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Toronto: Let’s Talk About Intermarriage!

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If you’ll be in the largest Jewish community north of the border on Monday, May 4, I hope you’ll join me for a conversation entitled, “Intermarriage: Optimism and Opportunity,” which is open to the entire community. The program is sponsored by our friends at Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, and will take place at 7:30 pm at the University of Toronto Multifaith Centre in Koffler House, 569 Spadina Avenue, Toronto. You can learn more and register here.

INTERMARRIAGE: OPTIMISM AND OPPORTUNITY
An inclusive vision for our Jewish future

Guest Speaker: Paul Golin, Associate Executive Director, Jewish Outreach Institute, New York

Introduction by: Michele Landsberg, journalist, author, social justice activist, Officer of the Order of Canada

Event description: Join Paul Golin in an interactive presentation that challenges the standard Jewish communal narrative on intermarriage and instead presents an optimistic and inclusive vision for the future of Jewish families and Jewish life. Today, almost every Jew in the US and Canada is personally touched by intermarriage within their immediate families. Let’s discuss not just the challenges this represents, but also the many opportunities inherent in a more diverse and welcoming community. Paul Golin has worked on the issues of engagement and inclusion for nearly two decades and will provide a side of the story, backed by current statistics, that’s rarely discussed.



JOI IS MOVING! In more ways than one.

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After fifteen years on Greeley Square in Manhattan, we are packing our offices and moving six blocks up Avenue of Americas — not far geographically, but a world away in terms of comfortable and usable office space. We are also about to unveil a new website and organizational name, so stay tuned! This is all a logical extension of JOI’s growth, and couldn’t have happened without the enthusiast support of our board of directors and other generous donors who believe in our work and mission. We thank them and are thrilled to embark on this next phase in our organization’s history!

As of Friday, March 27, 2015, our new address is:

1040 Avenue of the Americas, Suite 9A
New York, NY 10018

Our phone number remains (212) 760-1440. We apologize if on the day before or after the move our lines are down; thanks for your understanding! Once we’re up and running we look forward to seeing you in our new space next door to Bryant Park.



Big Tent Judaism Concierge coming to Sonoma County, CA

Big Tent Judaism (formerly known as the Jewish Outreach Institute), is taking another big step forward in opening the tent of the North American Jewish community by establishing a Big Tent Judaism Concierge for Sonoma County, CA. The Big Tent Judaism Concierge will serve as a bridge into the Sonoma County Jewish community, opening the tent to all who may wish to enter, and partnering with Jewish communal organizations to better find and serve people where they are.

This exciting new initiative is supported by a generous grant from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties.

An Advisory Committee made up of local communal professionals and lay leaders is currently being formed, and in the coming weeks we will reach out to all Jewish communal organizations. The committee will provide local oversight and guidance for the project and will work closely with the Concierge and Big Tent Judaism’s senior staff.

Big Tent Judaism’s Concierge, meanwhile, will “become the pivotal person to meet with newcomers and guide them into the community,” said Big Tent Judaism’s Executive Director, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky. “The biggest issue facing the North American Jewish community is engagement. We’ve found that those inside the Jewish community feel that it’s warm and welcoming. Those outside find it cold and prickly — and that gap is widening.”

In addition to working with the Advisory Committee and partnering institutions, the Big Tent Judaism Concierge will work directly with individuals in the community to guide them on their Jewish journeys, ensuring that they are led to the programs and services that fits their interests and needs, and that local institutions are trained in effective outreach techniques to best welcome them in. (If this sounds like a position for you and you live in the community, please find the full job description here.)

Sonoma County is the fourth community in which Big Tent Judaism has placed a trained professional on the ground. Over the last two years Big Tent Judaism has hired and continues to support Concierges in Chicago, Houston and Central New Jersey. As part of their national growth strategy, Big Tent Judaism will be placing several more Concierges on the ground in various cities over the next year.

The goal of Big Tent Judaism is to engage, support, and advocate for all those who wish to be a part of the Jewish community. By working community by community, Big Tent Judaism can help Jewish communal professionals and the institutions they represent better reach and engage those who are not currently participating in organized Jewish life.



