Entries for Category: JOI News & Events
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Here at JOI, we are always excited to offer unique free materials to help Jewish communal professionals open the tent of their communities. This summer, JOI’s Big Tent Judaism Coalition has introduced a new tool to help families with young children instill the positive values and ethics found in our Jewish heritage, while creating quality time with their families: Torah Topics for Today.
Torah Topics are brief and meaningful conversation-starters drawn from the timeless stories/wisdom found in the Five Books of Moses, empowering parents to spark regular, relevant family discussions with almost no prep time or prior knowledge required.
Now, for the first time, we are able to offer Torah Topics for Today in hard-copy: a printed “starter set” of beautifully designed cards that include discussions about the first three weekly Torah portions, how-to instructions, and value questions. (Parents can then sign up to receive more weekly guides via email, free of charge, at www.TorahTopicsToday.com.)
In partnership with Fred Claar of Torah Topics for Today, the Jewish Outreach Institute is mailing organizations multiple Torah Topics starter sets, and so far over 100 organizations have requested the sets, which are sealed in a clear plastic envelope for easy distribution. There is no charge to receive the cards; we are only asking that organizations distribute some of them beyond the walls of their institutions in order to reach families not currently engaging in organized Jewish life. To support that goal, the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) will host a free webinar in late August, “Finding New People Through Giveaways in Secular Spaces,” for professionals and volunteers at all organizations who agree to distribute the starter sets.
Our circle has widened! This summer The Mothers Circle has debuted two new programs, High Holiday Highlights: A Holiday Prep Class and The Mothers Circle Self-Guide, both of which create avenues for mothers of other religious backgrounds to learn and feel empowered by their decision to raise Jewish children.
High Holiday Highlights will be hosted by 17 different organizations across North America, 13 of which will be offering Mothers Circle programs for the first time. Locations include classes in San Francisco, CA, Greensboro, NC, and Scranton, PA. In each of these communities, participants will be learning the “how-tos” and valuable conversation-starters to help them share the meaningful experience of honoring the High Holidays with their families. With class activities ranging from learning to recite the Rosh Hashanah blessings to listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire?” (a comparison to the Rosh Hashanah prayer, “Unetanah Tokef”), High Holiday Highlights will be helping participants of all learning styles understand how both individuals and the community as a whole experience the High Holiday period in the synagogue and in the home.
Additionally, we are now proud to offer The Mothers Circle Self-Guide, a practical tool to accompany the book How to Raise Jewish Children…Even When You’re Not Jewish Yourself by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Paul Golin. Those who use the Self-Guide will be able to reflect on the stories, recommendations, and questions posed in How to Raise Jewish Children…, as well as further articulate their goals and determine the choices they will make as they raise their Jewish children. By creating an introspective guide that a mother can work through alone at any given time, JOI hopes to serve more mothers who, whether due to geography or other commitments, may have previously felt alone in the venture to raise Jewish children.
For more information regarding these programs, visit MothersCircle.org or feel free to be in contact with Hannah Morris here.
The recent New York Jewish Community Study can be (and has been) parsed from various angles (here, here, and here, for example). It turns out that while the Jewish population of the NYC metropolitan area (including Long Island and Westchester County) has grown slightly over the past decade, it has also become increasingly dichotomized. Rather than the familiar denominational spectrum, most New York Jews today fall either among the growing (and increasingly poorer) Ultra Orthodox, or among those (also growing in numbers) who are not affiliated with institutional Judaism.
In the rush to debate the significance and implications of this study, one finding is worth looking at more closely. Of those Jews surveyed, fully “12% […] consider themselves ‘partially Jewish.’” And this number, too, is on the rise.
Rising numbers of people report unconventional identity configurations. They may consider themselves “partially Jewish,” or may identify as Jews even while identifying with Christianity or another non-Jewish religion (many more do so now than who so reported in 2002). Of such people with unconventional configurations, 70% have a non-Jewish parent (or two).
Now, what are the implications and significance of this finding to the future of the American Jewish community?
When I joined JOI a couple of weeks ago, it was with the hope of using my research skills to help sustain the research-focused aspect of JOI’s work, both in terms of documenting our successes, and in terms of helping us think about ways to grow going forward. I fully believe in the power of research to help the American Jewish community be the best that it can be. Like many at JOI, I believe that interfaith couples are the largest untapped resource for the Jewish community; pushing them away just makes no sense. But I also think that the growing population of interfaith couples and their children challenges the more mainstream Jewish community to think harder about what it means to be an interfaith person.
