My son told me that email is just for use during school months to communicate with teachers. He uses his cell phone for calls and texting.

My daughter does the above but she also uses emailing and the internet for job searching and uses Skyping for work and play.

Watch your kids, they are creating the future.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Jewish Unity

A thought from the Rebbe that applies directly to our work:

Jewish Unity

The first thing needed to fix the world is that Jews should love each other and be united. And this can begin even without a planning committee and without funding. It can begin with you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jewish Networking

There is a terrific book, Jewish Networking, by Hayim Herring and Barry Shrage published in 2001. In it the authors envision a Jewish community in which a newcomer, or anyone deciding to look for Jewish engagement for the first time, can find their way. The idea is that all the Jewish pieces of the community - JCCs, synagogues, Hebrew schools, day schools, etc. would be interconnected, would be aware of each others programs and services. Thus, no matter who the newcomer first called it didn't matter; they would be gently interviewed and integrated into the appropriate Jewish "home."

We should all be working towards this ideal. Go read this book!

We here in the San Francisco bay area are in the process of formalizing our outreach to interfaith network. For years now the tiny group of professionals have been meeting informally. We have made it a point to know what each other are doing, to collaborate and share. Rosanne Levitt and I began this ten years ago and we were fortunate that our meetings gradually grew to five core members. We include anyone doing outreach in their organization.

Find yourself companions in this work.

Reform and Conservative rabbis to learn together

Interesting news! The Reform and Conservative rabbinic schools will be working on a new combine educational track that will focus on three areas:

One part is demographics and Jewish communal trends. Another is management and organizational leadership. And the last is inclusion, with an emphasis on the intermarried.

How amazing that the rabbis will be educated about demographics and Jewish communal trends! Be still my heart, what this could lead to! Additionally, the opportunity to learn together about how to approach the inclusion of intermarried couples into congregational life is fantastic. This will provide a rich dialog and an exchange of information.

Years ago Esther Perel was brought out to do a weekend teaching with the bay area rabbis. It was a powerful experience for them. One Conservative rabbi told me that the dialog that took place between the rabbis transformed his understanding of his Reform colleagues. He understood their struggle with Jewish law and boundaries as he had never done before. This is a two way street. Reform rabbis also have the chance to understand the longing of the Conservative rabbis to find a comfortable place for each of their beloved congregants. Each stream will find how much they have in common.

It will be called the Schusterman Rabbinical Fellowship.

Read the article at:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lashon HaRa or Doing Outreach in the Trick or Treat Community

If we want to do outreach in our Jewish communities we have to change the entire climate internally to the communities. So long as we are gossiping/putting down any part of the community we give a negative message to the individual or family considering participating in said community.

Imagine you are taking your child Trick or Treating in the neighborhood where you’re thinking of buying a new home. You walk up to a nice looking home and knock at the door. The resident opens the door and smiles. She smiles, chats and offers your child a treat. Then she leans forward and confides, “Thank goodness you came to my house. The house to my left is a crack house, the one to my right reeks of the 87 cats that live there. And across the street, the man living there beats his wife and kids. But don’t worry, just always come to my house and you’ll be fine.”

How much do you want to buy a house in that neighborhood now? When we speak disparagingly of other Jews and other synagogues and other parts of the community we give the message that Jewish community (the Jewish neighborhood) is a negative, unkind place. Why would you want to live with these people?

When we can articulate the differences that enrich our Jewish community – the Orthodox shul, the rabbi at the synagogue across town, the minyan that meets in the city community center, the down in the heels kosher grocer, the uptown Majong club, the LGBT movie club – we become interesting, intriguing, embracing.

Role model for all your agencies, synagogues and leaders what you want from them, flexibility, confidence, delight in diversity.

Try to find a place in your heart for each of the elements of your/our community and you will show the new comer a taste of what they can expect: acceptance.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Community Collaboration using A Taste of Judaism

In 2003 I started using the Union for Reform movement's Taste of Judaism 3-session workshop as a community-wide teaching and outreach tool. The core concepts presented are God, Torah, and Israel. I spoke to Kathy Kahn at URJ about offering it throughout the movements and she was, as always, extremely supportive and enthusiastic.

My two modern Orthodox rabbis asked me the question: Will you tell us how to teach?

My answer was NO. Any rabbi can teach this class. It will be informed by their movement. The students love learning from excited and engaged teachers. All my rabbis are sensitive to the fact that they are teaching on behalf of ALL Judaism and when asked about the different streams of Judaism answer thoughtfully.

I serve as the central organizer. I move the class around the congregations and cities. Everyone gets a turn. I do the publicity, intake, and registration. I also administer an evaluation and follow up process.

Since Project Welcome has evolved in San Francisco, just across the bay from me, Karen Kushner the director of PW has also been offering this service of central administration of Taste of Judaism. We have been pooling our resources, sending students back and forth across the bay according to their home city.

It has been a wonderful way to bring the entire community together to offer a fun, short, stimulating entrypoint class. Participants are curious about --what does a synagogue look like inside, what does a mehitzah look like, a Torah scroll? Are these cookies you're giving us Kosher? How can you tell? Can I come here for services? Who could I sit with?

I have integrated this program into my general program offerings and it has been a good way to bridge people into a wide array of opportunities.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Cell Phone Challenge to Survey Research (PEW)

A few years ago I attended a meeting on the topic of Jewish research. In this room of Jewish lay people the lament was that phone interviews were no longer any good unless they utilized cell phone numbers (which were not available at the time). The concern was that any study done using land lines would not capture younger people who “all use only cell phones.” Not atypical for a group of professional Jews, this group felt certain that their opinions represented the truth and were more authentic than the opinion of the one professional researcher in the room.

I was concerned that we were missing something so I contacted a demographer later that week and asked whether there were any studies done on the topic of cell phone vs landlines for surveys. Not surprisingly the answer was yes, in fact one of the Granddaddies of all research institutions, PEW did a study in 2006. Their findings are significant to all of us so let me summarize.

Of the general public only 7 to 9% are cell phone only users.
The study says they are “significantly different in many ways from those reachable on a landline.” They are:
- younger
- less affluent
- less likely to be married
- less likely to own a home
- more liberal on many political questions

However, the study also found “the absence of this group from traditional telephone surveys has only a minimal impact on the results... changes the overall results of the poll by no more than one percentage point...”

Cell phone interviews present their own challenges. The study states that cell phone surveys are “more difficult and expensive to conduct than landline surveys” for the following reasons:

- most cell phone users pay for incoming calls so they must be offered an incentive for taking the call (in this study, $10). This incurs the cost of the incentive, ten dollars, and the cost of follow up mailings.
- federal law prohibits the use of automated dialing for cell phones thus each number must be manually dialed
- fewer cell phone users were willing to cooperate, that is, participate in the study (50% of landline users cooperated, 28% of cell users cooperated)
- more people reached on the cell phone were under the age of 18 and thus ineligible
- interviewer must first assert the cell user is in a safe place to take the interview

The study found that the total cost of interviewing the cell phone sample was 2.4 times the cost of the landline sample.