“Pitching the Big Tent”

In his monthly message to Temple Beth Torah in Houston Texas, Rabbi Dan Gordon wrote eloquently about the synagogue’s experience partnering with us here at Big Tent Judaism to further open his congregational tent to all who may benefit. Rabbi Gordon writes:

TBT already has a reputation for being welcoming and inclusive; but only from those who have experienced the temple. We’ve always believed that there are more Jewish people northeast of Houston who haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity. Big Tent has encouraged us to look for ways to introduce the temple to interested people without waiting for them to come to us. Our experimenting started with public story telling for Hanukkah and Passover in local libraries. These programs helped teach children and their parents about the Jewish holidays, and were attended by a blend of Jewish and non-Jewish participants…

Rabbi Gordon goes on to describe a public menorah lighting that attracted four times the number of participants he anticipated, including individuals who said, “I’ve been meaning to check out the temple for a long time…” and “I didn’t know there was a temple around here!”

Our collaboration with Rabbi Gordon and the entire Houston Jewish community through our partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston has been powerful confirmation that going out to where people are to share what we love about Jewish life is an essential communal goal, and it works. Rabbi Gordon’s full monthly message is here. If you’re in Houston, please follow the Big Tent Judaism Houston Facebook page.



Remembering Edgar Bronfman

The portion Shemot introduces an entire book of the Torah, which goes by the same name. Most readers will simply translate the title as “names” since that is the first significant word or concept introduced. And that is the tradition for naming the books, as well as the individual Torah portions. But if we are looking for guidance from the text, insights for our own spiritual journey, then the names of individual Torah portions and the names of the books of the Torah can provide us with more than basic information. Rather, they can also offer us direction. Thus, instead of identifying this portion as “names,” perhaps it would be better to call it “reputation” since the Hebrew word shem can also be translated this way. The Torah, by calling this portion, this entire book, “Reputations”—the book dedicated to the transformation of a band of inchoate tribes into a people—is teaching us an important lesson. The name by which we are called, the reputation that we have earned in the community, is core to our character, essential to who we are and the legacy that we leave for others. The book of Exodus thus instructs us that the formative moments in the development of the Israelites as a people included the development of its character, a process that we as individuals are directed to emulate. In other words, what we do is who we are.

It is thus fitting that this portion marks the yahrzeit of Edgar Bronfman, the first anniversary following his passing from this world. As Edgar was fond of reminding people, his obligation in life—the obligation of each individual—is to leave the world in a better place when leaving it than how one found it when one was born. This is more than a lofty statement. It demands action. It requires the application of the resources granted to any person, both of monetary and mental means, however small or large they may be, to the task. This important notion isn’t just a teaching from the Torah. It emerges from our encounter with the Torah as part of our spiritual memory, from the time period in Jewish history marked by this Torah portion, as well as those that follow throughout the book of Exodus. Thus, our obligation is to constantly stimulate our memory of this notion, what we learned during our period of servitude in the desert, as well as our journey toward freedom. While this memory is deeply embedded in the Jewish soul of the individual, it is sometimes lost in the “noise”—or interference—coming from contemporary life and its various seductions. It is only when we work at it that the memory becomes alive once again in our own lives.

The Rabbis teach us that when we teach something to others that we learned from someone else, we should do it b’shem amro, in that person’s name. Moreover, we should imagine that teacher standing in front of us, as we teach what we have learned to others. Doing so, say the Rabbis, brings us closer to mashiach-zeit (the messianic era). While we are grateful to the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, which Edgar founded and nurtured throughout his life—and is now led by his son Adam—for the support it provided to Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute for many years, we are even more grateful for the often unpopular positions Edgar championed as a result. He was unafraid of bucking the status quo and used his position in the Jewish community to help us move our mission forward—to build a more inclusive Jewish community, which he also enthusiastically learned to call Big Tent Judaism.

