Weblog Entries for Category: JOI News & Events

Go to newer posts or Go to older posts

What Could the North American Conservative/Masorti Synagogue Look Like in Five Years?

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute
Rabbi Charles Simon, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs

Five-year benchmarks are quite commonly employed to measure the progress and success of initiatives. Were a Conservative/Masorti synagogue in the United States to choose to respond positively to demographic change implied by intermarriage, these are some of the issues that will have to be thoughtfully considered and employed.

Synagogue Culture

  1. Disparaging remarks from the pulpit or in the pews will not be tolerated. Religious school children raised in Jewish families will be encouraged to share their experiences in the classroom. The conversation among synagogue leaders will move from who one is marrying to how one is raising children.
  2. Staff members and volunteer leaders in interfaith relationships will not be discouraged nor penalized.
  3. Youth group participants will be welcome to bring friends to events irrespective of their religious backgrounds. Youth leaders will not be limited in their relationships.
  4. Administration and Program

  5. Teachers will be sensitive and respectful of children who have intermarried parents and strongly support their efforts to raise Jewish children.
  6. Synagogue application forms will reflect the religious traditions of people married or partnered to Jews in an equal and non-judgmental manner. Celebrations of those who have intermarried will be affirmed in synagogue publications without distinction. Those who wish to honor their children’s choices with a Kiddush or other celebration will be encouraged/welcomed.
  7. Educational and social programming will be designed to engage people of different religious traditions.
  8. Youth group events will be viewed as an opportunity to bring people close to Judaism and will not be governed by the fear that they promote interfaith relationships.
  9. Life Cycle

  10. Aufrufen (pre-marital blessings) and “Keruv aliyot” (recognition of the decision to have a Jewish family) will serve as an important step to integrate intermarried couples into the community.
  11. Clergy will be able to attend and participate in some capacity in the interfaith weddings of congregants and their children.
  12. Clergy will officiate at funerals and burials of their members and their families who are part of the community irrespective of their religious backgrounds.
  13. Ritual

  14. An adult partner or grandparent from another religious tradition will be able to participate in the life cycle events of their family and their family members.
  15. Patrilineal children will be welcomed in the synagogue and will undergo a “completion ceremony” in anticipation of b’nai mitzvah (rather than a “conversion ceremony”).
  16. Governance

  17. People of different religious traditions will be permitted to sit on synagogue boards as voting members.
  18. People who are part of the community will be considered full members of the synagogue and will be permitted to vote on all issues.


To read the featured article in The Forward referencing this piece, please click here.

Hanukkah Prep Class for LGBT Interfaith Parents Raising Jewish Children

With Hanukkah coming early this year, many families and couples are already planning their Hanukkah meals, making their gift lists, and digging out their latke (potato pancake) recipes. But for those whose partners are Jewish, but are not themselves, it can be challenging to bring a holiday into the home that one didn’t grow up celebrating.

The LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle offers the first of its kind parenting programs to LGBT couples who are raising, or are considering raising, Jewish children. The first program will center around the holiday of Hanukkah, offering a safe space to learn about and discuss how to celebrate the holiday for LGBT interfaith couples. In addition to topics like the story of Hanukkah and the themes of the holiday, participants will also have an opportunity to delve into topics unique to LGBT interfaith couples raising Jewish children, such as how to reclaim the holiday and making the connection between the themes of identity and rededication as they relate to Hanukkah and LGBT interfaith families.

There are two opportunities to participate in the free class, so we hope you will share this information with those you think may be interested, to help spread the word about this wonderful program. For more information, or to RSVP, please contact JOI’s LGBT Interfaith Parents Circle Coordinator, Lisa Hanish, at LHanish[at] .

On Minor Earthquakes and Home Preparedness

Last week a series of minor earthquakes hit the northern Israeli town of T’veria (Tiberius). No harm done, but it did remind everyone in the area that they are living on top of one of the Earth’s major tectonic fault lines. Now everyone is talking about home preparedness kits and aftershocks.

