Weblog Entries for April 2007

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What a Welcoming Community Feels Like

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Last weekend I attended the National Havurah Committee’s Chesapeake Retreat at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland. A havurah is a lay-lead Jewish group that meets to study, pray, dance, and participate in social action activities—or do whatever else its members are interested in doing. This retreat was the platonic ideal of what a welcoming Jewish event can and should feel like. I had never before attended an event held by the National Havurah Committee, and everyone was extremely friendly and reached out to me - seldom have I seen a less “cliquey” group.

At dinner Saturday night the conversation turned to what we all did for a living. When I mentioned that I worked for JOI, the woman next to me (who had organized the retreat and had sent me a string of extremely helpful and friendly e-mails) started nodding enthusiastically. “Oh JOI! I know JOI, you do scans of communities where you call up institutions pretending to be newcomers and ask questions to find out how welcoming institutions are! And then you talk about the importance of the people answering the phone, that people who call aren’t just asking for information, they’re reaching out to the community and can be welcomed. You said that the person answering the phone can be an important entry point to the community and can use that moment to invite the newcomer in and be really friendly and helpful.”

I stared at her, slack-jawed. “This is a beautiful moment that I want to videotape for our website,” I said.

Sadly, it was still Shabbat and I had no video camera, but I thought this exchange demonstrated how effective the education process around our Community Transformation Initiatives can be. I certainly felt welcomed!

Caring for the Caregivers: How to Help the Uncelebrated Heroes of the “Sandwich Generation”

If you’ve been reading our award-nominated blog recently, you’ve noticed that one topic we seem to keep returning to is the issue of interfaith grandparents. Dealing with interfaith and intergenerational concerns can be trying, and we here at JOI attempt to find solutions to smooth the process.

Much of our focus to this point has been on how Jewish grandparents in interfaith families treat their younger relatives – but what about how the grandparents themselves are treated? At a certain point, younger members of a family often have to pitch in to care for their aging relatives, and this can sometimes mean that people from other religious backgrounds must navigate the world of Jewish communal institutions in order to secure the greatest comfort for their in-laws. Jewish institutions would serve their constituents best by being as welcoming and accessible as possible to these brave people who have taken on the important task of elder care, but oftentimes this is not the case. In light of this growing challenge, JOI’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky has published an op/ed in The Atlanta Jewish Times that deals with the obstacles faced by those of other religious backgrounds attempting to provide for aging Jewish relatives, and the steps that can be taken to facilitate greater understanding and cooperation between Jewish communal institutions and those (such as the subject of Rabbi Olitzky’s piece) whose circumstances require them to enter those establishments for the very first time.

Rabbi Olitzky explains, “It is vital that we ensure Jewish institutions welcome our family members of other religious backgrounds because those caregivers may opt for inferior establishments that are friendlier rather than patronizing Jewish organizations that treat them as outsiders.” This can only be done, however, by “working with community institutions to change attitudes about interfaith families and such women who come from other religious backgrounds.”

Through programs such as the Mothers Circle, JOI has striven to provide programs and resources for family caregivers. Now, with the “coming majority” of interfaith families creating a generation of adult children of intermarriage, it is time to focus on ways to assist those who care not only for the very young, but those in their golden years as well.

“In the Mix” Discusses Interfaith Grandparents

It is always gratifying to find oneself slightly ahead of the curve. And it is likewise a pleasure to find journalists who choose to write about—and confirm in doing so—the opinions we hold. So it was a pleasure to help our friend Julie Wiener with her recent column in The Jewish Week about grandparenting in the context of an interfaith family. It is a sensitive topic, to be sure, especially for those grandparents who feel somewhat isolated—whether intentionally or not—from the religious upbringing of their grandchildren. Others feel somewhat paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do in regard to the relationship with their grandchildren. (Some of these feelings, expressed to us by the grandparents with whom we work, motivated our writing of Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do [And Not Do] to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren. It has also motivated us to translate this volume into an on-the-ground program which will make its debut shortly.) The most important thing of all—which is echoed in Julie’s In the Mix column—is staying focused on the task and remaining optimistic.