What other messages are contained in this portion? What else contributed to the “reputation” garnered by the ancient Israelites and bequeathed to us? Among the gifts of the Jewish people to the world, as celebrated in the story of Exodus, which begins in this portion, is the idea of “hope.” According to the Rabbis of the Jerusalem Talmud, where there is life, there is hope. Even in the midst of darkness, when Joseph’s success in Egypt devolved into 400 years of slavery, our ancient brothers and sisters saw the possibility of freedom. This optimism kept them alive. This hopefulness is the best example of the contemporary notion of Judaism operating in the marketplace of ideas, as countless others have taken on this message and called it their own. The Jewish people gained the reputation as a people of hope, so much so that the modern state of Israel took on “Hatikvah—the hope” as its national anthem, the epitome of its national aspirations for itself and for the world in its entirety. The Jewish people became the ever-advancing advance team, working to move the individual and the world toward ultimate redemption, the messianic era.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky is the executive director of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and author of many books, including the upcoming Membership & Financial Alternatives for the American Synagogue: From Traditional Dues to Fair Share to Gifts from the Heart (with Rabbi Avi Olitzky, Jewish Lights).



Our Giving Tuesday Campaign: Too Big To Contain To Just One Tuesday

We are very lucky at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) to have thousands of partners, supporters and friends who support our mission of creating a more welcoming and inclusive North American Jewish community. In 2014, 107 communal professionals participated in Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates, a rigorous outreach training program and network that now includes over 230 members; 89 volunteer lay leaders enrolled as Big Tent Judaism Ambassadors, joining an elite network of over 200 advocates for greater inclusion and outreach; and together with our three community-based Big Tent Judaism Concierges, we reached 35,954 individuals across North America to share with them the benefits of involvement in the organized Jewish community’s programs and events.

As we enter the final month of the secular calendar year and also the end of our fiscal year, we are reminded of just how far we’ve come thanks to the generosity of our donors and how much more we could do, if given additional financial resources. We are on target to complete our re-branding process by February 2015. In addition to a new name, logo and website, this transition reflects our deepening commitment to working directly with end users. By the end of 2015 we hope to double the number of communities served by our Big Tent Judaism Initiative, which places “boots on the ground” in communities across North America to find and serve Jews and their families regardless of affiliation or current connection to a synagogue or other Jewish organization.

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Using what is already there

Sometimes, being innovative simply means realizing the potential of what is already there. This is why, when we thought this year about what would be the best way to reach unaffiliated Jewish families before the High Holidays, we thought about tashlikh, the ritual of throwing breadcrumbs into a body of water to symbolically cast away our sins, regrets, or bad choices from the past year as we prepare for the year to come.

For those familiar with the Big Tent Judaism philosophy of lowering barriers to engagement, this choice may seem odd. Why would anyone who otherwise was not planning to attend religious services on the High Holidays choose to attend a relatively marginal ritual with a name you can hardly pronounce? But two facts, we thought, make tashlikh uniquely appropriate for outreach. First, unlike most other religious Jewish rituals, this one takes place outside of the building. The congregation effectively relocates itself to a public location – typically a park with a pond, a brook, or a lake shore. And this public space, outside of synagogues and other Jewish institutions, is where most Jewish families are. Second, we thought, the act of letting go of the unsavory parts of our recent past, the act of forgiving ourselves and others – these acts can appeal to a broader audience, including people who are not prone to appreciate religious prayer. The relatively short tashlikh service can serve for many to encapsulate the entire High Holiday experience. Tashlikh, when transformed into Open Tashlikh, can serve as an entry point into deeper engagement with the organized Jewish community.

Will it work? We were eager to find out, so we set up a few resources and began to spread the word. In July 2014, Big Tent Judaism’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky published an article in eJewishPhilathropy.com, presenting the basic premise of the program – that the already-existing tashlikh programs have an untapped outreach potential, which could be maximized with the assistance of Big Tent Judaism resources. Following the publication of the article, 28 institutions expressed interest in using JOI materials at their already-planned tashlikh services.

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Communities are Getting Creative with their Public Spaces

It’s hard to believe it’s that time of year already, but the High Holidays have come and gone. As summer has faded into fall, Jewish communal professionals and volunteers across North America have brought Public Space JudaismSM to their communities, using the holidays to share a taste of Jewish life in public secular spaces.