Cell Phone user demographics

Gender: More men were reached via cell phone (55%)
Age: Younger people were reached
Race: more minorities were reached (13% African American and 11% Hispanic)
Education: Interestingly, in this study both samples were better educated than the rest of the U.S. population
Home owners: Cell users were less likely to own their home
Children: Cell users were more likely to have children under the age of 18
Marital status: Almost the same rate for both samples, with landlines users 57% married and cell users 52% married

Two interesting and relevant issues for Jewish population studies:
The cell phone only population includes a higher proportion of minorities, especially Hispanics.
Landline samples includes a higher proportion of college graduates.

Jews are predominantly white and better educated, like the landline users.

These are all important factors to raise if you are involved in a survey or reviewing one.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Metaphor for Jewish Community

Some months ago I was in a meeting where we were discussing the metaphors for Jewish Community. The one you commonly hear is the image of the bull's eye with the most connected or affiliated at the center. Emanating out from that are the layers of Jews as less and less engaged. I believe many of us find that inaccurate and not useful.

Additionally, we in Outreach often discuss the individual organizations in Jewish community in terms of their "welcoming" or "openness." We judge them by how relaxed their observance of Halacha is. So the fewer conditions on the potential participant, the more welcoming they are said to be. I find this image to also be inaccurate and not useful.

I have a couple of ideas -

Looking at the Welcoming definition
I like to think of Jewish community as a living organism. Each organization within the community (synagogue, JCC, agency) is like a cell. Every cell has a membrane. In order to live the cell must take things in and pass things out. If the membrane becomes non-porous, the cell dies. If the membrane is broken, the cell dies. So each entity must decide on it's own boundary (membrane) and sustain it. Additionally, all those cells make up different and necessary body parts. Each has its own function. All are interdependent for the life of the body.

This approach has made it easy for me to work with different movements and agencies. I'm comfortable with whatever they decide is their boundary -- whether it would be mine personally is irrelevant. In choosing their own boundary and function they sustain the whole. This also means that an Orthodox or Conservative Jew who has married a non-Jew can find acceptance in my program. I have not judged their way of life to be "unwelcoming." Additionally I believe it broadens all my couples when they are asked to be accepting of multiple life choices, not just ones that match their own.

Looking at the "Engagement" Level
(These numbers are based on the 2004 San Francisco Jewish Population Study done by Bruce Phillips.)
Rather than the bull's eye model, think of the students in a college class. The students represent the entire Jewish population. A portion of those Jews we consider to be most engaged. They are members of synagogues or JCC or they give to Jewish organizations - but they connect with a formal Jewish organization in an ongoing way. In the SF study 28% of the community was in this group. These are the most knowledgeable students, they come to class, do their homework, participate in class discussions and are probably majoring in this subject.

Also in the population are the Jews that say, "Don't call me, don't even call me Jewish. I want nothing to do with Judaism." In the study they are 8%. These students don’t come to class at all. They don’t like this subject and are likely to be inquiring about how to drop the class.

Another portion of the population say they "do Jewish" at home, they aren't interested in the broader Jewish community. They represent 20%. These students don’t come to class, they look up the assignments online and email in their work to the professor. They might be interested someday, but not right now.

This leaves 44% that I call Threshold Crossers. They go to Film Festivals, book discussions, holiday celebrations, services, etc. at JCCs, synagogues, and other Jewish venues but they don't join. These students come to class, they occasionally participate in class discussions, and they turn in the homework. They moderately interested in the subject being taught.

We the Outreach workers are the professor of this class. We can’t reach the students who are already dropping the class. We may be able to email the students that stay home. But our greatest portion of our students shows up, does the work but just isn’t yet enthralled with the topic. It is our job to try to interest and engage this group, the largest group, the group that shows up. Can we stimulate them, surprise them, fascinate them? I think we can.

In terms of successful outreach programs that invite those who are potentially interested in Jewish community, I believe it is the Threshold Crossers that are the easiest to reach. They show up at our Jewish buildings and they represent the LARGEST segment of the population! It doesn't take a lot of Public Space events to get them because they are coming to us. At 44% they are the majority of Jews in my community. I do need to publicize events in the secular venues because our community is not so obvious as Jewish community is in New York or Los Angeles. I do have to be findable. If I want continued engagement, I have to provide value -- a reason for these folks to sign up for more events, information, whatever. I am aware that things may be quite different in your community.

Our shared concerns for discussion:

* creating a metaphor for Jewish community
* what are the Jews that make up your community like
* usefulness of Public Space events in your area
* successful approaches to marketing & getting the word out

Friday, May 30, 2008

Raising Children in One Faith: Resources that make sense

We frequently hear that children should be raised in ONE faith or they will be confused. Recently a member of Kathy Kahn's Outreach Fellows posed the question - how do we know this? What do we have to back that statement up?
For many of us have plenty of anecdotal information -- having worked with many adult children of interfaith couples we've heard enough stories to be able to express the concerns and challenges that real people report. We want to help the parents understand what the children are experiencing. Our goal is to impart knowledge that will help the parents make thoughtful choices for their families.
There's nothing like some data to help sort out the issues. Kathy has posted to the URJ website a very useful article by Dr. Peter Robbins titled: Choices for Children of Interfaith Families Here is the link:
Dr. Robbins looks at the stages of child development and the challenges at each age.
(Dr. Robbins is a doctor of pediatric and adolescent psychiatry)
I also use the Stages of Religious Development from The Interfaith Marriage Handbook. I ran the chart by a granduate student in the department of Psychology at UC Berkeley a couple years ago and he showed it to his professor who said it was a good general tool for parents.
I'd be interested to know of any resources you use in this area.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Golden Nugget

I want to invite you to go back over the Saxe/Chertok study, It’s Not Who Stands Under the Chuppah. Look at the numbers. The researchers divided the families into three categories: Jewish-Jewish Families, Interfaith Families, and Conversionary Families.

In all the categories the highest engagement was in the conversionary families. Leading me back to the statement: Conversion is good for the Jews. When an adult goes through the process of examining their identity, their practices, the values and behaviors that will define their lives and then decide that the best way to express the essence of their identity and values is to become a Jew it is not surprising that they then throw themselves into learning and practice.

Just a few months ago I was leading a workshop on Outreach to a group of about 30 professionals who run teen programs. We talked about the segments of our community from which our teens come - LGBT, multiracial Jews, interfaith families. I told them there is one group we haven’t spoken about. Of this group it is still acceptable to say:

they aren’t really Jewish
You can always tell one of them from us.
You know his/her father/mother is one of them.
They are way too into being Jewish.
You can’t really call them Jewish.

Who is this group? I asked the group.

Converts, they responded.

Conversionary families scored higher by all measures than Jewish-Jewish families. They are doing all the things we want parents to do to raise their children as Jews: giving them a Jewish education, practicing Judaism at home, and surrounding themselves and their kids with a Jewish social network. But they remain “other” in many Jewish environments. As recently as two weeks ago I asked a group of Jews by choice if we could take a picture of the group and put it on the website of their synagogue to let browsers know about the program. No, they told me, we won’t deny we are converts, but we don’t want to invite the second class citizenship.

Until we as a community does a better job with conversion and our golden nuggets - the converts - we will sap our own strength.

Much more open and enthusiastic support of these Jews is essential.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hillel: Welcome to my Life!

So much great information has been coming our way lately, largely thanks to Dawn, that when I got this from another source, I wasn't sure whether we'd already seen it or not. So to be safe, I'm passing it along for your perusal and possible discussion among us.