Over here, the North American Jewish community has experienced its own minor earthquake: the image presented by the Pew Research Center’s comprehensive study of the U.S. Jewish population. No harm done, but we were all forcefully reminded of a couple of major fault lines of our own.

On the one hand, we were reminded that the Jewish community extends beyond religious affiliation. Not only are a growing number of Jews identifying as having no religion, but even among those who do consider Judaism their religion, only 39% are synagogue members and only 29% visit a synagogue more than a few times a year.

On the other hand, the Pew aftershocks also brought to the fore the fault lines within the organized Jewish community, which is divided on the issue of how to respond to this increasing lack of institutional affiliation. Is it best to hunker down and focus on the few who still consider Jewish institutions relevant, or is it more advisable to transform existing institutions to accommodate the needs and wants of those who don’t show up?


Half Full or Half Empty?

Last week, JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin weighed in on the recent Pew research study regarding the current Jewish population in the United States. His comments, which appeared in the article “Half Full or Half Empty” in the New Jersey Jewish News, point out the positives in the study where many are seeing the negatives. Instead of focusing on the million-person increase to the Jewish population over the last decade or so, many are focusing on the high intermarriage rate, believing it spells disaster for the future of the Jewish population. Paul Golin doesn’t see it that way.

“We found an extra million Jews since the last time we counted — and we found it a great disaster!” quipped Paul Golin, associate executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute in New York. His organization tries to integrate unaffiliated and intermarried families into the Jewish community.

“The question people are asking is: What kind of Jews are they? It’s one of the most divisive questions you could ask,” said Golin. “The panic I see being expressed is because the Jews they are finding are not like the Jews who run the Jewish community. They don’t find resonance in the same things, so what do we do about it?”

For us at JOI, the question is not “what kind of a Jew are you,” but simply “do you want to participate in the Jewish community?” If the answer is yes, then we as Jewish communal professionals should help these people and their families to find a place in the community.

Do you agree? Then we invite you to show your support for the 61% of Jewish interfaith families who are raising their children with Jewish identities by sharing the photo below on Facebook.

JOI Comes to Chicago and Middlesex County, NJ this weekend!

As September winds down this weekend, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) will be out and about in two locations bringing a taste of the fall Jewish holidays to passersby at two great events. JOI’s newest Public Space Judaism program for the High Holidays will give people the chance to not only learn a bit about the holiday, but also make connections in their local Jewish community, enabling them to find programs and events of meaning to them.

A Spoonful of Honey: Rosh Hashanah Gourmet Honey Tasting, JOI’s latest Public Space Judaism program, takes advantage of the myriad fall festivals happening around the country this time of year, as well as of the delicious tradition of eating apples and honey to celebrate the Jewish new year. Participants are offered a sample of several different flavors of honey, along with information on upcoming events in their local Jewish community. This weekend, JO’s Big Tent Judaism Coordinator in Chicago and Big Tent Judaism Concierge in Middlesex County, NJ will be at two large festivals reaching out to their respective communities through this exciting program.

So stop by, say hello, and check out the JOI team in action!

Long Grove, IL
Long Grove Apple Festival
September 27, 28, and 29, 2013

Alyssa Latala, Big Tent Judaism Coordinator for Chicago, and Amanda Kaletsky, Communications Manager, will be offering passersby a free taste of apples and honey from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM each day at the 21st annual Long Grove Apple Festival.
There will also be fun fall activities for children, and an opportunity to chat with Alyssa about other exciting events coming up in the Chicago Jewish community.

All are welcome. $5 per person (children 12 and under are free). For more information, please click here.