When people think of where most Public Space Judaism programs are held, their minds often jump to a grocery store—for good reason, since many Public Space Judaism programs involve using food as an entry point into the holidays. Since most people regularly go grocery shopping, the supermarket is a great place to meet them where they are and introduce Jewish life and community through food. This is certainly true for the High Holidays, where our “A Spoonful of Honey” program uses gourmet apples and honey tasting in a public space to connect people with their Jewish community.

But there’s more to Public Space Judaism than grocery stores, and this year Big Tent Judaism and our partners have continued to bring Public Space Judaism to increasingly innovative new spaces. Over 20 of the 90 Public Space Judaism programs that took place this High Holiday season were held in “alternative” locations such as fairs, museums, and restaurants.

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Finding Meaning in the New Year

I am not a particularly religious person. But, like many Jews, I get a bit more religious in the lead-up to the Jewish New Year. And as I tell my friends that, yet again, I’ll be spending hours in synagogue for a few days this fall, I find myself asking—why do I? It is partly out of habit—something I do with my family every year that after 30 years just feels wrong to skip. It is partly out of respect—participating in a centuries’ old tradition still can overwhelm me. It is partly because of community—being surrounded by fellow Jews and their families who share a similar connection to the prayers and the practice. It is partly because I do actually find meaning—but not in all of it.

There are definitely parts of the service I can live without. But one part I find incredibly meaningful is the tashlikh service—the beautiful tradition of casting away our sins to start the year anew by tossing breadcrumbs into a moving body of water. There is something incredibly simple and symbolic about this action, and I always find myself incredibly contemplative as I stand by the waterside and think about what sins I am casting off. Did I gossip? Was I mean? Did I lie? Was I harsh to my parents? How can I avoid these sins in the New Year? I also find that tashlikh is the easiest piece of the High Holidays to share with my Maronite Catholic boyfriend (aside from my mom’s delicious dinners), so it helps us as an interfaith couple to connect through Judaism in way that is meaningful and accessible to both of us.

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A new book on intermarriage, and why you should read it

It ain’t easy being an intermarried Jewish man. This, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of Marrying Out: Jewish Men, Intermarriage and Fatherhood, a wonderful new book by Brandeis professor Keren McGinity published this week (September 1st) from Indiana University Press. I reviewed Marrying Out for the New York Jewish Week, and below is an interview with the author, which was also featured in the Jewish Week review.

In Marrying Out, McGinity used interviews with over 40 intermarried Jewish men to tell the story of how gender relations – what it means to be a man or a woman in North America today – shapes our roles as parents of Jewish children. On the one hand, marrying someone who is not Jewish makes it necessary to answer the question of what it means to be a Jewish father. It means you have to decide what Judaism means to you, and in what ways your home is to be a Jewish home. Will you celebrate Jewish holidays? (I do.) Will you say the sh’ma prayer with your children at bedtime? (I don’t.) Will you take your children to Tot Shabbat services? (Tried it; I have mixed feelings.) For many of the men whom McGinity interviewed, the need to answer these questions resulted in a stronger, more meaningful connection to Jewish life and the Jewish community.

As it happens, my wife is Jewish. I nevertheless found the overarching story of Marrying Out to be very relevant to my own life and my own struggles as a Jewish father, because being an intermarried Jewish man also means being a man. And in the United States today, this means (at least for many) spending more time at work than you do at home; more time writing reports (or blog posts) than playing with and listening to your children. It also means that your spouse is probably the one making the most important decisions regarding the religious or cultural upbringing of your children.

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Up Close: Amy Ravis Furey & Brian Furey

The following piece was originally posted on Kveller.com’s “Up Close,” a photo and interview series aiming to put a face on the interfaith conversation. The series highlights interfaith families and hearing their stories. The focus of this piece is Amy Ravis-Furey, the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator for the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.

1. Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between?

We are a Jewish family that has a Catholic dad and we are proud of that distinction. Our children like to ask a lot of questions to get clarity around who is Jewish in our family and who is Catholic. We make it very clear that to us being a loving family means celebrating and supporting one another–like helping our Catholic family celebrate the holidays that are important to them. Much like attending a friend’s birthday, our kids aren’t confused about joining in on celebrations of a different faith tradition. We all can attend birthday parties without being confused that the celebration is not yours–and we also know that we as guests are often an important element that makes the celebration meaningful.