Over the past month, JOI has welcomed two new staff members, and we are excited to introduce them to you as they help JOI open the tent of the Jewish community. Each new staff member who joins JOI brings with them unique experiences that help to broaden our ability to connect with all those who wish to enter the tent of Jewish life.
Zohar Rotem, Program Officer for Evaluation
Zohar is JOI’s Program Officer for Evaluation. He is responsible for coordinating and leading JOI’s research and evaluation initiatives. His other passions include hiking, urban gardening, biking, foraging, and cooking. Read his full bio here.
Menachem Edjelman, Database Manager
Menachem is JOI’s Database Manager, and manages all of the data at JOI. He also enjoys soccer, swimming, nature, math, smoked salmon, and music theory. Read his full bio here.
We look forward to working with Menachem and Zohar, and officially welcome them to the JOI family!
This week, JOI staff will be in the Greater Hartford, CT area consulting with over 30 Jewish organizations, made possible by the Jewish Community Foundation’s New Initiative Grants Program. Over the next three days, Executive Director Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, Associate Executive Director Paul Golin, and Senior Director of Training Eva Stern will visit with staff from local Jewish organizations, including area synagogues and community centers to help them affect positive change in the Greater Hartford Jewish community by ensuring that their institutions are open and welcoming.
The first step will be a presentation this evening, Tuesday, June 11th at the Mandell JCC at 6:30 PM. JOI staff will be presenting a community outreach scan on how welcoming and inclusive Greater Hartford Jewish community organizations are. The next step will be individual consultations with each organization over the next few days, and continuing work in the months to come.
The Big Tent Judaism Initiative, a program of the Jewish Outreach Institute, takes its lead from the values and vision of our Biblical forbearers Abraham and Sarah’s tent, which was open on four sides to welcome all who approach. Individuals and organizations that practice a Big Tent Judaism seek to engage, support and advocate for all those who would cast their lot with the Jewish people, regardless of prior knowledge or background. For more information on Big Tent Judaism, and to join the coalition of over 500 organizations, click here.
I often argue that one of the many challenges facing the organized Jewish community today as it attempts to reach the under-engaged, particularly the so-called millenials (but also those in the boomer generation who have left) is the spate of “hidden agendas” and lack of transparency. This lack of transparency contains many factors. While not all of it is financial, we applaud those organizations that are totally transparent in their finances, as well as in their fundraising. That is why we were thrilled to be granted a “GuideStar Exchange Seal,” indicating the transparency of our finances by Guidestar, a well-known resource in the field of philanthropy and non-profit organizations.
Big Tent Judaism means a lot of things here at JOI. Most of all, it means that we are working toward creating a more inclusive Jewish community, irrespective of what your subgroup might be. This is particularly important in an era where the great divide in the Jewish community is increasingly between the so-called inside and so-called outside of the organized Jewish community (and that includes all of its institutions). It is true that the landscape is shifting rapidly, especially with the growing number of start-ups in the Jewish community. Nevertheless, patterns of engagement—and affiliation—are being redefined and certainly realigned. That is why we were pleased to be informed that the Jewish Organization Equality Index (2012), sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, has named JOI as an inclusive organization. While we don’t boast often about the accolades we have received, we are proud to be affirmed in our work to be inclusive of the LGBTQ members of the Jewish community, as well as all those in the community’s orbit.
Seattle, Washington. Two presentations. One on the future of the Jewish community to the staff of the local Jewish Federation. The second to the staff of the Jewish Community Center on the principles of Big Tent Judaism.
Both are institutions whose leadership understands that major changes are necessary if they are going to continue to be relevant to the community they serve. And they are in the process of making those changes. That is why I was glad to be there to help them reflect on the changes in the context of the various things that JOI is teaching the community about engagement, especially to those on the so-called “outside” of the Jewish community.
As far as I am concerned, radical change is necessary. There will be some institutions that may be needed to nurture the status quo for those who are interested in maintaining it. But that is the minority—as we see from those who have already “voted with their feet” not to engage with the community. The question before us is what is the extent of the change that is necessary? It is clear that tweaking the current models will be insufficient. Community institutions have already tried that approach without success. It is also clear that the potential reward is only as great as the risk that institutions and communities are willing to take. To use a colloquial expression that seems to fit, as far as I am concerned, “one has to be willing to risk the farm.” Anything short of that will not yield the results necessary to meet the needs of the generation that is in front of us.
Last week, I addressed supporters of the Hillel of the College of Staten Island. This is an interesting Hillel, an interesting school, and an interesting part of the city. We have been working with individual Hillels for about 12 years now-even after our three-year project with International Hillel concluded, and Hillels on a local basis continue to reach out to JOI for insight and directions.