New Brunswick, NJ
Raritan River Festival
September 29, 2013

Caren Heller, Big Tent Judaism Concierge for Middlesex County, NJ, along with other JOI staff, will be offering a taste of honey at the Raritan River Festival along with other JOI staff. The Raritan River Festival takes place in Boyd Park from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Now in its 33rd year, the festival includes boat races, raft races, and music entertainment. This is a perfect opportunity to experience a unique festival and get to know Caren so that she can help you find a place in the Middlesex County Jewish community.

All are welcome. FREE Admission. For more information, please click here.

We hope to see you this weekend!

JOI’s Second Feature in Institute of Southern Jewish Life Newsletter

Yesterday we shared an excerpt from the latest Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) newsletter, which features Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI). Today, we would like to share another piece from that same newsletter, a list of ten promises Jewish institutions can make to partners of other backgrounds. To read the entire newsletter, please click here.

JOI Featured in Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s E-Newsletter

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) is excited to again be featured in the September edition of the Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s (ISJL) E-Newsletter. The monthly newsletter, distributed to ISJL’s network of supporters and educators throughout the South, focused on opening the tent of the Southern Jewish community, with the help of JOI Executive Director Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky. Below is one excerpted piece for the upcoming holiday of Sukkot. To read the entire newsletter, please click here.

Happy New Year from Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute

Click here to share on Facebook.

Valuable Conversations on the Grandparents Circle Listserve

Filed under:

One of my responsibilities as a Program Associate at Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) is to moderate the listserves for our Mothers Circle, Grandparents Circle, and Empowering Ruth programs. These listserves act as online support groups, where participants can bounce questions off of each other and receive support and advice from people who are going through similar experiences. While this task mostly involves keeping an eye out for the occasional automated spam message, it also offers me the opportunity to be a fly on the wall and gain invaluable insight into the lives of the people who participate in JOI’s inclusive Judaism programs.

Because there are fewer classes running in the summer, the listserves have been pretty quiet. The notable exception is the Grandparents Circle listserve. There have been several days where I’ve come into the office, opened my email, and been bombarded with notifications about vibrant discussions. As I read about participants’ experiences with their interfaith grandchildren, I am alternately overcome with joy and sorrow. While some grandparents share positive experiences interacting with their married children and grandchildren, others feel frustrated and isolated because they cannot share their Judaism and Jewish identity with their grandchildren. Other listserve members chime in, offering anecdotes of similar situations as well as advice for coping with these challenges. There are no quick solutions for the problems raised, but it is heartwarming to see the virtual community come together to support its members.


Curious about the “how to’s” of the High Holidays?

How well are you able to share the meaning and value of the Jewish High Holidays with your family?

Here’s how NOT to feel lost and confused during the High Holidays, and truly find the benefit, even if you didn’t grow up celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We invite you to join us for High Holiday Highlights.

High Holiday Highlights is a FREE one-time webinar (interactive online session) from the staff of Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute and Kit Haspel, a Mothers Circle Coordinator at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

This webinar will empower you to better understand the value and meaning of the holidays, and provide the opportunity not only to learn, but to interact with fellow participants about blessings and prayers, food traditions, and activities you can do to share the beauty of the holiday with your family.

• When: Wednesday, August 21 at 2:00pm EDT.
• Where: Via phone and any computer connected to the Internet!
• How: RSVP to JOI Communications Manager Amanda Kaletsky here to receive the link.
• Who: Anyone who wants to learn more about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Please feel free to invite any friends, family, or colleagues who may be interested!

High Holiday Highlights is brought to you by The Mothers Circle, a program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children.

What Intermarried Rabbis Can Teach Us

Below is an excerpt from a recent op-ed in the New Jersey Jewish News written by JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin in response to recent debate in the Jewish community about whether or not rabbis should be permitted to intermarry. To read the complete piece, please click here.

“[…] I’m not the typical intermarried unaffiliated Jew, since I’m also a Jewish communal professional. Still, I think I speak for many intermarried households when it comes to what I want and need from a rabbi. And that might be instructive to the seminaries, who are training clergy for a U.S. population that now has more intermarried than in-married households.

