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.