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.