I have two admittedly broad criteria for what I want in a rabbi: Tell me I’m in and mean it — and show me why it’s so amazing.

[…] Rabbis with nontraditional families like my own make me feel more included. Conveying why Judaism is still relevant to them provides me with access I wouldn’t feel elsewhere. The focus is not on how you come in, but what you get out of doing Jewish — in other words, why it’s so amazing.

American liberal Judaism in the 21st century must be about conveying Jewish meaning, not ensuring ethnic survival. Some may lament that rabbis today must first answer “what can Judaism do for me as an individual,” rather than “what am I supposed to do because I’m Jewish.” But the days of obligation-before-meaning are gone.

So tell us why Judaism is better! Why should my children’s ethical foundation be provided by Jewish wisdom rather than the universal ethics they would receive as Americans? Why should I seek spirituality in synagogue when the local meditation studio promises results I never hear offered by rabbis? How can the millennia-long conversations in Jewish texts help make my own life — or the world — better?”

Read the complete text here.

To read New Jersey Jewish News Editor-in-Chief Andrew Silow-Carroll reaction to the piece, please click here.

JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Initiative in Middlesex County, NJ

Middlesex County, New Jersey - a Jewish community like many others - familiar, yet unique.

Familiar because they have the same strengths of many communities: diversity of institutions, committed leaders, and a desire to keep Judaism alive. Familiar also because they have the same issues many Jewish communities face: declining affiliation, apathy among members, lack of engagement. And familiar because the volunteer and professional leadership truly care about ensuring the future of the community and are searching for ways to help their institutions and individuals. And, like all communities, they are also unique: they have their own culture, history, specific successes, and particular challenges.

Middlesex County, however, is also unique in that they have committed to doing the hard work involved for true and lasting change. Through local individual and foundation support, JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Concierge will work closely and collaboratively with professionals and volunteers to identify newcomers and use each institution’s strengths to ensure those individuals and families are guided on a Jewish journey that is distinctively theirs.

The Big Tent Judaism Concierge is an employee of the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) whose sole task is to identify unengaged individuals and, based on information gleaned through a personally built relationship, guide that individual toward participation in the Jewish community. S/he works with Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates (those Jewish communal professionals in a community who have signed on to a formal training program as well as committed to hold events that use specific techniques that are proven successful in engagement) and Big Tent Judaism Ambassadors (volunteer leaders who work together and singly to advocate for change in the community around these issues) to ensure collaboration and success.


Join Rabbi Kerry Olitzky Tomorrow in Middlesex County, NJ

A Special Invitation for
Jewish Communal Professionals
& Volunteer Leaders
in Middlesex County

Please join us Monday, May 20th at 3:00 PM for a FREE presentation by JOI Executive Director Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, How Big Tent Judaism Can Help Grow Your Institution. We will discuss what we can do to help unengaged Jews find their place in the Middlesex Jewish community, and how we can engage newcomers in the Jewish community.

When: Monday, May 20, 2013 3:00-5:00 PM
Where: New Brunswick Free Public Library, 60 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Who: Middlesex County Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders (please feel free to bring your colleagues, and share this information with others.)

There is no cost, but we ask that you please RSVP so we can provide enough refreshments. To RSVP or for more information, please contact Brenna Kearns at BKearns [at]

To view the full invitation, please click here, and share this invitation with others!

Did You Say Cheesecake is a Jewish Food?

Filed under:

New York cheesecake is thick and dense, just the way I like it. I have never been predisposed to smooth French cheesecakes. But whether New York style or French, cheesecake is a Jewish food. “A Jewish food?” you might ask, “I thought those were limited to bagels, chicken soup, and hummus.” But cheesecake is indeed a Jewish food, made most popular this time of year because of the holiday of Shavuot.

