Weblog Entries for April 2008

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Is It Time to Celebrate?

We learned that the Beckhams of Soccer and Spice fame have
made the decision
to send their child to a Jewish preschool in Los Angeles.

Some people might say, “So what does that mean?” Well, if we believe that Jewish preschools are an important first step toward developing and nurturing a Jewish identity, then the Beckham’s decision will indeed grow our community. Others see the benefits of Jewish preschool as well. Is that not why the Jewish Federation in Chicago has initiated its Right Start program? Is that not why philanthropist Michael Steinhardt has been pushing for the funding of Jewish preschools in much the same way he has been the incipient force behind Birthright Israel?

And if young Beckham and parents are to remain in the orbit of the Jewish community, then it is up to the school—and the local Jewish community—to do all they can do to make them feel welcome. Then we can all decide if Jewish preschool was an important decision for this interfaith family and for every other interfaith family in the Jewish community.

Building a Sacred Community

Last month, JOI’s Associate executive director Paul Golin and I were invited make a presentation at a very special event hosted by the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF). Their New York/New Jersey region was recently awarded a grant form the UJA federation to help provide support to outreach efforts among local congregations. To inaugurate this initiative, the JRF hosted a regional kick off event, entitled “Building Sacred Community,” or “Kehillah Kedoshah.”

At the conference, a variety of presenters shared their experiences in outreach and revitalizing congregational life with a number of professionals from within the Reconstructionist movement. The JRF’s goal of brining in Paul and me from JOI was to learn best practices for outreach from the field and draw upon the successes of our work with other congregations. As such, I spoke on the key barriers that keep unaffiliated Jews on the outside of synagogue life, and what rabbis, professionals, and lay leaders can do to transform those barriers into opportunities for engagement and create a more welcoming community. Paul presented a “Tutorial” in marketing strategy, helping the folks present not only identify their goals and messages, but also tailor their marketing to maximize their outreach effectiveness. JOI is continuing to consult with a number of these congregations, and we look forward to working together to create a more welcoming Jewish community!

Passover and Jewish Identity

We often use holidays to show how various aspects of Judaism can be used to promote a welcoming and inclusive Jewish community, and Passover has been no exception. The holiday may be over, but the themes that have come out of our conversation about the meaning of Passover will continue. We focused on how Passover is about more than remembering our exodus from ancient Egypt – it’s about remembering what it was like to be a stranger when we were scattered across the globe, wandering with no sense of belonging. Therefore, Passover is a holiday to “welcome the stranger,” and for us that includes interfaith families and unaffiliated Jews.

Recently, Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’Aretz, also used Passover and the Seder to frame a debate on the larger issues of interfaith marriage in the US. Rosner, who a few weeks ago featured our own Paul Golin in “Rosners Domain” on the Ha’Aretz website, volley’s back and forth between what he calls the “intermarriage optimist” and the “intermarriage pessimist.” As fuel for the fires on both sides, he cites a variety of scholarly studies that deal with Jewish continuity within intermarried households. For example, Rosner writes:

Arnold Dashefsky, the University of Connecticut professor who authored “Intermarriage and Jewish Journeys in the United States,” found that couples who have already made the decision to join the Jewish community attend the Passover Seder in even greater numbers than the “average” Jew. Cause for “optimism.” But yet another study—one that might be more optimistic because Dashefsky started with a group of already committed intermarried couples—found that “40 percent to 45 percent of young Jews with one Jewish parent attended a Passover Seder compared with nearly 80 percent of those with two Jewish parents.” Good reason for the “pessimist” to raise his hand to ask some tough questions.

We, of course, are optimists. Despite studies that come up with data to support both sides of the issue, our personal experience with interfaith families has been a resounding success. Our Mothers Circle program, an education and support group for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children, continues to grow, as does our Grandparents Circle program, for Jewish grandparents of interfaith grandchildren. Empirical evidence has proven over and over that it’s up to us on the inside of the Jewish community to be proactive, to go out and meet people on their terms in order to engage and facilitate relationships with intermarried and unaffiliated Jews.

And that’s the challenge. Rosner’s article was recently written about in the Forward’s Bintel Blog by Daniel Treiman. He thought Rosner “hit the nail on the head” when he ends the article by saying that it’s Jewish people-hood, not necessarily our religion that “will be the one most challenged by the influx of people from other religions into the Jewish community.” Rosner might be right – we just think that with a policy of acceptance and inclusion, that’s a challenge we are destined to overcome.