Now some will argue, as I often do, that New York City is sui generis. In other words, we can’t apply what we learn in New York to other communities. Yet, Staten Island is not Manhattan, and therefore I think it merits review. I don’t believe it can be classified in the same way as other things in New York. The Jewish community of “the Island” is growing (even if its synagogues are suffering). Some of this growth can be attributed to an influx of those from the FSU (Former Soviet Union). The Staten Island JCC is a model institution that has a quite substantial pre-school. The College of Staten Island is growing; part of the CUNY system, and once a commuter school, it is now opening new residential halls. And the school’s Hillel is serving a growing number of students-with its indefatigable one-person staff, Amy Posner.
I spoke a great deal about the trends in the Jewish community, especially as I see them emerging in the generation of our children, that same generation that is populating college campuses, although my kids are admittedly long past college. I also talked about the program changes that need to be made in Jewish communal institutions if we are to reach that generation. And while the agreement with much of what I had to say, however challenging, was affirming, what I really appreciated was the fact that this small Hillel understood and was directing its program accordingly. Its staff and board members understand that Hillel has to meet the needs of its students, rather than its own projected needs. They also understand that the key to “success” is the tracking of students to greater engagement, one relation at a time.
A few weeks ago I had the honor and privilege of presenting at Colloquium 2012: “Half Jewish?” The Heirs of Intermarriage, a program of the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. The video of my presentation and the Q&A that followed can be viewed in its entirety here (as a .MOV file) and is covered in this article.
The conference was an excellent experience on a number of levels. First, the organizers—particularly Rabbi Adam Chalom—invited a slate of highly thoughtful presenters and panelists, from both within and beyond their own movement. Secondly, they utilized an interesting format whereby each presenter would offer a frontal presentation followed by questioning from a panel, then rotate to the panel for the other presentations, so that all presenters were given the opportunity to weigh in on each presentation throughout the course of the weekend.
But most importantly, it was an excellent experience because it was one of the first national conferences to directly address a hugely important topic, the children of intermarriage. During my presentation, I tried to convey what we at JOI have heard from young-adult children of intermarriage. But we as a community have much more listening and learning to do. It would benefit many other movements, organizations, and communities to replicate the kind of conversation hosted by the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism, to find ways to better engage and serve a population that is essential to the future of American Jewry, and which is already the majority of Jews under age 25.
Last week, JOI officially launched our Big Tent Judaism Ambassadors Program, marking an exciting moment in our mission to prompt change and transform the North American Jewish community. Through the program, JOI will work to empower lay leaders and help them to identify the challenges related to inclusion in Jewish life, and offer them the tools with which they can address these challenges at a local level. JOI staff will hold ongoing conversations, as well as offer training and support. As such, Big Tent Judaism Ambassadors will be serving as our partners on the ground, working to create more actively welcoming environments in their Jewish communal institutions and broader Jewish communities.
As Big Tent Judaism Ambassadors, these lay leaders will take on new roles in their communities, promoting change using the strengths, skills, and connections readily at their disposal. Some will lead community-wide conversations; others may spearhead outreach projects; and still others may write op-eds advocating a change in policy. Regardless of the outreach path they choose, each Big Tent Judaism Ambassador will act with this purpose: helping their communities commit to the welcoming principles that they espouse.
Admittedly, I am on the road a lot. I travel for many reasons. But most of all, I travel to bring the message of an inclusive Jewish community—what I call Big Tent Judaism—to communities and institutions throughout North America. Last week, I was in Houston, meeting with a variety of community leaders and making presentations to the Community Leadership Council (representatives of every institution and organization in the Houston Jewish community), along with several committees and subcommittees of the Jewish Federation, all concerned about the Jewish future.
At one point, there was silence in the room. There were no more comments, no more questions. This is sometimes a difficult moment for a speaker/trainer.
The Federation president broke the silence. He said, “I have never seen this committee quiet before—and out of questions. But I think that I can explain the silence. We are stunned.” Then the various members of the group shook their heads in agreement. They had not heard such frank notions about the future of the Jewish community—the future of their Jewish community—articulated before. Perhaps they had thought about it. Perhaps they thought that small tweaks in the way they did business would be sufficient. But I was arguing—am arguing—for an overhaul in the way communities look at themselves and share this vision with the population they are trying to reach and inspire.
From May 6-9, several JOI staff members attended the JCCA Biennial, a 4-day conference for Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders from Jewish Community Center across North America. This year, the conference took place in the fun city of New Orleans, and included several different types of sessions, including seminar tracks, Jewish learning groups, and plenary (or keynote) sessions.