A holiday under the radar for most people, including those in the Jewish community, the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the first harvest, the ripening of the first fruits, and most importantly, the giving of the Torah. The holiday is celebrated by late-night study sessions and meals largely consisting of fruits and dairy, such as cheesecake!

According to Jewish folk tradition, there are several reasons for cheesecake to be associated with Judaism and the holiday most noted for the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai around the year 1250 BCE. First, since this is when the Torah was given, the rules for eating meat had not yet been given, so the Jews largely stuck to milk products only, or, in other words, a diet rich in dairy. A second reason is that the Torah itself is actually likened to milk in the phrase “milk and honey” (Song of Songs 4:11), as is the journey to the land of Israel (which “flows with milk and honey” Exodus 3:8-17). Between the references to milk and the lack of Kosher meat laws, dairy played a very important role in the early diets of the Jewish people, a tradition that carries on today.

Sometimes it is tough to find a spiritual connection to Judaism, particularly through a holiday as obscure as Shavuot. And sitting in the synagogue doesn’t always do it for me. But cheesecake and God—that is something that I could get my mind (or should I say mouth) around.

Thoughts from JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Coordinator-Chicago

Alyssa Latala is JOI’s new Big Tent Judaism Coordinator in Chicago. She partners with the Chicago Jewish community to create and implement low barrier, welcoming programs that serve all those who might find interest and meaning in Jewish life regardless of affiliation or family structure. We are excited to add her voice to the blog. Meet Alyssa here.

As is the case whenever one gets a new job, it’s exciting to share the new role with friends and family. In my case, as the newest Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) staff member, it has been an eye-opening experience that has inspired me further to do the work that we do.

The conversation that hit home for me the most took place with a friend who was unfamiliar with JOI. Upon learning about the mission and goals of the organization, she shared a story about a close friend who came to her for guidance after being rejected by a potential employer. The employer, a Jewish organization she had been connected to since childhood, told her she was unfit for the position because of her non-Jewish husband.


JOI Board Member Named to Forbes Most Powerful Women’s List

Filed under:

JOI Board Member Rachel Cohen Gerrol has been named to the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women’s List for 2013, and will take part in the 2013 Forbes Women’s Summit in May. The Forbes Women’s Summit “is a transformational and multigenerational meeting of 200 powerful minds: CEOs, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, innovators, disruptors, educators, heads of foundations and NGOs, artists, and politicians.”

Featuring women from Forbes Most Powerful Women, 30 Under 30 and Celebrity 100, the Summit will coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Most Powerful Women issue and will launch a yearlong Forbes editorial initiative that taps into the size, influence and scope of Forbes’ multiple platforms.

The list of participants includes such influential figures as Arianna Huffington and Gayle King.


Is There a Future for LGBTIQ Synagogues?

On my recent travels to Jewish communities to talk about bringing Big Tent Judaism initiatives to bear, I was struck, yet again, by how open and engaging people think their institutions are. In reality, they are inadvertently putting up barriers to participation.

Synagogues that don’t actively welcome those on the periphery – Jews by Choice, intermarried Jews, LGBTIQ Jews, Jews of Color, etc. – will continue to find it hard to attract new members. And I don’t mean just members from the traditionally marginalized communities listed above. Why would I, a straight-married-to-another-Jew-family-oriented-person, want to join a synagogue where my best friend and his partner don’t feel welcome? It isn’t about being tolerant. It is about creating policies out of a need, and more importantly a desire, to be engaging, inclusive, and welcoming.


JOI Creates a Concierge for the Middlesex County, NJ Jewish Community

Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is taking another big step forward in opening the tent of the North American Jewish community by hiring a Big Tent Judaism Concierge for Middlesex County, New Jersey. The Big Tent Judaism Concierge will serve as a guide to the Middlesex County Jewish community, assisting organizations in Public Space JudaismSM program implementation, and creating partnerships to ensure that the Middlesex area Jewish community works together to open the tent to all who wish to enter it.