Hillel opens doors to non-Jews

In a move that Hillel leaders say has been forced upon them by this generation's altered social landscape, the organization is throwing open its doors to everyone, designing programs that appeal to Jews and non-Jews and hyping its contribution to university -- not only Jewish - life.

Dear all,

Yes, this is groundbreaking! I began with the title, "Welcome to my Life!" As the mother of a college student I am seeing this process first hand. I am guessing that Eve, with your two college kids you had some of the same experiences.

My college-age daughter got Easter week off as spring break (please don't tell me that America is secular!) She and her roommate, an observant Catholic, and their suitemate, a mainstream American (I call them American folkloric Christians because they observe Christian practices and holidays as folk behaviors, not religion) drove down to Disneyland to see her close friend from high school, a black, gay male who used to be Christian but his church rejects gays. Her friend, Nate, works at Disneyland and got them in for free.

When she got home, my daughter immediately began planning the guests for seder. Her friends were an assumed "yes" from mom. Naturally she is right. I expect to welcome anyone she invites.

And here's the NEW TRUTH, my daughter expects her non-Jewish friends to enjoy being immersed in a Jewish practice.

What do we learn from this?

In our programming we must reflect the new reality - that young Jews are completely comfortable being public as Jews and expect to blend their Jewish behaviors with their non-Jewish friends and loved ones. That means that the concept of "inreach" - a program that engages those who are Jewish and brings them closer to Judaism is going to be MORE successful in attracting young Jews if those young Jews can bring their non-Jewish friends. So as we are developing programs - inreach needs to use outreach - and we have to think more complexly. We must plan a program that engages the experienced Jew, one raised with a Jewish education and Jewish practice in the home, AND also engages the novice.

I will use the example of the Passover Workshop that I just offered last Sunday. I promoted it as "whether you are a novice or an old hand at seder, you will learn something new" and I included a charoset tasting.
For the novice, we explained the elements of the seder table and seder plate. For the experienced seder-holder I took them through the years of evolving your seder to meet the needs of your guests as you go from pre-children, to children ages zero to teen, to a table of experienced adults. Add to that the experiencial part of tasting the five charoset, including a California charoset made with avocado, and there was lots of discussion and comparision. I also had a table of some 30 different haggadot to peruse. More conversations were generated as participants discussed what they liked or wanted in a haggadah and gave each other advice.

One woman told me, "I've never done seder before but now I see it's not so complicated as I thought. I'm going to do it this year!" Another woman who is a seasoned Jewish professional said, "I loved that! I'm a Passover junkie!"

That becomes our goal. A program that can stretch in each direction. That is what the young Jews are willing to come to.

Now do look at and some of the Jewish bloggers to see the Jewish events that go off into a new realm.

At Emanu-el in San Francisco they have Spookalot at Sukkot, blending together the national folkloric holiday of Halloween with Sukkot. They get together in a sukkah and the rabbi reads them ghostly stories. Are there Jewish ghost stories? Of course!

Please share with the group any events or programs you are planning or currently offer that address any of these ideas.

Is there something you would like to do? A half formed idea that you'd like help fleshing out?

Toss it out there. Let's see what people say.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jewish DNA, non-Jews and Converts

Here is a fascinating article on the current research done on Jewish DNA.

I sent it out to my Jews by Choice to help them think about the elements of Jewish history that contribute to the challenge of being seen as a Jew by born Jews, many of whom remain attached to the idea of a Jewish bloodline.

You'll note that towards the end of the article Jon Entine is asked about the value of non-Jews entering the Jewish gene pool. He refers to the value of hybrid vigor* - a term that Joel Crohn has used to me -- it is the new genetic input that biologically strengthens the creatures in question -- here, the Jews.
I don’t think it will change the thinking of the ultra Orthodox, but it is a fascinating revelation to see that science proves that there may be halachically non-Jewish Jews all through the most traditional of Jewish communities. Additionally, it shows that in the past Jewish men traveled the globe and took non-Jewish wives who then raised their children as Jews. Of course, we are also talking about a time in which women has no rights and were the property of their husbands, taking on the ways of the family/people into which they had married. No, I don't want to go THERE! But what can we learn from this? Interesting stuff!

Link to article:

Quote from article:
From an evolutionary point of view, then, it’s healthy to bring people from other communities into the Jewish community, so the Jewish gene pool doesn’t become so homogenous.
From this perspective, yes, intermarriage is great; it’s what geneticists call hybrid vigor. In mixing populations genetically, we’re assuring that future Jewish generations will be healthier. From a genetic and Jewish cultural continuity perspective, however, the best of all possible worlds is for Jews to marry non-Jews who convert to Judaism.

*The encyclopedic definition is:
Heterosis is a term used in genetics and selective breeding. The term heterosis, also known as hybrid vigor or outbreeding enhancement, describes the increased strength of different characteristics in hybrids; the possibility to obtain a "better" individual by combining the virtues of its parents.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

It's Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah

The Fern Chertok and Leonard Saxe study is out and it is a superb result - informative and useful.

I want to look beyond the headlines. This is not a rosy affirmation that interfaith couples turn out to be just like Jewish - Jewish couples.

What is the study saying?
Yes, interfaith couples, when you control for Jewish education level, look very much like JJ couples in the Reform movement.
But look closely, the JJ couples don’t look so good. This is a bit like saying people with pneumonia don’t look any worse than people with the plague.
Looking at the levels of observance and practice studied we see low numbers for both groups.

Very emotionally attached to Israel
JJ couples 17% IF couples 16%
Any Jewish organizational ties
JJ couples 54% IF couples 57%
Usually light Shabbat candles
JJ couples 13% IF couples 12%
Very important to be Jewish
JJ couples 37% IF couples 29%

In essence, this is a startling revelation of the low level of the Reform Jews’ engagement with Jewish life.

But don’t throw in the towel, there is also good news.

Chertok/Saxe identify three critical elements to Jewish engagement.

1) Jewish Education
Remember that all of the above statistics are based on “controlling for education.” That is, a poorly educated Jew, no matter who they marry, doesn’t do much Jewishly. A well educated Jew, no matter who they marry, does – or is significantly more likely to.

As one highly educated Jew in my community put it, “I painted a very orthodox picture of life with me to my (now) husband when we were talking about marriage.” Indeed, she and her husband and children are synagogue affiliated, active in Federation, and the children attend day school.

2) Home Ritual
The study finds that those who have a bank of Jewish memories are more likely to repeat the behaviors those memories are based on. This makes abundant common sense. If you can’t play the piano, do you really identify as a pianist? Do you believe yourself capable of things you have no personal, repeated experience of doing? In order to BE Jewish, one must know how to DO Jewish.

For those who remember the scent of challah baking, the excitement of staying up for Shavuot, making decorations for the sukkah, there is the desire and knowledge to repeat them in adulthood. These practices from childhood are no less powerful than the memories associated with Christmas. We must stock up the Jewish bank with Jewish capital.

Side note: You may be aware that scientists have found that the sense of smell is our longest carrier of memories. In other words, you can smell something from your past and it will arouse a memory better and longer than visual or auditory stimuli. Interestingly this carrying over to smell’s companion sense - taste. Immigrants retain the cuisine of their home culture even after assimilating in other ways to the dominate culture. I frequently encourage my interfaith couples to integrate sensory Jewish experiences into their lives.

3) Social Networks
This study states that having Jewish friends increased the likelihood that an individual will engage in Jewish life and practice.