You can’t share a passion you don’t actually have, and the more you immerse yourself in Jewish life — whether lighting Shabbat candles, studying Talmud or volunteering for the local federation — the more substantive and meaningful your Jewish identity is going to be. Plus, even if it doesn’t influence your grandchildren, it just might enrich your own life. Jewish identity—for all of us, but especially for interfaith children—follows a circuitous path. Our responsibility is to be there to nurture it along the way.

Thank You, Mom!

With Mother’s Day just a few weeks away, it seems this is an appropriate time to recognize the amazing mothers in our midst. We at JOI believe that mothers raising Jewish children are doing invaluable work, and they deserve our appreciation and support. Mothers from other religious backgrounds who have made the decision and the commitment to raise Jewish children are especially worthy of our thanks. The Mothers Circle provides education, support, and resources for these unsung heroes of the Jewish community.

This Thursday, April 26, a new Mothers Circle course will begin in Springfield, MA at the Springfield Jewish Community Center. This free course for mothers of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children is generously sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts. The Springfield course will be the fourth Mothers Circle course in Western Massachusetts. We invite you to read this article in the Jewish Ledger to learn more about The Mothers Circle, and especially its growing presence in New England.

The Mothers Circle is a program of the Jewish Outreach Institute; JOI staff provides curriculum, training, and support to course facilitators in sixteen cities throughout the country. JOI also runs a national listserve for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children. For more information, please visit or contact Liz Stoll at

Reaching Beyond Ourselves, Reaching Out to Others

I admit it. I am an eclectic Jew. Some may even call me iconoclastic. We are members of a Reform Synagogue and a Conservative Synagogue, plus we actively participate in a community-based chavurah—there are no dues and there is no formal membership— whose participants hail from all walks of Jewish life. We find ourselves at home in any Jewish communal environment, regardless of sponsorship, and we live a religiously observant lifestyle which is probably more in keeping with centrist Orthodoxy than anything else. We look for what each can contribute positively to the life of the Jewish people rather than critically looking for what each is lacking.

This past Shabbat, we invited Debbie Friedman to our chavurah, where she led services and taught our souls how to sing in prayer once again. There were no advertisements, for this was not a concert. But we all knew that this was a special moment in time. This was simply a group of people who wanted to deepen their spiritual engagement with Judaism through prayer—with a woman whose music has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to access prayer in ways that they previously didn’t think possible.

As I looked around the sacred space we had created on Friday evening and Saturday morning, I realized the inclusive environment we had created. There was a place in the community for anyone who desired it, regardless of background. How appropriate that what brought us together in an attempt to reach beyond ourselves (through the medium of music and prayer) also became a way to reach out to others.

Innovative Audio Study Guide Discusses “The Moral Meaning of the Bible”

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As young people it was easy to find time for learning. One of our lone responsibilities was to dutifully attend school and acquire the faculties we needed to succeed in the “real world.” As adults, however, many of us find it considerably more difficult to devote time to learning new things, especially when those things are fraught with challenging questions and often-confusing dilemmas. Studying the deeper issues of the Bible could seem too daunting a task to add to one’s already busy schedule.

However, Rabbi Reuven Kimelman, Professor of Talmud, Midrash, and liturgy at Brandeis University has a solution: he, along with Our Learning Company LLC, has produced a comprehensive audio course that takes on some of the thornier moral issues brought up in the Bible and attempts to work through them, all while tying his discussions in with our contemporary everyday experiences. The course lightens the seemingly arduous task of exploring the moral predicaments of the Bible by approaching each topic separately. Broken down into easy-to-handle segments, the issues become easier to focus upon and see clearly, and Rabbi Kimelman attempts to point you in the direction of some possible answers (acknowledging that, of course, there are no cut-and-dried solutions to such timeless questions) by the end of each part.