Although we live in Kansas, because I am a Jewish community professional, a lot of our life looks Jewish, is surrounded by Jewish community and friends and is full of Jewish culture. We spend more waking hours at the Jewish community campus than at our actual home. The kids have a strong Jewish identity and an even stronger sense that there are all sorts of people in our family and our community and we value each of them for those differences.

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Nearly 100 Public Space Programs Happening Across the Country!

High Holiday public space



What’s a Grandparent to Do?: Sharing Judaism with Grandchildren in Interfaith Families

Originally appearing in Voices of Conservative Judaism, the following article profiles Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute Board Member Bettina Kurowski and the creating of the Grandparents Circle, a program for Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried. To read the original article, please click here.

The word “millennial” is at the center of conversation in today’s Jewish community. But we shouldn’t ignore another group that is equally pivotal to Jewish continuity – grandparents.

To highlight the powerful role that grandparents play in children’s lives – including children in interfaith families – Big Tent Judaism is hosting a weekend of activities to coincide with Grandparents Day on Sunday, September 7.

The National Grandparents Circle Salon Weekend, from September 6– 7, will convene informal gatherings of Jewish grandparents whose children have intermarried. These salons create a space for discussion about how to foster the Jewish identity of grandchildren being raised in interfaith families, while at the same time improving relationships between grandparents and their adult children.

Led by a grandparent, participants learn strategies for creating Jewish experiences for their grandchildren and establishing positive relationships with their adult children that are informed by the book Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren, by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Paul Golin. Grandparents Circle Salons are part of Big Tent Judaism’s Grandparents Circle, a series of free educational programs for Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried. These programs have been implemented nearly 150 times in nearly 100 communities across North America.

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute board member Bettina Kurowski was instrumental in developing the Grandparents Circle, which she piloted at Valley Beth Shalom, a large Conservative Synagogue in Encino, California. Bettina spoke with me about her role in helping to create the Grandparents Circle, how her participation in the inaugural Grandparents Circle helped her shape positive Jewish memories with her family, and why the Grandparents Circle is important for the Conservative Movement.

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Time to Open Up Tashlikh

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Originally published on eJewishPhilanthropy.com

TashlikhWhile we would like to believe that the entire Jewish community attends services at the synagogue for the High Holidays, we know that this is not the case. There are actually a diminishing number of people who attend High Holiday services. While former generations may have felt obligated to attend for a variety of reasons, there are many barriers that now prevent people from attending. Moreover, people just don’t feel addressed by what may be taking place in the synagogue. For some, the cost of High Holiday tickets is high and they don’t see the cost benefit. For others, they simply resent the “pay to pray” model of many North American synagogues. Still others can’t seem to traverse the literacy barrier that is at an all-time high during the High Holidays. Services are long and the liturgy is generally unfamiliar.

Nevertheless, the High Holidays contain the potential within them for effective outreach to those on the periphery of the Jewish community, and those who have been historically disenfranchised. Outside of the organized Jewish community, Jews are still thinking about the being Jewish this time of year. And they may still be seeking an experience for the High Holidays, even if it is not the traditional model that is in place in the synagogue. They may want to express their Jewish identity. They may want to express remorse over the wrong doings of the past year. They may want to find a spiritual experience through a portal-of-entry before they are willing to take a deeper plunge, even if they are never ready to do so.

Even among those who do attend High Holiday services, only a small percentage of those who participate also attend the tashlikh ritual of casting away one’s sins on Rosh Hashanah. This has always seemed to me to be a disconnect, especially given the simple and profound nature of tashlikh. I always thought that tashlikh could actually attract more people than would the traditional model of High Holiday worship because of the former’s brevity and simplicity. (more…)



The Big Tent Judaism Initiative in Westchester, NY Moves to Phase II

This year, Big Tent Judaism has been working in partnership with UJA-Federation of New York to open the tent of Jewish communities in the areas of Northern Westchester County, NY and the river towns. The first step was an initial assessment of the community, where Big Tent Judaism staff took an in-depth look at how institutions were welcoming newcomers via phone, email, and online. Now that the results of our study have been shared with the community, the Big Tent Judaism Initiative in Westchester is gearing up to enter Phase II.