Studies in all the social sciences report the power of peer influence. A recent study on Early Childhood Education looked at what causes parents to put their children in Jewish preschools. They found the number one factor was the actions of their friends. They titled this: Peer Influence.

What causes kids to join gangs? What supports alcoholics in remaining “dry”? The support and influence of a peer group.

Chertok/Saxe state it brilliantly:
Having Jewish friends growing up and especially in high school may help make Jewish identity and home ritual normative. Jewish summer camps, youth movements, and campus organizations provide environments in which to enact Jewish values and practice Jewish behaviors with peers. Without opportunities for social comparison with a group of Jewish friends, teens and young adults may come to believe that acting out one’s Jewish identity is potentially uncomfortable and isolating.

(The bold is my emphasis.) This is no different from all “fitting in” behaviors of normal human beings. Whether our couple is JJ or IF, they need Jewish friends for all of the above reasons.

From this study, we can readily conclude that by increasing EDUCATION, HOME RITUAL, and SOCIAL NETWORKS we can positively influence JJ and IF couples to become comfortable with Jewish life and encourage them to embrace and deepen their Jewish practice.

Recommendations to the community
The question that simply leaps off the page is:

If interfaith families in a Reform environment become like Reform Jews, do interfaith families in a Conservative environment become like Conservative Jews?

Are interfaith couples being assimilate into the Jewish community in which they live?

The question can be extended to interfaith couples in an Orthodox environment and a secular environment.

A colleague of mine who was the non-Jewish partner (she has since converted) in a Conservative congregation and participated in a self study that the bay area Conservative moment did of interfaith in their congregations said, “Interfaith families in the Conservative moment know what they are getting into and make the choice to go for greater practice.”

Additionally, I know an interfaith couple at a local Orthodox congregation who is kosher and shomer Shabbos.

We, the on the ground professionals, must press the demographers to explore this vital finding. Perhaps Steven Cohen, a Conservative Jew, would be able to help. Key to the Saxe study is a survey done of the Reform movement’s lay leaders. Perhaps Steve Cohen would know of a comparable study from the Conservative movement that could be used with the 2000 NJPS and the data from Birthright.


1) Jewish education
Since the 1990 NJPS the community’s focus has been on Jewish education and many studies say it is paying off. But Jewish education must be better, cheaper and longer.
The VAST MAJORITY of our children are educated in synagogue Hebrew schools. These schools have teachers who are not credentialed, poorly paid, part-time and sometimes barely ahead of their students.

Synagogues are perennially short of money, staff and time. Until Jewish funders stop worrying about denominations and movements and put real money into the synagogue schools that are actually educating most Jewish children, we will continue to have inadequately educated Jews. We will continue to lose the struggle to retain a generation.

2) Home ritual
Adult Jews must be provided with the skills and knowledge to practice at home. But that will most likely start outside their home. They need classes that are fun, meaningful and transformative. Here is where Outreach is essential. Our programs are often labeled as NOT supporting the core of born Jews. But we know differently. We have to start collecting the statistics that show the number of shy and ambivalent Jews that utilize our entry point programs to come in. They are often more comfortable in the presence of some non-Jews whom they expect to be less knowledgeable than themselves and therefore, less threatening.

3) Social Networks
In this hideously busy world it is hard to build relationships. Chavurot, classes, and other ongoing multi-session programs are needed to create time and opportunity for individuals to connect. In a couples group or a class setting, people get to know each other over discussion of shared interests and concerns. Outreach programs offer unaffiliated couples and families these bridging opportunities.

I ran a one-year chavura for unaffiliated interfaith families three years ago. They were one of the most disengaged groups I have ever experienced. But they clicked and they continue to meet. Several of them have since joined congregations and I hope their influence will draw in, or at least support, the remaining couples. Time and repetition has an amazing power.

I also used to form chavurot in a synagogue environment 20 years ago. Those chavurot remain intact and the families have not left the synagogue as their children aged and are now leaving home.

Where Do We, the Outreach Professionals, Fit In?

There are no street signs saying, “This way to be Jewish.” There is no section of the Yellow pages in my community that is labeled “Jewish.” In fact, the synagogues in my area are listed under CHURCHES.

The Outreach Professional creates a bridge between the unaffiliated and Jewish life. Our ads in secular media, our websites, our programs - are all entry points to participation.

A community without an Outreach professional is a community without a guide. The Outreach professional functions as the hub to all possible points of engagement for the uninformed seeker - Jewish or not yet Jewish.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Atlanta's Jewish community growing

An article in Thursday’s The Forward reports:
According to a 2006 study conducted by Jacob Ukeles and Ron Miller for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Jewish population was 119,800 in 2006 — an increase of 56% over 10 years — and by all accounts, new residents are still coming. Atlanta is now the 11th largest Jewish community in the United States.

Atlanta is the 11th largest Jewish Community
Estimated population in 2006 is basically 120,000
It’s increasing steadily
Atlanta has “homegrown philanthropists, which includes Home Depot founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank.”
God willing, they’ll step up to the job and fund the Jewish institutional growth.
Here’s my favorite statistic: only 42% are members of a synagogue or Jewish organization
Would that my community could reach 42%!

And for those of us who think back fondly to Egon Mayer, I think that’s Ron Miller, his old friend, doing the study.

Read the entire article for yourself:
Growing Number of Jews Have Georgia on Their Mind
Th. March 13, 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Reflections on the URJ Biennial & the Coming Study

From the Biennial
Some of us were at the presentation in San Diego at the URJ Biennial in Dec. 2007 by Fern Chertoff and Leonard Saxe on interfaith families. They presented a Powerpoint on their latest study "It's Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah." The core message of the study was that when you control for Jewish education level, interfaith families look pretty much like non-Orthodox Jewish inmarried families. (The study itself is due out this month.)

Now there are a LOT of questions that this brings up that I will save for another moment. AND it adds to the data that Bruce Phillips shared with me a couple years ago (and I shared with all of you) about the importance of Jewish education in the perpetuation of Judaism. Like everything else in life, if you don't know how to do it or why to do it, eventually, you don't do it anymore.

There was a point during the workshop in San Diego at which Debbie Antonoff of Pathways Atlanta wondered if what was being presented was saying that Outreach to interfaith couples is irrelevant? Is our work without merit if everything depends on the Jewish educational level of the Jew in the interfaith marriage? I would say firmly, No. I believe that we are like the high school counselors, if you don't know you can get an education, don't know how to get an education, don't think you can afford an education, or think that time for one has passed you by, then you won't even try. We are the high school and college counselors, the college recruiters that go out and tell people, you can, you have access, it's not too expensive, you have a right to it, you can do it whether you're married to a Jew or not -that is- you can become Jewishly educated and so can your children.

I was discussing this question with Rabbi Menachem Creditor (he used to be in Boston and is now at Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA). The metaphor we discussed was the individual who is the first in their family to seek a college education. That individual does not know how to navigate the system and needs help in finding their way through it. Additionally, there may be students who don't even know that a college education is a possibility and unless someone reaches out to them with information, support and encouragement, they will never attempt college.

Wisdom from another study/talk
I recently went to the Brandeis site and read a brief article by Saxe titled:

Connecting Diaspora Young Adult to Israel: Lessons from Taglit-Birthright Israel

He sums up his findings with these four points:

1. Young adult Jews want to be connected
2. people-to-people connections are essential
3. education has to involve all of the senses
4. institutions must change and adapt.
These lessons—and others that each of you could draw—are as important as the individual changes that the program has wrought.