Throughout the conference, JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin, Senior Director of Training Eva Stern, and Director of Development Jamie Black met with Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders from across North America and beyond– including representatives from Spain, South America, Hungary, and Poland– about opening the tent of individual Jewish communities, as well as of the “big tent”, or as well like to call it, following the ideals of Big Tent Judaism.
Today, the New Jersey Jewish News published an Op-Ed by JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin in response to Peter Beinart’s article suggesting that Jewish education is the key to ending intermarriage. Golin looks at why the anti-intermarriage narrative is focused solely on Jewish education, and challenges readers to see intermarriage as a positive for the Jewish community, and an opportunity to share Judaism with all who may want to enter the tent.
It wasn’t higher levels of Jewish education that kept intermarriage rates so low in the first half of the 20th Century, and it’s not lack of Jewish education that drives high intermarriage rates today. There are many other, more important factors. Primary among them: the rest of America simply stopped hating us.
See Paul Golin’s response in the New Jersey Jewish News here, and share your thoughts on our Facebook page or by tweeting to us @JewishOutreach.
JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin will be one of seven presenters at “Half Jewish? The Heirs of Intermarriage,” a colloquium held at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, in cooperation with Newberger Hillel at the University of Chicago, and Fiedler Hillel at Northwestern University, on April 20-22, 2012.
“Half Jewish?” is crucial to the future of American Judaism–an opportunity and a challenge. For two decades, half of the marriages involving Jews have been intercultural. Their children are now young adults, choosing their own identities. Who are they? How do they relate to being Jewish, and to both sides of their families? Is “half Jewish” like “half pregnant,” or can the Jewish world accept multiple identities in an open tent? … The IISHJ’s Colloquium 2012: “Half Jewish?” The Heirs of Intermarriage will be a fascinating exploration of the future of the Jewish people.
To register for the colloquium, click here, and for more information, please click here.
Often, when we begin a new job, we ask ourselves “who am I really working for?” While we may know the organization’s mission, we may not know the work of our director. When I began here at JOI in August 2011, I hadn’t heard much about our executive director, Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, simply because I had not been involved in the Jewish communal world. However, over the last seven months, I have seen why Rabbi Olitzky was again chosen as one of America’s Top 50 Rabbis by Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
Rabbi Olitzky works tirelessly to help communities and organizations open the tent to the Jewish community. Through JOI’s programs such as The Mothers Circle, and Public Space JudaismSM programs such as Passover in the Matzah Aisle, Rabbi Olitzky helps to make Jewish experience accessible to everyone, especially the intermarried and unaffiliated. In just the last few months, Rabbi Olitzky’s travels have brought him to Ottawa, Cuba, Budapest, and Israel—to name a few—and he has spoken with Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders from across North America, most recently leading a webinar for the program staff of the Institute for Southern Jewish Life.
Many rabbis seek to “open the tent” of the Jewish community, but it has been my experience that Rabbi Olitzky is a pioneer in the field of Jewish community outreach, and sets an example that I hope many will follow.
Congratulations to Rabbi Kerry Olitzky on being named #31 of America’s Top 50 Rabbis by Newsweek and The Daily Beast. I look forward to continuing to help open the tent of the Jewish community to all who wish to enter it.
Passover is a wonderful time for families to come together. While the prospect of hosting a seder for the first time can be quite daunting, being raised in a Jewish household affords you a familiarity with the Passover story and its greater themes of hardship, survival and freedom. Preparing the food, selecting the haggadot (seder guides), and answering your children’s questions are all part of this significant Jewish holiday, and having attending seders as a child may help you to better prepare your home and your family for Passover.
But what if you never grew up attending seders, yet are still committed to raising Jewish children? What if you want to attend a seder with your family (or even host one!) and want to feel empowered enough to ask and answer questions about Passover with your children? It is for these parents—those who are in intermarried/interpartnered relationships raising Jewish children—that The Mothers Circle now offers a FREE holiday prep-class, the Seder Survival Guide. In this workshop, participants will have the chance to explore the story and themes of Passover; and learn how to prepare for the holiday’s unique culinary traditions, how to answer their children’s questions, and how to engage the family throughout the evening meal!
The Seder Survival Guide serves as a pathway to make Passover as accessible and fun as possible for parents in intermarried/interpartnered relationships. For Jewish communities and organizations looking for new ways to engage these young families, the session offers a unique environment, conducive both to Jewish learning as well as the essential development of relationships between young parents from intermarried/interpartnered couples. If your community is ripe for a change and looking for a new Passover program, host a Seder Survival Guide! To learn about the program and its curriculum, contact The Mothers Circle National Coordinator, Marley Weiner at MWeiner@JOI.org
American society has moved from a melting pot of “sameness” into a salad bowl of diversity, where people are proud to be different and show it. Supporting interfaith families who choose to raise Jewish children is only part of the conversation.