In the past two months since I’ve joined the Big Tent Judaism staff, I’ve seen the Westchester community come alive around the idea of building a more inclusive Jewish community. From conversations with professionals and volunteers to the eager attendees at Eva Stern’s and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s presentations, the enthusiasm for change has been palpable. Jewish organizations in northern Westchester and the river towns are committed to making their communities more welcoming. They are ready to move forward by taking the tools Big Tent Judaism offers to make this change a reality.

This enthusiasm has been most noticeable in the many conversations I’ve had with Jewish communal professionals in Westchester. As we have begun recruiting for our Westchester cohort of Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates (Big Tent Judaism’s professional training program), I’ve heard from many professionals about how they’re looking to open their tents. They’re looking outward to consider whom they want to engage, like families with young children or LGBTQ individuals, and they’re looking inward to figure out the best way to reach them. The community is genuinely dedicated to making northern Westchester a more welcoming place for less-engaged Jews, such as those who are married to spouses or partners of another religious background, those with special needs, and those who don’t participate regularly in the Jewish community.

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Big Tent Judaism Coordinator for Chicago Alyssa Latala Named to Oy!Chicago’s “36 Under 36″

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is proud to announce that Big Tent Judaism Coordinator for Chicago Alyssa Latala has been named as one of Oy!Chicago’s “36 Under 36,” a list of young movers and shakers in the Chicago Jewish Community.

According to a press release from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the parent organization of Oy!Chicago:

[T]he list shines a spotlight on the faces of Chicago’s Jewish future and recognizes the amazing contributions of this generation. The young professionals featured are noted for making a difference through their work, giving back in their free time, and earning notoriety in the Jewish community and beyond.

“We were overwhelmed by both the volume and exceptionally high quality of the nominations this year,” said Stefanie Pervos Bregman, Founding Editor and Blogger-in-Chief for Oy!Chicago. “If this list is any indication, the future of Chicago’s Jewish community is incredibly bright.”

The Oy!Chicago website features a profile of each of the 36 young leaders, sharing their background, passions, and even celebrity Dopplegangers. The winners will be celebrated at an event on August 7th called “WYLD in Paris.” For more information, please click here. Below is a bit of Alyssa’s profile.

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Sunday in the Park With Bagels, Huge Crowds and Happy Faces

The following blog is written by Marilyn Price, one of JOI’s three new board members. In addition to being a professional puppeteer and educator, Price serves as an advisor to Big Tent Judaism Chicago, most recently attending one of our largest Public Space Judaism events, Sunday in the Park with Bagels at Deerpath Park in Vernon Hills, IL.

I just spent some time at one of Big Tent Judaism’s incredible events to reach out, and to teach out as well. Although I have some history with this remarkable organization, programmatic and personal, and have even done puppetry for other programs, attracting not just “people in the know” but passersby as well, this was my first experience as a new JOI Board Member (and itinerant puppeteer). And… it was awesome.

The day was beautiful, the crowd was huge (way more than anticipated or dreamed about), and the ambience of energy and excitement from both the presenters and the participants was equal. The quality of caring and preparation from the staff and the volunteers was amazing. Standing ovation!

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Northern Westchester County, NY Looks in the Mirror

It can be difficult to look in the mirror, and often we Jewish communal professionals are so busy that we legitimately don’t have time to do so. But what happens is that the world around us changes, and we become complacent—so much so that we forget that not everyone knows what a chavurah (fellowship group) is, or that Shabbat services are free, or that when answering the phone at our institutions, the person on the other line may need some assistance in articulating the questions they are really trying to ask. We can lose sight of the increasing diversity of the Jewish community around, and walk around with assumptions about what a Jewish family “looks like” that are simply outdated.

JOI’s environmental outreach scans help busy, over-programmed Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders to look into that (sometimes scary) mirror, but we don’t just stop there. We show the community where they are succeeding and where there is room for improvement, and then we help them open their tent and ensure that all four flaps are open, just like Abraham and Sarah’s.