In the spirit of JOI methodology, too, this course is available “where you are.” You can listen to the four CDs (which you could of course download to your iPod or MP3 Player or equivalent) that comprise the set on the train, in the car, or simply as you relax at home. There isn’t a class schedule to adhere to (or any homework!), and you can read through the study text and look over the innovative “mindmap” diagrams at your own pace. You can see for yourself what the course can offer you : listen to an audio sample discussing the Adam and Eve story by clicking here. Finally, Our Learning Company has been nice enough to offer a 10% discount to anyone who orders using this form, which contains a special promotion code indicating you read about the audio course on JOI’s website.

JOI Recognized as Blog Award Nominee

We here at JOI always find it gratifying when respected journalists such as Sue Fishkoff and Julie Wiener publish articles that recognize the work that we do. Likewise, much of our own work involves helping people recognize things around them that they may have missed: the “coming majority” of interfaith families, the widening circle of the Jewish community, and the ways that our Jewish communal institutions can be ready to respond to new trends.

Now, however, it is our turn to be recognized: JOI’s Homepage Weblog has been nominated to receive several 2007 Jewish and Israeli Blog (JIB) Awards! Not only is JOI’s blog nominated in the “Best Group Blog” category (for blogs with multiple contributors, reflecting the substantial contributions that numerous members of our talented staff have made over the past year), but two of our entries have been nominated separately in the category of “Best Individual Post.” You can read the two candidates here and here.

Thank you to those who continue to read our blog and leave comments. The voting for the JIB Awards begins on April 22nd and runs through April 29th, so be sure to check out the nominees and cast your ballot (for JOI, of course…).

Play Revival Enlivens Interfaith Discussion

You might think a holiday-themed play involving a man named “Chris Kringle” would be the last place you could find resonant messages for the Jewish community. Yet James Sherman’s 1991 comedic play “Beau Jest,” now being revived by the What Exit? Theatre Company, features just such a character but does indeed impart many lessons relevant to the holiday of Passover.

The play’s catalyst is Sarah Goldman, a well-meaning Jewish girl who happens to be dating the aforementioned man with the punny name. As you may have guessed, Mr. Kringle is not Jewish; Sarah has reason to believe this will be a sticking point with her mother and father. To appease her parents, Sarah conjures a fictitious boyfriend who is not only flawless but also 100% Jewish, right down to his name: David Steinberg.

When the elder Goldmans grow impatient and begin asking when they will be able to meet Sarah’s new beau, Sarah hires a local actor to serve as an ersatz boyfriend during the family’s Passover Seder. Unfortunately, the actor she hires is also not Jewish, but with his improv training, he is able to muddle through the meal by drawing on his experiences playing in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

As the play builds toward its climax and Sarah’s inevitable confrontation with her parents, it touches on several themes familiar to countless Jewish families. First, there is the Seder itself, which has gone from a somber religious ritual to an event rooted focused mainly on food and wine. Mr. Goldman, leading the Seder, epitomizes that when he summarizes: “We were slaves, then we were free, let’s eat.” Then, of course, there is the conflict between Sarah’s desire to please her parents by steering clear of interfaith relationships and her feelings for a man not so subtly named after a prominent Christmas icon.

It should be noted that this play is not new. Sherman’s work is a revival, and it leads to the natural question, “Why are they reviving it?” The reason lies in the fact that Beau Jest asks some timeless questions, many of which have become, in our present day, remarkably timely. In the days following Passover, it makes sense to reflect on our own experiences and ask these questions: Do we diminish our religious rituals for the sake of convenience? Do we allow our own rigid views to make us less accepting and welcoming of others? What relationships have we impeded (or continue to impede) by our adherence to the ways we think others expect us to behave?