These four statements can be said of our work in outreach to the interfaith. They want to be connected, the people-to-people connection is essential -- this goes back to Bruce Phillips' quote, "The most powerful influence on an interfaith couple’s decision to raise their children Jewish is one person reaching out and inviting them to participate in Jewish life." Education must engage the senses and our institutions must adapt.

I think the institutions are adapting, the ones that are not will die and be replaced by new ones. In the bay area Jewish Gateways is an experiential new program that is a working!
Take a look at Rabbi Bridget Wynne's Jewish Gateways site at

For those organizations that are actually educating the couples and their children, look to Stepping Stones, Phyllis Adler's program in Denver. For information on such programs, you can talk to Lynne Wolfe who ran Pathways in New Jersey for 13 years. I bet when this study comes out the MetroWest Federation will be kicking themselves.

More thoughts to come.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Three New Studies

There new studies have hit our in boxes. In case you haven't noted it, here is the link to the JTA article on the studies:

As we all read through them I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Grandparenting programs

Dear Friends,

You all may recall that I sent you the article about JOI's having issued an outline for working with Parents/Grandparents of interfaith couples/families. Unfortunately they were unaware of the existing programs around the country. I hope that we can all become better at sharing information and not constantly reinventing the wheels. JOI was unaware of a terrific book, written some years ago and currently for sale from URJ Books & Music, titled Mingled Roots by Sunie Levin and Dahlia Schronberg. The price is $14.95. If any of you don't already have a copy, it's worth the 15 bucks.

Someone I got in touch with through Egon Mayer--> Eve Coulson --> Lynne Wolfe is Jeanette Bergelson. I asked Jeanette to send me a paragraph about herself and her groups. Jeanette is from the Conservative movement and runs a group called New Beginnings for parents and grandparents. Those of you from the Reform movement will note the "same title, different program" twist.

I am coordinator of “New Beginnings”, a Jewish support group for parents and grandparents of children in interfaith marriages.

For the past 16 years we have provided a supportive, non-judgmental, non-threatening arena where all can openly discuss their concerns regarding the interfaith marriage of their children.. We present non-confrontational techniques to address issues that arise in the interfaith family. Emphasis is on positive approaches to impart Jewish heritage. As part of our programming, we’ve had speakers on interfaith issues such as life cycle events, divorce, adoption, holidays, etc. as well as problem-solving workshops.

Together with other Outreach professionals, we work to create effective programs to educate our communities.

Jeanette Bergelson

Should you want to communicate with Jeanette about her years of programming experience email me and I'll put you in touch with her.

Monday, March 10, 2008

PEW & Conversion

I want to add to Dawn's wise analysis...

We need Jews to be educated and to taste the richness and sweetness of our traditions and spirituality because it is those Jews , who like Jews by Choice, are openly proud of their Judiasm.

As the PEW study tells us, people are shopping for what Judaism has and coming into Judaism ( more singles in significant numbers!) exactly because of what Judaism has...our tradition of interpretation of text, our respect for arguing with each other and the text, our strong communal ties. They want it and are PROUD to study and become a Jews.

I find that Jews who only identify with Judaism through food, ethnic humor and the like are exactly those Jews who do not think Judaism is cool, are not PROUD of their Jewish identity and do not accept Jews by Choice as "real Jews."

We need to start talking about this. We need to shout our pride from the rooftops. We need to get our rabbis to preach about why we should be proud. There is Black Pride, Gay Pride...why is there no Jewish Pride movement?

It is time to seek out the sources of Jewish discomfort with being openly and proudly Jewish and get rid of them. We need to shame those who think being of Jewish blood is enough to make them superior. It is time to say...Judaism is more than being descended from Jews. Unless we do, the Jews by Choice will continue to be treated rudely.

Karen Kushner
Project Welcome
San Francisco, CA

Friday, March 7, 2008

PEW and Conversion

You have all probably seen the Tobin article on the PEW study, link below.

I have mixed feelings about it.

I love Gary’s passion and support of converts and conversion. At the same time I am aware of how his fervor is sometimes seen as over the top.

My thoughts on this topic.

I work with many Jews by Choice and seekers and I see them longing to be Jewish and rejoicing when they arrive. I agree that the formal Jewish community is often rude, rejecting and uncertain as to whether they want these new Jews. It’s high time that this changed. At a recent meeting with rabbis I urged them to demand that their congregants at the very least accept as Jews the people converted by their rabbi! I believe there should be no tolerance given to those who claim to cling to Judaism, yet fail to learn enough Jewish law to understand that YES, JUDAISM TAKES CONVERTS. And those people are then JUST JEWS.

I am also tired of the well-meaning politically correct Jews who are so busy telling Jews by choice how liberal and open they are that they fail to hear the less-than-happy experience of the convert. As recently as this week several individuals who are working towards conversion told me they don’t want to be identified as converts for fear of always being “second class.” Just a week ago Jews of color on a panel of converts described their lack of acceptance and recognition as fully Jewish by Caucasian Jews.

So here, I stand with Gary.

But, and this is a big but, he seems to discount Jewish education. Studies do show that the more extensive an individual’s Jewish education is the greater the likelihood that they will retain their Jewish identity and, yes, it lessons the probability they will marry a non-Jew.

I stand if FULL FAVOR of more Jewish education.

Can you play chopsticks on the piano? I can. And that’s it for me and the piano. I do not call myself a pianist. My mother can play... but that doesn’t make me a pianist.

No one can fully own their Jewish identity without knowledge of how to DO Jewish. The more you know, the better informed your choices will be, the more you are able to make for yourself a joyous Jewish life. Don’t know how to do Shabbat? You won’t be having much fun of Friday night through Saturday.

EVERY Jew should learn more. Just ask the converts!

What should we do?

We must work to offer EDUCATION to every Jew and non-Jew who wants it.
Every Jewish institution needs to determine its boundaries and work within them to welcome the seekers, Jewish or not.
We must be kind, even when we say no.
We must find many ways to say yes.
Yes, you can study with us.
Yes, you can eat and sing with us.
Yes, you can pray with us.
Yes, you can go to the movies, make cookies, dance, laugh, walk, talk, ponder the great question of the universe with us.
Yes, if you want to convert, you can.

My second worry with Gary’s article is that there is an unidentified enemy here. Someone whose “expression of religious freedom is locked somewhere in another time or place.” The vagueness of this straw man makes me nervous. I want to clarify a point for my own comfort. This is not about which stream of Judaism you hold to.

Dr. Joel Crohn put it beautifully in his book, Mixed Matches:
Some families’ objection to intermarriage, though, are genuinely religious. For the truly religious, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality are not the important issues. What they do seek is to have their children carry on what they believe is God’s truth. ... Even if you don’t share their beliefs, it’s important not to stereotype religious devotion as simply another form of intolerance. If you do, you may by confusing belief with bigotry. (pp. 208)

It may be that an Orthodox rabbi cannot accept a Reform convert in a minyan. We may be sad about that, but let’s see it for what it is, a different religious view of Judaism, not bigotry. Let us demonstrate the tolerance we desire from others.

