Entries for Category: JOI News & Events
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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] JOI.org.
To view the full invitation, please click here, and share this invitation with others!
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.
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 JOI.org 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 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.
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.
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.
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 HMorris@JOI.org or 212-760-1440.
Hurry up! It’s almost time to get your matzah!
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 HMorris@JOI.org or 212-760-1440.
Through the generosity of our supporters and after many years of working with Jewish communal professionals in the Windy City, Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute is hiring a Public Space Judaism Coordinator in Chicago. In this (initially) part-time role, the Public Space Judaism Coordinator will take JOI’s training on best outreach and engagement practices, and use them to coordinate and implement outreach programming in public spaces. The programs are designed to reach and engage all those who may benefit from the meaning and value of participation in the organized Jewish community, including intermarried households. The Public Space Judaism Coordinator will foster collaboration between Chicago’s Jewish institutions, as there is now a broad coalition interesting in casting the widest possible net through Jewish holiday programming and experiential education in secular spaces. The Coordinator will also steward newcomers to other relevant programs and organizations that meet their needs, as our approach is “client-centered” and about serving the individuals’ interests and needs. For the complete job description, click here.
Most importantly, the Public Space Judaism Coordinator will be providing a crucial service for the community – someone who can independently provide a doorway into the entire gamut of Jewish communal programming and organizations. We envision that our Public Space Judaism Coordinator will promote the value of Jewish life, no matter the route one chooses.
While the secular New Year is a time to take stock and make resolutions for change, and the Jewish calendar includes a large block of time in late summer and early fall to do so, Judaism actually has a variety of times and places that encourage self-evaluation and reflection, what is called cheshbon hanefesh (literally, an accounting of the soul, a fitting name for a time when lawmakers in the United States are worried about the fiscal cliff and debt ceilings). It seems to me, therefore, that this is a great time to look at the successes and strides we have made in Big Tent Judaism as we make our resolve for 2013. Among our accomplishments in 2012:
• More women from other backgrounds are raising Jewish children. The Mothers Circle data indicates that 97% of women who take the course will choose or have chosen Jewish education for their children and 80% feel they are raising Jewish children in a Jewish home. Over 1500 women have taken a Mothers Circle course since 2004 and 77% of them will affiliate with a Jewish institution.
• Grandparents whose children are intermarried report a greater comfort in instilling Jewish values in their grandchildren who are not being raised Jewishly. The Grandparents Circle evaluations tell us that 70% of grandparents who take the course have not only increased Jewish activities with their grandchildren of mixed faith, but they themselves have become more active in their Jewish observance. There have been 75 circles in nearly 100 communities in the four years since inception.
• Volunteer and Professional leaders in 49 U.S. States, 9 Canadian Provinces and 8 international communities have utilized our outreach and engagement strategies. We help them to make their institutions more welcoming through improved websites, better trained staff members and by taking their programming out of the four walls of their institution into the community – where the people are.
If your community or institution has been impacted upon by our work, please feel free to add to the list by leaving a comment in the area below.
I have found out recently that one of the wonderful things about working for JOI is that you never know what kind of skill set you may be called upon to apply. About a week ago, I had the pleasure of helping out at one of our Public Space JudaismSM programs, which took place here in New York City. These programs usually take place just before major Jewish holidays and are all about bringing Jewish content to where people are (rather than waiting for them to come to the JCC or the synagogue). This particular program was called Hands-On Hanukkah, and the name says it all. At the back of the Barnes and Noble store in Union Square, a crowd of parents and caretakers with young children began to gather, attracted by colorful flyers and a real-life dreidel who happily agreed to have her picture taken with the little ones. There was also a puppet show put on by Yellow Sneaker, coloring of JOI’s Sesame Street-themed Color-Me CalendarSM (thanks to our collaboration with Shalom Sesame), lots of dreidels to spin, and my personal favorite – dreidel origami (you can find several versions online but this is the one we used). I remember loving origami as a kid, and this certainly brought back memories. At any rate, the kids loved them and kept asking for more.
Over the years, Public Space Judaism has a proven record of success. From our research we know that these events have the potential to draw hundreds of participants, most of which “stumble upon” the event as they go about their day, not having planned to participate but drawn to the activities and displays. We know that out of this crowd, dozens (about 25% to be exact) are members of Jewish households (including family members of other religious or cultural backgrounds) who would otherwise have little or no engagement with the Jewish community. The success of these programs highlights the desire of this demographic to participate in the Jewish community; they just need to be given the (low-barrier) opportunity to do so.
Who knew that folding origami dreidels would come in handy in expanding an inclusive Jewish community?!
Our recently released report on the success of The Mothers Circle is starting to make waves, as more communities are asking us to share this important program.
The fact is that when an intermarried couple decides to make a Jewish home for their children, it is often the mother who bears the primary responsibility for making the home Jewish. And when this mother does not have a Jewish background, the task may seem impossible. The fact is, too, that non-Jewish mothers in interfaith relationships have been less than welcomed by the Jewish community. Without the necessary support, many of these women may abandon Jewishness altogether.