JOI’s Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin to Speak at the Manhattan JCC on the ‘State of Jewish Grandparenthood’

The issue of the role of Jewish grandparents is a sensitive topic, to be sure, especially for those grandparents who feel somewhat isolated—whether intentionally or not—from the religious upbringing of their grandchildren. Others feel somewhat paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do in regard to the relationship with their grandchildren. These feelings, expressed to us by the grandparents with whom we work, motivated our writing of Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do [And Not Do] to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren. As part of our efforts to translate this volume into an on-the-ground program which will make its debut shortly, Paul Golin and I will be leading a lively conversation at the Manhattan JCC on May 31, discussing the current state of Jewish grandparenthood. The program, My Child Intermarried, Now What? A Conversation about Intermarriage for Grandparents is not only timely, but essential, as the intermarriage rate that hovers around 50% has created scores of interfaith families. While interfaith families face myriad challenges, this program could go a long way in alleviating one of them by providing information and insight into dealing with the issue of grandparents’ responsibilities in interfaith families.

A Taste of Ice Cream

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My mother blames ice cream for what she sees as my excessive involvement with Judaism. My father used to give me an ice cream cone every week as a reward for attending Shabbat services, which she feels created neural connections in my forming brain (temple=ice cream) that have me dutifully running to synagogue years later, even now that my ice cream access is no longer tied in with my temple attendance.

Today my love of ice cream and my similar love of JOI’s outreach methodology intersect, as it is “Free Cone Day” at Ben and Jerry’s. We at JOI advocate allowing people to sample activities and events for free, so that they can decide whether they like something before they spend money on it. People who are not yet committed to participation in the Jewish community are more likely to attend a free concert, Purim fair, or other fun activity instead of paying for something that they don’t know if they will like. Then, after drawing them in with free fun events, they might be prompted to continue their participation in other Jewish activities, even those that charge fees. After all, they will already be aware at that point that there are events going on in the community are worth their money.

Free Cone Day shows that this approach works well for corporations, not just for Jewish communal institutions. We should encourage our synagogues, JCCs, and other Jewish organizations to follow the sound marketing practices of Ben and Jerry’s—what you give to people for free now, they very well may want to pay for later. I know I’ll be paying full price at Ben and Jerry’s every other week of the year besides this one.

JOI’s President to Receive Distinguished Service Award

It is with great delight that we announce that JOI’s President, Terrence A. Elkes, will be honored with the Julian Y. Bernstein Distinguished Service Award by the Westchester Jewish Conference. Terry was nominated because of his leadership and commitment to the Jewish Outreach Institute where he has served as president for seven years and as a member of the board for several years prior to his election as president. With indefatigable spirit and support, he has guided the growth of the organization so that JOI is now the primary address for “everything outreach” in the North American Jewish Community.

Terry is the managing Director and co-owner of Apollo Partners, Ltd., which is involved in investing in media, communications, entertainment, cable and broadcasting companies. He was also recently honored by the University of Michigan for his generosity and dedication to the university’s Law School. Terry and his wife Ruth have three sons, and reside in Rye, New York.

Terry will receive the Julian Y. Bernstein Distinguished Service Award on Thursday, May 10th at 7:30 pm at the Westchester Jewish Conference Annual Meeting to be held at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison located at 130 Union Avenue in Harrison, NY. The JCC’s telephone number is 914-835-2850. Any questions, please contact JOI’s office manager, Ivana Bradanovic at or call her at (212) 760-1440.

More data on the circumcision debate

I have never felt that Jewish law or ritual should be subjected to the scrutiny of science. While it is always nice when science decides to support Jewish practice, rituals were put into place for the sake of spiritual enhancement more than any pragmatic reasons. Nevertheless, it is important to note the contributions of science to any debate, especially when it can help in sensitive areas. Thus, it was gratifying to see that the New York City Health Department has decided to promote circumcision among men, especially those at risk for AIDS. While this may not be a motivator for the majority of those who approach the question of circumcision, especially in regard to the question of whether or not it should be a prerequisite for conversion to Judaism, it is important to note, nonetheless. For example, according to the New York Times, in three recent clinical trials in Africa, circumcision was shown to lower a man’s risk of contracting the AIDS virus from heterosexual sex by about 60 percent. This is among the many motivating factors which has persuaded New York to follow the lead of the World Health Organization’s efforts to promote circumcision among men. (Only 65% of male babies are circumcised in the United States at present.)

