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.