Count your blessings that you are able to accept this or that person more than a more halachical bound Jew. Do you think they don’t suffer for longing to draw us all in? Is their pain not valid? Let us express the same compassion we teach and desire for ourselves.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Putting PEW in perspective

The PEW study has begun to make the rounds and the interpretations are emerging from the Jewish community. You can read the JTA article by Sue Fishkoff at this link:
One thing that I wanted clarified was, how did PEW get the percent of intermarriage to be so much lower than NJPS did? So I emailed Dr. Bruce Phillips. Here’s his answer:
They are looking only at Jew by religion. Secular Jews are more likely to marry a non-Jew. The rate reported by NJPS was something like 48%, so these two estimates are probably not all that far off.
For those of us who like to ponder numbers he adds:
The highest possible rate for Protestants, by the way, is 50% since half the country is Protestant. You have to remember the ceiling when comparing religions.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Religion in America: 2008 PEW Study

Yesterday a friend of mine, a research librarian, emailed me the link to the brand new:
U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

This morning on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle was the story:
28% of us have left our childhood religion
Check your local papers and send me what they printed.

I read through the Pew report yesterday and picked out the Jewish elements and those national religion parts that I believe reflects on the American Jewish community. Take a look for yourself.

U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008
Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

The Landscape Survey confirms that, indeed, there is a remarkable amount of movement by Americans from one religious group to another. Together with other sources of change in religious affiliation, such as immigration and fertility rates, this shifting helps account for the great dynamism of American religion. Looking only at changes from one major religious tradition to another (e.g., from Protestantism to Catholicism, or from Judaism to no religion), more than one-in-four U.S. adults (28%) have changed their religious affiliation from that in which they were raised.
pp. 22

EVERYONE is leaving religion, not just the Jews.

Net Winners and Losers
Which groups are the net winners and losers in the dynamic process of shifting religious affiliation? By comparing the distribution of the current religious affiliations of U.S. adults with their childhood religious affiliations, the Landscape Survey is able to provide a clear sense of the net effect of these movements within American religion.

The biggest gains due to changes in religious affiliation have been among those who say they are not affiliated with any particular religious group or tradition. Overall, 7.3% of the adult population says they were unaffiliated with any particular religion as a child. Today, however, 16.1% of adults say they are unaffiliated, a net increase of 8.8 percentage points. Sizeable numbers of those raised in all religions – from Catholicism to Protestantism to Judaism – are currently unaffiliated with any particular religion.

American Jewish population
Americans raised Jewish are 1.9% of the population. Americans now Jewish are 1.7% of the population, a loss of 0.2%

The Dynamics of Religious Change
As stated above, although there are net winners and losers in the process of religious change, no group is simply losing members or simply gaining members. Rather, each religious group is simultaneously gaining and losing members. To get the most complete picture of the dynamism of the American religious landscape, one must look at the total number of people entering and leaving each religion.

Of the American Jewish population:
Raised Jewish 1.9%
Converted to Judaism + 0.3%
Left Judaism - 0.5%
Now Jewish 1.7%

(If conversion increases by a mere .2% we will be gaining as many Jews as we are losing. Interesting thought. What would all that positive energy and engagement say to the born Jews?)

Affiliation Patterns: Coming, Going and Staying Put
In addition to documenting the high degree of religious movement in the U.S. population and the net winners and losers from changes in affiliation, analysis of the Landscape Survey also details which groups are most heavily comprised of people who have changed their affiliation, what faiths these people came from and which religious groups are most successful at retaining their childhood members.

The religious traditions most heavily comprised of people who have switched affiliation include the unaffiliated, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the “other faiths” category (e.g., Unitarians, members of New Age groups and members of Native American religions) and members of the “other Christian” tradition (including metaphysical Christians). For instance, more than two-thirds of Jehovah’s Witnesses were raised in some other faith or were not affiliated with any particular religion as a child, as were nearly three-quarters of Buddhists. Among people who are currently unaffiliated with any particular religion, nearly eight-in-ten were raised as members of one religion or another.
(I remember a fellow on a panel of adult children from interfaith homes saying his parents had "compromised" and become Unitarians. He has since become Jewish. He said, "No one is born and stays Unitarian. You either enter or leave it." Interesting perspective.)

Hindus, Catholics and Jews are the groups with the lowest proportion of members who have switched affiliation
to these respective faiths. Overall, nine-in-ten Hindus were raised Hindu, 89% of Catholics were raised Catholic and 85% of Jews were raised Jewish.
(Ask yourself, what do these three groups share?)

15% raised Jewish switched religions
85% raised Jewish and remain Jewish

pp. 27

where did the new members come from?
Now Jewish:
5% Protestant
3% Catholic
2% all other faiths
5% not raised in a Faith
15% (of the total Jewish population = converts)

pp. 29

Retention of Childhood Members
Finally, the Landscape Survey makes it possible to look at which groups are most successful in retaining their childhood members. Hinduism exhibits the highest overall retention rate, with more than eight-in-ten (84%) adults who were raised as Hindu still identifying themselves as Hindu. The Mormon, Orthodox and Jewish traditions all have retention rates of at least 70%, while the retention rate for Catholics is 68%.

As mentioned previously, the group that has exhibited the strongest growth as a result of changes in affiliation is the unaffiliated population. Nevertheless, the overall retention rate of the unaffiliated population is relatively low (46%) compared with other groups. This means that more than half (54%) of those who were not affiliated with any particular religion as a child now identify themselves as members of one religion or another.

Two of the religious groups with the lowest retention rates are Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhists. Only slightly more than a third (37%) of adults who were raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses still identify themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Half of all of those who were raised as Buddhists (50%) are still Buddhists.

Of the Jewish population:
76% were born Jewish and remain Jewish
9% converted to another religion
14% converted to no religion
pp. 30

(Compare with Protestant)
Overall, then, 80% of those who were raised as Protestant are still Protestant,
either within the same denominational family in which they were raised (52%) or within another Protestant family (28%). So only one-in-five (20%) adults who were raised as Protestant have left Protestantism altogether (7% for a non-Protestant religion and 13% for no religion at all).

Who Changes Affiliation?
Though the rates of change in affiliation among the different age groups are fairly comparable, there are interesting generational differences in the types of affiliation changes people undergo.
Among people age 70 and older, for instance, more than half of people who have changed affiliation have switched affiliation from one family to another within a religious tradition (e.g., from one Protestant denominational family to another). Among those under age 30, by contrast, roughly three-quarters of those who have changed affiliation left one religious tradition for another (e.g., left Protestantism for Catholicism) or for no religion at all.

With respect to other demographic characteristics, the Landscape Survey reveals few major demographic differences in the rates of religious change.

For instance, men are only slightly more likely to switch affiliation than women (45% vs. 42%).

Similarly, there are few differences among adults with different educational backgrounds. Americans with a high school education or less are only somewhat less likely to have switched affiliation from the religion in which they were raised (41%) than people with at least some college education, college graduates and people with a post-graduate education (46%, 45% and 47%, respectively).

Religiously Mixed Marriages and Changes in Affiliation
The Landscape Survey finds that 27% of married people are in religiously mixed marriages. If marriages between people of different Protestant denominational families are included, the number of married people in religiously mixed marriages is nearly four-in-ten (37%). Among married couples, young people are more likely to be in religiously mixed marriages as compared with their older counterparts.
Among all the major religious traditions, Hindus and Mormons are most likely to have a spouse with the same religion (90% and 83%, respectively). Nearly four-in-five Catholics (78%) and seven-in-ten Jews (69%) are also married to someone with the same religious affiliation. By contrast, majorities of the unaffiliated population, members of the “other faiths” category and Buddhists are married to someone of a different religious background than their own. For example, only four-in-ten (41%) unaffiliated adults are married to a spouse who is also unaffiliated.