Virtual Shul

“Temple Beth Israel is truly a global synagogue. Its members come from all over the world — from the Netherlands, Israel, Brazil and Germany, to name just a few countries. On Fridays, Temple Beth Israel is so popular that it holds five candle-lighting ceremonies.’

Sounds like a pretty great synagogue, right? Even better is that you can join for free! According to Julian Voloj who profiled Temple Beth Israel in the Forward, membership is free in order to encourage better communication with its visitors. The only catch is that Temple Beth Israel is a virtual synagogue. It exists in the realm of Second Life, an online virtual community that began in 2003 and now has over 3.5 million users. Beth Brown, whose Second Life persona or avatar is known as Beth Odets, developed Temple Beth Israel (also called the “Second Life Synagogue”) in order to provide a Jewish space in the Second Life world where churches, mosques and Buddhist and Hindu temples already existed. Brown, who describes herself as spiritual, “‘wanted to create something where everyone is welcome.’”

Temple Beth Israel may not be “real,” but it is a model for other synagogues in its welcoming attitude and low barriers, such as free membership (activities and goods on Second Life often cost real money). All synagogues, real and virtual, should open their doors to newcomers with no strings attached. Before expecting visitors to become members and pay dues to the synagogue, wouldn’t it be great for them to be sold on the congregation first. Of course, synagogues need money to operate, and I am not advocating for a no-fee institution, necessarily. Rather, I am suggesting that synagogues welcome visitors and offer them the chance to experience Jewish life before soliciting for membership. And maybe, just as Temple Beth Israel opened the doors to a Jewish space in Second Life, other synagogues can do the same. Who knows what it will lead to? For Second Life, as you can see from the picture above, it led to the creation of a virtual Kotel (Western Wall)!

For Love or Judaism? New Books Discuss Motivations for Marriage

When I was much younger I wanted to ask someone who wasn’t Jewish to a dance. Now, I had been the recipient of a steady stream of anti-interdating lectures from my parents almost since the day I was born (we have the first one on video from when I was an infant )…so naturally, this went over poorly with them. My father forced me to read a book called The Grave Concern, which he had earlier insisted my mother read as part of his failed campaign to get her to agree to send my brother and me to Jewish day school. The book talks about the dangers of assimilation and intermarriage, and despite reading it, I promptly asked the boy to the dance anyway. Earlier that year I had read another lovely book on Jewish ethics, which compared sacrificing romantic feelings for those of other religious backgrounds to earlier times when young Jews were forced to martyr themselves for their faith. The message seemed to be, “You may not be allowed to interdate, but at least you won’t be burnt at the stake!” Needless to say, I did not find this message to be tremendously inspirational.

Recently, The Jewish Exponent published a review of two anti-intermarriage books, both of which the reviewer thinks are brilliant works that will help people understand why they need to end interfaith relationships or not enter into them in the first place. He lauds one book for talking about how frequently intermarriages go sour, and another one for discussing reasons based upon Jewish law and philosophy why intermarriage should be avoided.

First of all, most people probably don’t sit down and read books against intermarriage before asking people on dates—or falling for people they meet over the course of their everyday lives. Second of all, what about the intermarried families that are involved with the Jewish community and the 50% of Jewish teenagers and college students that come from intermarried homes? How will they feel to read that “by his own admission, Kornbluth [Doron Kornbluth, the author of one of the anti-intermarriage books, whose picture is above] did “hundreds of hours” of research to disprove the belief that intermarried families live ‘happily ever after,’ and that, if the parents want it, the kids stay Jewish.”

Not all families live happily ever after in any circumstances—but the fact that 50% of college students who identify themselves as Jewish come from intermarried families certainly shows that children in intermarriages quite frequently do grow up Jewish. Moralizing book reviews will do little to prevent intermarriage and will only serve to drive intermarried families farther away from the Jewish community.