Paul Golin, Associate Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, believes that the word “assimilation” doesn’t really describe what happened to most American Jews, and that intermarriage is not synonymous with assimilation-out-of-existence for the Jewish community. In a recent article in “Chai Lights” (PDF) the newsletter of the Pacific Community of Cultural Jews, he discusses his views on assimilation and intermarriage:
“A growing percentage of the organized Jewish community now recognizes intermarriage as an opportunity for growth,” Golin says, “and not the exit that was once presumed.” Many intermarried couples raise their children Jewish. Golin says, “When our organization, the Jewish Outreach Institute, began in 1987, we had to spend over a decade advocating that intermarriage does not automatically mean the end of Judaism in that household, and that the community needs to welcome interfaith families.” Our movement is helping to stem the tide of assimilation by welcoming intermarried couples, thus providing a comfortable Jewish experience for the children. “I would actually suggest that liberal and secular Jews stop seeking motivation from demographic fears,” Golin says, “and instead focus on Jewish meaning and values as the most important step for continuing to grow our community.”
The major question nowadays, as Golin states, “is about strength-of-connection to Judaism.” People who walk away from Judaism do so not because of the pull of assimilation, but because Judaism is no longer speaking to them. So, we have to ask ourselves how to re-create connections to Judaism for less-engaged and intermarried families, and how to encourage them to celebrate their diversity not only as Jewish families or families raising Jewish children, but within the Jewish community from each other, to show how we all contribute to a thriving American Jewish community.
eJewishPhilanthropy.com has featured an article by JOI Executive Director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Associate Executive Director Paul Golin on the progress of the Public Space Judaism model.
A phrase coined by JOI after a landmark study in 2001, Public Space Judaism is the methodology of bringing Judaism to where people are, outside of the walls of our Jewish institutions, and into public spaces such as supermarkets and bookstores. 2011 saw the rise of public space programs from other organizations in the Jewish community, pointing to a rise in the method’s acceptance and success. We are seeing more and more outreach programming for less-engaged Jews and intermarried households, and the success of these programs is encouraging.
Rabbi Olitzky and Paul Golin look forward to what 2012 has in store:
JOI’s outreach comes from a place of genuine optimism about the future of Jewish life in America. This isn’t a desperation membership drive. We’re out there sharing what we love about being Jewish and helping individuals explore their own connections to whatever they find meaningful in our tradition, culture, and/or peoplehood. We look forward to continuing to share what we’ve learned about outreach and engagement with as many Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders as we possible can in 2012.
Public Space Judaism can take place almost anywhere, and JOI can provide the resources for your community to run programs like Passover in the Matzah Aisle and Hands-On Hanukkah. We encourage institutions and organizations to continue to look beyond their physical walls and reach out to the community at large, and the Public Space Judaism model that JOI has created allows for greater outreach. We must also keep in mind that it’s not just the location that matters, but what takes place there: outreach methodology includes many other techniques such as data collection, follow-up, and next-step program planning. JOI can offer resources and tools to maximize the potential of these programs, and we look forward to working with new communities in 2012.
After spending the day meeting with the likes of AIPAC and J Street, a contingency of 19 Australian Union of Jewish Students leaders visited JOI’s offices for an informal Q&A about JOI’s work. Associate Director Paul Golin and Senior Director of Training Eva Stern led the session, talking about innovative approaches to outreach such as Public Space Judaism, understanding of issues related to intermarriage, and the bigger picture question of why be Jewish. Students from the AUJS have visited the JOI offices for the past four years in a row now; we’re honored to host them and appreciate their interest in our work.
The students put forth extremely thoughtful questions and seemed genuinely appreciative of the responses and new perspectives. One student asked whether JOI’s work was perceived as encouraging of intermarriage. In response, Paul was able to explain that such a perception confused cause and effect, that intermarriage in North America has been a growing trend for decades at this point, that the Jewish community spent the 1960s through the 1990s trying to put its foot down during that period to no effect as the intermarriage rate continued to climb regardless. And that JOI’s work recognizes an opportunity to engage less-engaged Jews, including intermarried households, and try to help them answer the question of why be Jewish. Thoughtful, well-informed responses and explanations like this of JOI’s work seemed to have a deep impact on the students’ understanding of modern Jewish life, challenges and potential solutions.
We hope the students’ JOI experience, along with their other experiences (including last night’s performance of A Very Les Miz Hanukkah) will help them think about new approaches to outreach and inclusiveness in the Australian Jewish community as well.