Partially funded by the local Federation’s Dave and Ceil Pavlovsky Jewish Education Fund, the Big Tent Judaism Concierge will also be working with the Federation’s new community engagement coordinator, Michal Greenbaum. A recent article in the New Jersey Jewish News highlights the work of these two positions to open and grow the Jewish community in New Jersey.

JOI’s “concierge,” meanwhile, will “become the pivotal person to meet with newcomers and guide them into the community and into community engagement,” said JOI 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 Federation’s community engagement coordinator 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 institution that fits their needs, and that that institution is trained in effective outreach techniques, to best welcome them in. Along with Greenbaum, several Middlesex-area Jewish communal professionals will be involved in JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates program. This training program will allow these Jewish communal professionals to learn together proper outreach methodology, as well as work with one another so that they truly know what the community has to offer as a whole, not as individual institutions.


For Jewish Grandparents Whose Adult Children Have Intermarried: A Discussion on Celebrating Passover with Your Interfaith Grandchildren

Are you a Jewish grandparent whose adult children are intermarried, and you want to be able to share the holiday of Passover with your interfaith grandchildren? Then we invite you to join us for a free online discussion to help navigate the sometimes-choppy waters of sharing your traditions with your grandchildren being raised in the context of intermarriage.

With Passover right around the corner, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute will be holding an online discussion for grandparent with interfaith grandchildren.

WHO: Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried.
WHAT: The Grandparents Circle: Seder with the Whole Family Online Discussion
WHEN: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM EST
WHERE: Online! All you need is a computer and a phone.
HOW: Register for this free class by clicking here.

During the session, grandparents will have the opportunity to share their concerns and approaches to instilling Judaism in their grandchildren, particularly in the context of the holiday of Passover. Co-led by Rabbi Joyce Siegel, a Grandparents Circle facilitator based in central Massachusetts, and myself, grandparents will also have a chance to discuss strategies on sharing the holiday with children and activities to introduce Passover to their grandchildren. Another topic will be how to share the holidays with grandchildren who may not live close by.

JOI wants to help make Passover an enjoyable holiday for everyone. As always, anyone can register for a Grandparents Circle online session, and JOI welcomes participants to do so by clicking the link above. For questions about either session, how to participate, or how to get a question about Passover answered, I invite you to be in touch with me at or 212-760-1440.

Hurry up! It’s almost time to get your matzah!

The Mothers Circle: Seder Survival Guide Online!

Are you a mom looking for guidance on sharing Passover with your children? If you are, or know someone who is, we are here to help!

With Passover just around the corner, beginning on March 25th, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is excited to offer a free online discussion about celebrating the holiday of Passover, during which we will talk about the details of the seder (ritual meal), what to eat/not to eat, how to involve your children, and more!

WHO: Mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children, and anyone else interested.
WHAT: The Mothers Circle: Seder Survival Guide Online Discussion
WHEN: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 1:00 PM EST
WHERE: Online! All you need is a computer and a phone.
HOW: Register for this free class by clicking here.

We at JOI consider mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children to be the unsung heroes of the Jewish community. Therefore, we want to make sure they have the resources necessary to create a Jewish home. By offering this class in an online discussion format, moms from across North America who may not have a local Mothers Circle will be able to get their questions answered while virtually surrounded by moms just like them.

The online discussion will be co-led by Laura Kinyon, a long-time Mothers Circle facilitator based in Hartford, CT, and myself, and participants will be able to submit questions in advance to ensure they are answered during the session (submitted during registration).

We hope you will join us, and will pass this information on to anyone who you think might be interested!

JOI wants to help make Passover an enjoyable holiday for everyone. As always, anyone can register for a Mothers Circle online session, and JOI welcomes participants to do so by clicking the link above. For questions about either session, how to participate, or how to get a question about Passover answered, I invite you to be in touch with me at or 212-760-1440.

Click Here!