For Jews, Spouse is:
same religion 69%
Different religion 31%
Protestant 7%
Catholic 12%
all other religions 3%
No religious affiliation 8%

The Landscape Survey findings also make it possible to gauge, at least indirectly, the importance of marriage in changes in religious affiliation.

To the extent that people change their religious affiliation to match that of their spouse, one would expect to find lower rates of religiously mixed marriages among people who have changed affiliation than among those who have not switched. In fact, the survey finds just the opposite to be true: The incidence of religiously mixed marriages is much higher among people who have switched affiliation (50%) than among married people who have retained the religious affiliation of their youth (28%).

Intermarriage and Change in Affiliation

Spouse has...
Same religion Different religion
All married people 63% 37%
Married, has not changed religion 72% 28%
Married, has changed religion 50% 50%

Religious Composition of Age Groups
Jewish 2% of total population
18 - 29 2% of age group
30 - 39 2%
40 - 49 1%
50 - 59 1%
60 - 69 1%
70+ 2%

Age Distribution of Religious Traditions
Jews, too, tend to be older than other religious groups, with 51% age 50 and older.
Jewish population
age 18 - 29 20%
age 30 - 49 29%
age 50 - 65 29%
age 65+ 22%

Religious Affiliation of Racial and Ethnic Groups
Jewish - total percent of population is 2%
of white population 2%
Of Black population <0.5%
Of Asian population <0.5%
Other (mixed race) 1%
Latino <0.5%

Of all the major racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., blacks are the most likely to report a formal religious affiliation.

Asians are the ethnic group most likely to be unaffiliated.

In the Landscape Survey, a solid majority of Hispanics (58%) identify as Catholic, but nearly one-in-four are members of evangelical (16%) or other (8%) Protestant churches. Hispanics are about as likely as blacks to say they have no religious affiliation, and very few (2%) say they are atheist or agnostic.

Nearly a third (30%) of all whites are members of evangelical churches, almost twice the number who identify as unaffiliated (16%). About one-in-five (22%) whites are Catholic and a similar number (23%) are members of mainline Protestant churches.

Racial and Ethnic Distribution of Religious Traditions: Jewish

White 95%
Black 1%
Asian 0%
mixed 2%
Latino 3%

(I am going to email Diane and Gary Tobin about these numbers. They don't feel - or look - like the bay area community to me.)

Jews, Muslims and Buddhists are composed of slightly more men than women.

Educational Levels of Religious Groups
Education level: less than HS High Sch some college college grad postgrad
Total Population: 14 36 23 16 11
Jewish 3 19 19 24 35

(If you stay in college longer, you probably delay having kids...)

Number of Children at Home for Religious Traditions: Jewish
0 children under 18 in home 72%
One child under 18 in home 9%
Two Children under 18 living 11%
Three plus 8%

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grandparenting Programs

Below is an article just written by Sue Fishkoff on JTA 1/8/08. Again, it is interesting to see the community "discovering" a program and an audience that we all have been working on and with for years.

I recall speaking with Jeanette Bergelson in 1998 about the groups she was running. Later I spoke with Lynne Wolfe about her programs. I did some interviewing with other professionals and grandparents as I prepared my own grandparenting workshops.

In spring 2001 I offered Mingled Roots: Meeting the Challenge of Grandparenting in the Interfaith Family in Oakland, CA.

Since then I've done several grandparent workshops in Contra Costa. For one of them I used the film Shifting Traditions. I set it up as a sort of who done it? format. I told them before showing the film that I had been present at the premier -- it was the Senior Thesis of a Stanford film student in the Masters program there. I sat next to one of the couples featured in the film. At one point during the showing the entire non-Jewish audience gasped at what this couple said and the couple jumped. That was the "gun shot." I challenged my grandparents to identify the moment the trigger was pulled and who pulled it.

Intermarriage: Helping grandparents
Sue Fishkoff

A new program is being unveiled in Los Angeles and Atlanta to help grandparents present their Jewish heritage to their grandchildren in intermarried households.

Published: 01/08/2008

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- Bettina Kurowski is the chair of the 2008 fund-raising campaign of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and active in her Conservative synagogue.

She’s also a grandmother of three young grandchildren. They give her great "naches," or joy, she says, but she’s also worried -- the children’s father is not Jewish, the kids are being raised in an interfaith home and Kurowski, for all her Jewish involvement, is not sure what role she should play in passing on the Jewish heritage that is so dear to her.

“My husband and I are the keepers of the Jewish tradition, the culture and values of Judaism -- what it really means to be a Jew,” Kurowski says. “I took it upon myself to study how to be the best grandparent I could be while acknowledging the non-Jewish side of their family.

"I didn’t want to give the children the sense that there’s something wrong with people who are not Jewish, but I still want to give them a sense of pride in being Jewish. It’s a fine line.”

Looking around, Kurowski found few resources for grandparents like herself. She says she’s the only one in her circle of friends whose children intermarried, and she felt the need to share her concerns with others in her situation.

This week, she’ll get that chance when the Grandparents Circle holds its first meeting at Valley Beth Shalom, Kurowski’s congregation in Encino, Calif.

The Grandparents Circle, which is launching pilot courses Jan. 8 in Los Angeles and Jan. 29 in Atlanta, is a new program created by the Jewish Outreach Institute to help grandparents present their Jewish heritage to their grandchildren in intermarried households.

Grandparents meet in groups of 20 to 25 for five weeks of guided discussion, share their concerns and learn specific skills for passing on Jewish history and tradition without forcing it on the children.

“They want to pass on their Jewish identity and background, they want to share their history and who they are with their grandchildren, but it has to be done in a way that’s interesting to the grandchildren," says Liz Marcovitz, a program officer at the institute. "You can’t just start talking about Judaism with no context.”
The course is inspired by “Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do,” a 2007 JOI publication.

When Kurowski read the book last year, she and her husband donated the funds to build a curriculum around it. Her federation has earmarked funds to run the pilot course, and Kurowski says it hopes to expand the course to other synagogues in the Los Angeles area.

Marcovitz says the Jewish communities of Chicago and Hartford, Conn., among others, are interested.

Eventually the JOI plans to set up a national listserve for all such grandparents, whether they have taken the course or not.

Suzette Cohen is organizing the program in Atlanta. She notes that the city’s Jewish community, which has a 60 percent intermarriage rate, is in its sixth year of running The Mothers Circle, a JOI support group for non-Jewish women raising Jewish children. Many of the Jewish parents of those intermarried couples have asked for a similar program for them.

“They often dance around the issue, afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing” and offending their child or the non-Jewish spouse, Cohen says.

The first Atlanta circle is already oversubscribed; a second group is filling quickly.

The gist of the book and the course is to teach by example: Invite the grandchildren to Passover seders in your home, show them photos of your family, light Shabbat candles and tell them why it’s important to you.

Build “layers of Jewish memories,” the book suggests, that will remain with the children as they grow to adulthood.