Enter The Mothers Circle. At the Jewish Outreach Institute we believe that interfaith couples are an opportunity, not a threat to the Jewish community. With the right support, and the right welcoming attitude on the part of our communities, these mothers and their family can become part of our Big Tent, creating a Jewish home where there may not have been one before.
Which brings me back to this latest report. Through our research, we learned that participants of the 16-session course become more comfortable doing Jewish activities, bring more Jewish practices into the home (for example, the percentage of those who say they currently light Shabbat candles at home jumps from 50% to 83% following the course), and begin their journey toward greater Jewish engagement by choosing Jewish education for their children and participating in Jewish institutions.
The term “General Assembly” can refer to a lot of different things. There’s the UN General Assembly, various state General Assemblies, and now even the General Assembly for the tech community. But to the Jewish communal professional world, the General Assembly refers to “the premier annual North American Jewish communal event, attracting Federation volunteer leaders and professionals, the leadership of our partner organizations and a range of national Jewish organizations,” as stated on the GA website.
Hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America, this year’s GA took place in Baltimore, MD, and I was lucky enough to attend for the first time. In a lot of ways, the GA looks like every other conference: a busy schedule of sessions and plenaries, a few notable speakers, and a marketplace of booths all clambering for your attention, many by giving out candy and reusable tote bags. While I definitely returned with plenty of chocolate and tote bags in tow, I also returned with an even deeper appreciation for the work we do here at JOI.
For this year’s marketplace, we chose to literally open the tent, as Chemi Shalev of Haaretz describes:
The Jewish Outreach [Institute] has set up a campaign entitled “Big Tent Judaism,” and just in case you miss the point, their booth is, indeed, a blue-topped tent.”
The tent featured testimonials from participants of The Mothers Circle, the Grandparents Circle, the Big Tent Judaism Professional Affiliates Program, and Passover in the Matzah AisleSM, one of our most popular Public Space JudaismSM programs. Several JOI staff and I spent the three-day conference literally inviting people into our tent to talk to them about Big Tent Judaism, and what it has to do with them and their community. We met with people from across world, including many from Israel and Canada, as well as many students there with their college Hillel programs.
This weekend is going to be a first for me – my first time attending the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. When I first started working in the Jewish world and heard about the GA, I thought my colleagues were going to the United Nations. And in a sense, they were. The Federated world encompasses so much of the Jewish communal world that it represents a vast diversity of North American Judaism. Scratch the surface of many Jewish institutions in any city and you’ll find a Jewish Federation.
We are pleased to co-lead a session titled, “Engaging Interfaith Families: Programs and tactics for increased community involvement.” Intermarried couples and the children and grandchildren of intermarriage represent a large segment of our community, and have often felt marginalized. This interactive session will allow staff and volunteer leaders from Federations and other Jewish organizations to explore the needs and challenges facing intermarried families, and discuss successful programs that increase their level of participation in the Jewish community.
If you are going to be at the GA in Baltimore this weekend, please join us for what should be a very engaging program. Be prepared to share your opinions, and leave with tools and resources.
And unlike the GA at the UN, IMHO u dnt hve 2 wr a trad costume.
Not sure what that says? Look for our Big Tent in the Marketplace (#711) and find out why using in-speak and acronyms excludes people. See you there! Do you think they’ll give me a first-timers badge?
We are incredibly thankful here at the JOI office in Manhattan that our staff is safe and making it through the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. We have heard from some of our partner organizations, and while many here in the Northeast were hard-hit and some still have no power or water, all are fairing well and staying strong.
Opening the tent to the Jewish community is not just about welcoming in newcomers, but it is also about taking care of those who wish to be in the tent. On an average day, this may mean assisting families in our community who are having financial difficulties, or reaching out to those who are sick. Today, and for the foreseeable future, this means even more. As we begin to get back to work here in New York, we are looking for ways to help those around us.
Many websites have begun listing ways you can help, whether local or out-of-the-area, whether on the ground or financially. We are compiling a list of ways you can help, and if you have anything to add, please let us know.
Donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief
*You can also donate by texting REDCROSS to 90999
Donate to the UJA Disaster Relief Fund
Donate to North Shore Animal League
Volunteer with Repair the World
Volunteer at a Red Cross Shelter
HELP BY COMMUNITY (Donations and Volunteering):
Lower East Side Recovers
Red Hook Recovers
Staten Island Recovers
New York Cares
The Jewish community is often cited for its resilience and how it comes together in difficult times. Here at the Jewish Outreach Institute, we include everyone in our community, and expand the tent to include all who wish to enter it, and all who need assistance in times like this. We hope that you will take a few moments to open your tent by either donating or volunteering. We thank you in advance for your support of our community, and plan to get back to the business of opening the tent of the Jewish community.