Building a More Inclusive Jewish Community, One Matzah Sculpture at a Time

Reported on in the New York Sun and The Jewish Week and blogged about by, NYU’s Bronfman Center’s Matzah Sculpture Competition sponsored by Manischewitz strikes us as a great idea for a Passover outreach program. The program is accessible because building or viewing the sculptures requires no prior Jewish knowledge and is entirely free. Furthermore, the $1000 prize is an excellent incentive for participation in the competition! It is not surprising that the sculptures drew a large crowd at the Bronfman Center. We at JOI applaud NYU’s Bronfman Center and Manischewitz for bringing this event to NYU students. But we also wonder how many more students could have been reached had the event been held in a more public campus space. Hillel buildings are wonderful places and The Bronfman Center is an especially beautiful space, but Hillels should not be afraid to expand their reach beyond their four walls.

Through a generous grant from the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, JOI is currently working with Hillel International to encourage and train Hillels to reach out more effectively beyond their core group of engaged students. We are developing a toolbox that includes many Public Space JudaismSMprograms designed to take place in campus cafeterias, outside school libraries, and even at college athletic centers. Look for creative and intriguing Public Space JudaismSM events to arrive soon at a college campus near you!

First the “December Dilemma,” now the “April Aggravation”

In December, the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas supposedly caused a “December Dilemma” for interfaith families around the tensions and challenges in celebrating the holidays, and received plenty of media attention, including from our friend Sue Fishkoff at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA). Just a few months later, it’s déjà vu all over again. Once again, we find ourselves in a situation where a major Christian holiday shares the calendar with a Jewish holiday, and once again, Sue Fishkoff is on the job, showing us that many interfaith families are choosing to take part in both celebrations in order to diffuse any potential tensions. The article cites many interesting and illuminating statistics, all of which come from a survey from of 236 interfaith couples who have chosen to raise their children Jewish.

While these families have chosen to raise Jewish children—and are therefore not representative of all interfaith families—it is interesting to note that while participation in Passover activities was near-universal, participation in Easter activities occurred much less often in interfaith families where the mother is Jewish. That information underscores a key point that we here at JOI have been citing for some time now: more often than not, it is the mother who sets the religious tone of the household. We initiated The Mothers Circle program to help women of other religious backgrounds learn more about Judaism so that they can better participate in sharing Jewish traditions with their children, not just the traditions of their own childhood. It is also interesting to note the “backward compatibility” of Judaism for the Christian spouses, who almost all enjoy the Passover Seder, compared to the many Jewish spouses who feel highly uncomfortable participating in Christian ritual. This, too, doesn’t come as a surprise but is nevertheless highly interesting to see identified in a survey.

Does the relationship between a Jewish woman and a Nazi soldier during World War II constitute an interfaith relationship?

That is the premise behind the Dutch film Zwartboek, or, as it’s called in the United States, Black Book. Admittedly, while I am open to all interfaith relationships, this construction, no matter how real and substantiated by historical fact it may be, just may take me to the breaking point. Perhaps pushing the envelope to that extent is indeed the entire point of the film, but that may, in fact, be giving the filmmaker too much credit. Remember, this is the same person who brought us “Basic Instinct” and “Showgirls” for our viewing pleasure—or not!

Perhaps Black Book, is a modern spin on the Esther story in which a Jewish woman similarly insinuates herself into the bedroom of the king in order to save the Jewish people (of ancient Persia). Today, the leadership of Iran seems to have resurrected itself as a modern day Haman, sworn enemy of the Jewish people, so the story is certainly still relevant in that respect. Maybe, just maybe, I feel different because the Holocaust is just too close. Is the message worth the pain of exploring wounds that are still fresh? I leave it for the reader/viewer to decide.