Grandparents are an often overlooked influence on the lives of their grandchildren, says JOI’s associate director, Paul Golin. The institute's extensive research on the adult children of intermarried couples found that one of the major influences on the religious identities of these young adults was their grandparents.

But it’s not a straight shot.

“It’s not about parenting, it’s about influence,” Golin says. “It happens holistically. If the grandparents are just who they are and have contact with the grandkids, they’ll have that influence.

“That’s why we say, just be the best Jew you can be. You don’t want to come across as a Hebrew school teacher.”

The Grandparents Circle is designed for Jewish grandparents whose intermarried children are open to it. If the grandchildren are being raised exclusively Christian, Golin notes, it is a much more delicate matter.

That's the situation facing Rose Sowadsky, an Atlanta-area grandmother whose two grandchildren are being raised Methodist.

The children "are aware" she is Jewish -- they were at her home Christmas Eve and saw she had no tree -- but they have never asked her about it.

"They must have been well prompted at home," she supposes.

Sowadsky does not expect to have any influence on her grandchildren's religious upbringing, but she signed up for the Grandparents Circle for moral support.

"I want to see how others cope with it," she says.

Many participants come to the group as couples, and many others are single women, usually widowed, like Sowadsky, or divorced.

Dr. Bob Licht, a semi-retired Los Angeles dentist, is the lone single man in the Los Angeles group. When his wife of 62 years passed away last summer, he felt he needed help passing on his Jewish heritage to his 4-year-old great-grandson.

The boy’s father, Licht’s grandson, is Jewish, but the boy’s mother is not. Licht says his children and grandchildren, including the boy’s father, received an appreciation and understanding of Judaism from him and his late wife.

Now that she is gone, Licht feels somewhat adrift. The boy had a brit milah, but Licht wants to make sure he continues on a Jewish path.

“I wish my wife were here to help me with it,” he says. “She was better prepared. Now I’ve got to figure it out. I want to learn as much as I can, and that’s why I went to the first meeting. I want to do the right thing.”

Friday, January 4, 2008

Jewish Generations

I am sending you a link to an article that focuses on Federation philanthropy, but philanthropy is not what I'm interested in. What I find very interesting is the discussion of the various age groups and their concept of "Jewish engagement." This is something we are all interested in.

Note in the article that the author speaks about four age groups -

The Traditionalists (born between 1925 and 1945)
Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1964)
Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980)
Gen Y (born between 1981 and 1999)

Now the type of engagement that the author was looking at is philanthropic. But the answers sometimes went outside the lines.

Engagement meant --

To The Traditionalist: Creating an agency for young adults.
To the Baby Boomer -- creating outreach activities for 20-somethings
To Gen X -- having a seat at the allocations table
To Gen Y -- having a meaningful experience of Jewish life having nothing to do with allocating dollars or attending social events.

Sounds like there's a party being planned for people who may not attend.

For the entire article go to:

Next Generation of Jewish Children: study by Ariela Keysar

Next Generation of Jewish Children
On a quarterly call for professionals by call September 2007 there was a presentation by Ariela Keysar, a Jewish demographer and co-author of Next Generation: Jewish Children and Adolescents. Jews remain very much in step with the American public as we move towards secularism. For those of us working to maintain a thriving Jewish community and growing Jewish population right here in America, this woman had a lot of information. I'm ordering the book and suggest you do too. It costs less than $3 (ouch for all the authors on this list) so don't say the price held you back.*listing*title

Jewish Philanthropy

Jews NOT giving to Jewish causes (10/22/07)
Here's an interesting article. I'd love to hear your opinions.
I feel that scolding never works. Yet I am worried that there are so many needs in the Jewish community that non-Jews simply would have no reason to give to.

Men's Clubs & Lynne Wolfe in the News

Nov. 5, 2007
The Men’s Clubs of the Conservative Movement on the MOVE
Some of you may be aware that Rabbi Charles Simon of the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs in the Conservative Movement has been working for several years on developing programs and materials for Conservative congregations to use in their work with the interfaith couples in their shuls. Recently Rabbi Simon hired a long time Outreach professional, Lynne Wolfe, to coordinate the efforts between the congregations.

Lynne's local paper covered her new role as mentor to the Keruv consultants in the Conservative congregations. Fortunately for us, the online article even includes the photographs!

Conservative yeshiva in Uganda

Here's one more to make us all happy.

The Conservative movement will build an adult yeshiva for the Abayudaya, a community of Jewish converts in Uganda.

The $15,000 gift, announced Wednesday in Anaheim, Calif., at the national convention of United Synagogue Youth, the youth arm of the Conservative movement, was presented to Gershom Sizomu, the first member of the Abayudaya community to enter rabbinical school. A research fellow at the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, Sizomu will receive his ordination from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles in May.

The 800 members of the Abayudaya, who had been living as Jews for years, were formally converted to Judaism in 2002 by a visiting delegation of Conservative rabbis.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said the gift of the yeshiva sustains the youth movement’s support of the Abayudaya Jews begun last year with a donation for a Jewish library.

The library will be housed in the new yeshiva, which is expected to be completed by summer.

Four or five students will begin studying next fall, Epstein said. Other students are expected to follow, some from “lost” African Jewish communities elsewhere in Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and southern Africa.

LBGTQ Hillel Guide available now

new hillel guide!

Saxe Chertok study

I want to be sure you all saw the article by Sue Fishkoff on new study by Saxe and Chertok that was briefly covered at the URJ biennial last week.

Let me know what you think after reading it.

Here are some key elements I think deserve notice -

* the power of a Jewish education (this is the same info that Bruce Phillips gave me a year ago - I forwarded Bruce's study to Rosanne) Saxe isn't the first to uncover this, but I'm glad the word is out

* during the Saxe presentation Debbi Antonoff, head of the outreach program in Atlanta, GA turned to me and said, "So our work is irrelevant?" An important question since Saxe brushed over how we GET to the point of adults being Jewishly educated enough to want to raise Jewish kids

* Sue's article included comments from Steven Cohen. Much as I disagree with Cohen's razor blade approach to Jewish engagement I can't deny that he brings up the very statistics that I raised to Saxe and Saxe refused to answer: What say you to the research that finds that the grandchildren of interfaith couples don't identify as Jews? His response was a change of subject.

* It is a very bad thing that "outreach" continues to be confused with "conversion efforts" None of us suggest to couples that the way out of the interfaith questions in their lives is to pop the non-Jewish partner in the mikvah. This attitude does damage to the outreach we do and it makes a lot of institutions respond by tightening the doors to keep out seekers.

* And the question that we in Outreach must ask again and again, What do you mean when you say you want to raise your children as _______________? In this case, Cohen says "Jews" but I am usually asking it as, "What do you mean you when say you want to raise your children as both." A vital question and one that we in outreach believe we can help with.

* note that in all these studies the IF families are compared to "non-Orthodox" Jewish families - just be aware of where that can be taken

* the Maine study vs the Detroit study is significant to outreach and goes back to Debbie's question. I disagree with Sheskin's conclusion that the IF couples are looking for someone who "looks like them" but he is right that they looking to be welcomed. So there we are again, back to Outreach!

Well, here begins 2008 with a full plate!
Cheers to you my friends,

p.s. Meanwhile the children of interfaith marriage have to continue to live day to day and we offer little support to them. Here's a cartoon just sent to me. On the topic of the child of interfaith marriage. Honest & sad.