Congregation Ner Tamid Honors Mothers Circle Participants

We were delighted to hear about the special Mothers Circle Shabbat recently held at Congregation Ner Tamid, a Conservative synagogue in the South Bay of Los Angeles. Rabbi Isaac Jeret of Ner Tamid wrote in an email to us, “I celebrated with my synagogue our successful completion of our first year of the Mothers Circle, one of the great blessings that our synagogue has ever enjoyed!” You can listen to Rabbi Jeret’s Friday night sermon “A Charge To Jewish Outreach” here.

He emphasized the importance of supporting intermarried families and highlighted the dedication of the non-Jewish women raising Jewish children, with the last five minutes of the sermon focused exclusively on the women who participated in this years Mothers Circle course. Lesley Silverstone, the Jewish educator who facilitated the course at Ner Tamid, reported, “It was a really nice evening and I know that the women felt good about it.”

We at the Jewish Outreach Institute are happy to have allies like Rabbi Jeret and Lesley Silverstone who, like us, are committed to welcoming in intermarried families and providing them with education and support to help them successfully raise Jewish children.

A Passover Sermon

Today’s blog comes to us from our friend Rabbi Samuel N. Gordon of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, IL. He has over 25 years of experience as a rabbi in the Chicago area, and has devoted himself to outreach and unity among the interfaith population in his community and beyond. We feel the thoughts he shared with his congregation in this sermon about Passover speak to a lot of the same themes we have brought up over the past couple of weeks regarding the inclusive message of the holiday. Enjoy.

In just a few days we will celebrate Passover. Many of us will bring to our Seders the memories of Passovers we celebrated as children with all the familiar food, Jewish relatives seated around the table, and personal family traditions. But for many of our Seder guests, they are somewhat newer entrants into the Jewish family and people. Many have arrived at these ceremonies as adults without all the same memories as their spouses and families for whom this is part of their history. How do manage to make all feel at home at this most important holiday in the Jewish calendar?

The family therapist and author, Esther Perel, has used the metaphor of the immigration experience to better help us understand the cultural dynamic of marrying someone of a different faith. Imagine that instead of marrying a person of another religion, yours was a marriage to a person of another country and culture. In this exercise, imagine that instead of marrying a Jew, pretend you are marrying someone from France. You decide that it will be fine to move to France and raise a family there. France is a nice place. It is civilized, cultured, and the food is good. You study French language and become proficient. You read all the books you can about French culture, literature, and art. You begin to feel comfortable living in France, though you may never choose to become a citizen and give up your American background.


Outreach in Chicago

I recently spent almost an entire week in Chicago working with various aspects of the Jewish community, on behalf of its Jewish Federation (called the Jewish United Fund). It was a wonderful, if exhausting, week. The message to all of the groups with whom I met was the same, even if the nature of my presentations was different since I was teaching specific sets of skills to different audiences: open the gates of your Jewish community so that people can enter and enjoy its resources. But don’t simply wait inside of the gates for people to enter - go out and find them. Embrace them. Welcome them in. Provide them with meaningful, life-transforming experiences.

While JOI has been working in numerous communities and our many programs have found footing across North America, we have yet to succeed in placing the wide array of our programs in the Chicago community. That was our goal in traveling there, and with the help and support of various friends in the area, we hope to find the same success we have encountered elsewhere across the United States.

Imagine a community where there are Mothers Circles, Grandparents Circles, and groups of Empowering Ruth throughout; a community that pilots newly developed programs designed specifically for men. Imagine a group of synagogues that have not only taken on our Call Synagogue Home program, which aims to reach interfaith families through life cycle events, but also made systemic changes to welcome all those on the periphery of the community. Imagine a Federation that coordinates Public Space Judaism programs throughout the region, running programs such as Passover in the Matzah Aisles or Sunday in the Park with Bagels.

This is what we imagine for Chicago and this is what we are working toward. For in the end what we will have produced is a warmer, friendlier, more welcoming Jewish community—one in which we will all want to live and actively participate, no matter our background.

Interfaith Passover Readings

Over the last couple of days, we have seen a lot written about how to make a Passover Seder welcoming and inclusive for everyone sitting around the table. This came up so much because there are more interfaith families than ever before, which means there are more people every year who are probably attending their first Seders.