“Follow-Up through Name Collection” Methodology Works for In-Reach AND Outreach

Last week I attended a Talmud class (Jewish oral law with commentary) sponsored by Kehilat Hadar, an independent prayer group in Manhattan, and I came out of it with a decidedly sunny feeling for a variety of reasons. The class was fantastic and my study partner promised to bake me a cheesecake when she came over for lunch, and by themselves, both of these certainly are cause enough for excitement. Even more inspiring than the promise of free baked goods, though, was finding that Hadar used much of the methodology that we here at JOI recommend.

At JOI, we believe that programs of all types – both inreach and outreach - are only effective vehicles if names of newcomers are collected and followed-up on a personal basis. We call this idea FUNCSM, for Follow-Up Through Name Collection.

Although the class required some prior knowledge, and thus was not ideal as a portal to the Jewish community for the unengaged or unaffiliated, I was impressed by Hadar’s use of name collection and follow-up. Names were collected as soon as a person entered the room—those who had attended previously already had their names on a sheet where their attendance was tracked. In addition, everyone received a punch card that enabled people to attend four classes and then sit for their fifth class at no extra cost. I told the name-collector that punch cards—and other incentives that encourage repeated attendance–are exactly the kind of thing JOI has long been advocating as an example of outreach best practices. After attending their classes, I have received several personalized follow-up e-mails, in addition to receiving e-mails inviting me to similar events – yet another example of the right way to do things from an outreach perspective.

It is important, to offer events such as this Talmud class that benefit those in the Jewish community who are currently involved and looking to continue their involvement. Hadar’s name collection and follow-up strategies certainly should be effective in keeping the already-engaged coming back, though many may be willing to do so regardless of the extra outreach work put in by the program sponsor. Hopefully, Hadar and other organizations will use the same excellent name collection and follow-up techniques when hosting lower-barrier events to ensure that those on the periphery begin and continue engagement with the Jewish community. Punch cards and cheesecake were enough to win me over, but it’s the follow-up emails and program invitations that will truly be effective in bringing in those further away from the inner circle of the community.

Recognizing the Importance of Grandparents

JOI’s study A Flame Still Burns found that Jewish grandparents can play a significant role in imparting a sense of Jewish identity to grandchildren raised in an interfaith home. This week, the Philadelphia Exponent broached the topic in Ryan Teitman’s article entitled, “At Pesach, the Roles Played by Families.” JOI’s own Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is quoted several times, and the article highlights the book he recently co-authored with JOI’s Associate Executive Director Paul Golin, Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren.

As Rabbi Olitzky said in the article, “We know that grandparents have the potential to be significantly impactful on the religious identity of grandchildren.” It’s encouraging to see that others are beginning to pick up on this idea and discuss it as well. Grandparents can help build up the “stockpile of Jewish memories” necessary to foster and perpetuate a Jewish identity. Their wealth of experiences and connection to the past allow them to impart important lessons in terms of cultural history and knowledge to children, but in a comfortable setting far removed from a classroom environment.

Choosing the Chosen: Newsweek Publishes “Top 50 Rabbis” List

Subjective rankings are always a good way to spark some lively conversations, and this April, Newsweek decided to ignite a conflagration of debate when it published a list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America.

JOI’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky was cited on the list at Number 27, and praised for being “one of the leading rabbinical advocates for outreach to interfaith and unaffiliated families in America.”

The list, compiled by Michael Lynton, Gary Ginsberg, and Jay Sanderson (all of whom are executives in the media and film industry) took six months to prepare, but the wrangling over who was or wasn’t included on it could go on for a much longer time. Though the three list-makers had a clear and transparent scoring system to guide them in their decisions, the nature of the ranking exercise can always lead to second-guessing. Perhaps, however, kindling in-depth debate was precisely the motivation for making the list. Take this quote, for example, from Ginsberg: “It’s interesting to see who speaks for Jews in America today.” Who does speak for American Jews today, and who should? While such open-ended questions will not be easily answered, the productive, enlightening discussions they could yield might make the six months spent compiling the list more than worthwhile.

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