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.

Article: "Best of both Worlds"

Best of both worlds?

Here's an article from Atlanta. Does this sound like "the best of both worlds" for anyone?


Being a Grinch over decorations


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 12/16/07

When you enter an interfaith marriage, you know you may encounter some differences around holiday customs.

But if you are not the Christian in the relationship, nothing can prepare you for Christmas decorations.

"John, can you bring the box up from the basement?" are the words that kick off decorating season in our household, and they always come on the last Friday in November.

"The box" is a plastic tub, heavy and large enough to suggest it contains the bound and gagged body of St. Nick himself. In fact it holds enough tchotchkes to blanket our house in holiday cheer. Elves, reindeer, garlands, baubles, puppies in red stocking caps.

We have multiple cr che scenes — so many in fact that the figurines eventually migrate from one manger to the next. After a couple of weeks, one table may display three baby Jesuses and a lone donkey, suggesting a disreputable day care facility.

Another will have so many and varied creatures in military formation that it conjures Orwell's "Animal Farm."

"Why do we have so much stuff?" I plead, as I trip over the gilded chicken-wire sleigh stuffed with dusty presents that sits by our front door for, seemingly, just that purpose.

"You don't like Christmas decorations?" my wife asks.

"NO!" I think.

"Of course I do," I say. "But there's just so much."

Jingle bells hang from our doors. All our doors. One cannot pass from room to room without being reminded of the season's tidings.

But of all the decorations, the one that drives me straight to Grinch Mountain is the figurine I call Pooped Santa.

Imagine, if you will, a brightly painted porcelain Santa splayed over a chair, puffing his pipe by the fire, his plump feet naked and resting in a bucket. Hovering by his side: a solicitous elf with a pitcher poised over the bucket.

Walk up to this thing, clap your hands and — Merry Christmas! — water starts pouring through the pitcher onto Santa's feet to the strains of "Jingle Bells." After 30 seconds of such merriment, the water drains back into its reservoir and the music stops.

The problem is, any loud or moderately loud noise sets it off. If a door slams or our dog barks it starts. Our dog barks, on average, 40 times per evening.

This year, as the battery ran down, the musical component of the show went silent. So all we heard was the sound of water splashing over Santa's feet. I can't tell you how many times I've thought it was a toilet running, or perhaps the dog was trying to tell us she really, really needed to go out.

Every year, as I tiptoe past Santa, I make the same lame Jewish-spouse joke — i.e., that I'm going to decorate the house for Hanukkah with garlands of potato pancakes, papier mâché menorahs and figurines of Maccabees huddling in a cave over an oil lamp. It never gets a laugh.

Hanukkah has become a pretty tame affair in our house. The kids all get new pajamas on the first night because the big presents will come on Dec. 25. I make potato pancakes. We light the candles.

So that is how our interfaith marriage plays out for the holidays. My wife brings good tidings and joy to the holiday season. I offer flannel and food. Despite Pooped Santa and his posse, I suppose it's the best of both worlds.

Conservative Movement

Dear Colleagues,
Here is an interesting article about Conservative rabbis serving dual identity congregations.
I respect and value the varied responses that are expressed. Let me quote from one of my favorite Orthodox rabbis:
"Each of you is in a conversation with God and I don't know what that conversation is."
Clearly our conversations are leading us to do many different things and only a madman or a fool believes that he or she is hearing God's sole authentic voice. As we move forward, each of us straining to hear the words in our own ear, may we value those who are straining to hear the words in their ear.

A quick over view of the Conservative movement's 2007 convention.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Beware the Almighty Demographer

There is a handy quote from Shakespeare: The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. So too can demographers "run the numbers" to find what they are looking for. As on-the-ground Outreach workers our perspective tends towards the effective and useful over the flashy and fundable.

The Talmud says, Get yourself a friend. Each Jewish outreach professional must find one or more demographers whom they trust. Yes, it is essential to read the studies. But it is also important to do so with a healthy scepticism. Find a demographer partner with whom you can explore the facts you find beneath the surface. Ask about methodology. Compare study results. Find out the number of individuals in the total study. Develop your ability to evaluate demographic work. Trust your personal experience and knowledge but be ready to question your own assumptions.

Muddy Waters

The latest article to come out on interfaith marriage is titled, "Intermarriage Study Muddies Waters." Reasonable well done considering the usual lack of knowledge on the topic, it stresses the researchers surprising findings. Communities around the U.S. have different rates of intermarriage and different rates at which the interfaith couples raise their children as Jews. To quote my 21 year old daughter's peers, "Qwah!?"

I continue to be surprised at what surprises them.

Imagine this,
"The cities with high rates of Jewish child-rearing among intermarried couples include rapidly growing Jewish populations, such as South Palm Beach (75%), and older and shrinking communities such as Cleveland (66%). Some older, well-established Jewish communities such as New York (30%) and Detroit (31%) rank below transient-heavy western cities such as Los Angeles (43%) and Las Vegas (42%), belying the common wisdom that Jews in the West are less affiliated."

The assumptions abound. Minus the research team, just being a reasonable thinker I ask myself, why might an "older and shrinking" community have a high rate of interfaith couples raising their children as Jews? Well, in a community that sees itself as getting old and disappearing there's a good chance that the institutions are hastening to welcome any young family. Thus their posture is one of welcome, acceptance and intergration. The young family, finding themselves embraced and included decide this is a good place to raise kids... and they do.

Remember Egon Mayer's study of so long ago revealing a core problem: most interfaith couples DON'T know that the Jewish community is open to them?

If we can get the word out. Get them to come to the door. And then if we can open it wide with a smile on our faces -- who knows what can be accomplished?

Here's where we, the Interfaith Outreach Professionals, must continue to labor. To bring each of these tasks to the attention of the community and teach them to do them.

Program development
Reception skills
Follow up
Communication skills
Methods of ongoing communication

And our most vital means of transformation: The Conversation