On Monday evening, March 10th at the Rosenthal Jewish Community Center in Pleasantville, NY, we will be presenting our findings to the Jewish community of Northern Westchester and the River Towns, which will serve as the kick-off to our Big Tent Judaism Initiative for this region. The presentation, made possible by a generous grant from UJA-Federation of New York, will explain the process by which we scanned each institution, share our overall findings, and offer general recommendations to the community. This particular scan focused on the needs of interfaith couples and their families.

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Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates: A Growing Initiative

Here at JOI, I am privileged to manage our Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program, through which we help Jewish communal professionals from across North America connect to all those on the periphery of Jewish life in their communities. Almost two years since we launched our pilot cohort, we have built a network of more than 200 Jewish communal professionals committed to outreach and engagement, who share ideas from Winnipeg to Miami to Albuquerque, and many communities in between. Last month saw the beginning of our sixth North American cohort, the largest ever at 23 Professional Affiliates. It has been an exciting time of growth both for the program and for the professionals with whom we work, making our latest cohorts that much more thrilling.

While most of our trainings are offered as webinars, we have also been able to bring in-person training to Professional Affiliates cohorts in select communities through the generous support of foundations and federations in these communities. This deep investment, often coupled with the invaluable support of a Big Tent Judaism Concierge, allows us to together really make an impact in a community.

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13 Celebrated Moments in Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute in 2013— Get Ready for 2014

  1. Gained traction in our systems approach to outreach. We have demonstrated that our approach is successful when our fully trained “army of engagement specialists” work together and collaborate in a local community. In Chicago, for example, our Concierge, together with a cadre of 35 Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates reached over 3,000 individuals through programming in secular public spaces (Public Space Judaism) and stewarded hundreds into deeper engagement with the Jewish community.
  2. Made progress with our strategic plan by training over 150 Jewish communal professionals as Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates, engaged over 100 volunteer leaders as Big Tent Judaism Ambassadors, and placed Big Tent Judaism Concierges in four cities across the country. 2014 will see expanded cohorts of Professional Affiliates, Ambassadors, and Concierges, beginning with a group of Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates in the Valley outside Los Angeles, thanks to a grant from the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and its Valley Alliance.
  3. Partnered with UJA/Federation in New York by training Jewish communal professionals working with interfaith families. This work continues with an Environmental Outreach Scan in Westchester County (NY) in 2014. As the hit song suggests, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere….”
  4. Pilot programs for LGBT Interfaith couples in Los Angeles—to be rolled out nationally in years following.
  5. In our second year of partnership with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, delivering our customized program content to small and rural Southern Jewish communities. This included a new first step approach for our Mothers Circle program called Mothers Circle Gatherings that are salon models. This partnership will continue for year three in 2014.
  6. Distributed the results of a research project on Adult Children of Intermarriage, one of the largest, fastest growing segments of the North American Jewish community. Look for the results of our study of Five Years of The Mothers Circle due out in a few weeks.
  7. Staking our claim as futurists with the publication of Playlist Judaism: Making Choices for a Vital Future (Alban Institute Press) by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Executive Director.
  8. Influencing the religious movements with presentations at the Union for Reform Judaism biennial convention and a (Conservative) Think Tank on Intermarriage sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.
  9. Expanding our reach into Europe: Rabbi Kerry Olitzky served as a visiting faculty member at the Abraham Geiger Kolleg in Berlin training European rabbinical students during the summer semester.
  10. Expanding our board to a gender-balanced 28 members with 50% women. In 2014, we intend to continue our board expansion under the leadership of newly-elected president Michael Rappeport.
  11. Expanded the pilot of Hands-on-Hanukkah, our newest Public Space Judaism program, thanks to the support of the Polinger Foundation, with further expansion planned for 2014. Our Public Space Judaism program has captured the imagination of the North American Jewish community, with shout-outs from such leaders as Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism.
  12. Shared our expertise with communal professionals in gatherings such as the JCCA (Jewish Community Centers Association); birthright NEXT; Lion of Judah; Limmud (NY), and PJ Library, as well as local meetings such as the Community Scholars Forum in Orange County, CA, Women of the Landings (Savannah, GA) and the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
  13. Reached the Gold Standard in charitable giving, according to Guidestar, the highest level of financial and governance transparency.




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