So for all of these husbands and wives, children and grandparents, friends and extended family, Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael, writing in The Jewish Exponent, came up with a list of “five readings that interfaith families may want to include in their Passover seder.”

For example, many families over the last few years have started displaying additional items on their Seder plate – most notably an orange, to represent “women’s leadership roles and full empowerment in Jewish life,” Rabbi Raphael says. But she offers another unique item for the Seder: an artichoke. It has “many petals, with thistle and a heart,” she says, and that represents the Jewish people.

“Like the artichoke, which has thistles protecting its heart, the Jewish people have been thorny about this question of interfaith marriage. Let this artichoke on the seder plate tonight stand for the wisdom of God’s creation in making the Jewish people a population able to absorb many elements and cultures throughout the centuries — yet still remain Jewish. Let the thistles protecting our hearts soften so that we may notice the petals around us.”

Although most families only hold Seders the first two nights, her ideas shouldn’t be constricted to the Seder table – or just Passover. Any family gathering, whether it’s Thanksgiving or Shabbat, is a good opportunity to, as we like to say at JOI, open your tent and welcome in all who approach.

Strangers at a Seder Meal

Tonight, families around the world will gather around their Seder table to remember our time as slaves in Egypt and celebrate our liberation. The themes of the holiday are universal, and we have been posting blogs over the past couple of weeks offering ideas on how to make the Seder, which is knows for having particularly stringent dietary restrictions, more inclusive for those who might be experiencing Passover for the first time.

Our good friend Julie Wiener, writing in her monthly New York Jewish Week column “In the Mix,” relates some of her own thoughts on how a Seder can be truly welcoming for all who attend. Since “virtually every Jewish family is touched by intermarriage,” she writes, there will be more Seders this year populated by those who were raised in another faith.

“Unless we have especially dysfunctional families or are, like my daughter Ellie this year, the child asking the Four Questions for the first time, Jews don’t usually find attending Passover Seders all that nerve wracking. (As opposed to the notoriously stressful experience of hosting a Seder, especially for those who first make their homes fully kosher for Passover.)

But for gentile guests who’ve never before donned a kipa or opened a Haggadah, the holiday – with its numerous rituals and lengthy list of forbidden foods – can be intimidating.”

Julie spoke with people who gave her some wonderfully inventive tips on how to make the Seder feel more inclusive. One of the families assigned each guest a part of the Exodus story to research, and at the Seder each person shared what they had learned. Another woman actually wrote her own Haggadah with quotes from American history “so that people who are not Jewish can understand the universality of it.”

We think these are all great ideas because they speak to the common theme of the holiday - togetherness. While “welcoming the stranger” is a touchstone for essential Jewish behavior, it is also a universal behavior we all can aspire too this Passover season. Happy Passover.

Passover in Connecticut

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the Jewish Outreach Institute’s Passover in the Matzah Aisles program sites. Congregation B’nai Israel of Danbury, Ct, brought a taste of Passover to their local Super Stop & Shop. Throughout the day, they had enthusiastic synagogue volunteers ready to meet, greet, and offer a Passover treat to passers-by. Skillfully led by volunteer Doreen Waver, this small, Conservative congregation did a wonderful job of gathering and training volunteers for the event. At any given moment, a shopper could have been greeted by a team of six outreach volunteers! This truly shows that running successful Public Space Judaism programming can be done – and done very well – by even one small organization!

Doreen saw this event as a “chance to establish initial, personal connections with the community and share the excitement of the holiday with anyone who stops by.” Her team did this quite effectively, by exploring the aisles and entrances of the store, and truly engaging shoppers in conversation and offering delicious Passover chocolate samples. The event also featured raffles, delicious Passover recipes, and children’s activities, such as coloring and games. Another volunteer shared “I just think that it’s was a wonderful opportunity to outreach some traditions to the community and for them to sample and find out what Passover is about. This was our fist time, and look forward to doing it again next year.” This year, over 18 communities are hosting Passover in the Matzah Aisles, from Austin to LA to Jacksonville to Portland, OR. Please let us know if you’d like to bring it to your community next year! Happy Passover!


How Big Is Your Big Tent?

At JOI, we are always encouraged when we read about someone using our programming or ideas in their community. It lets us know our work is indeed finding an audience. That’s why we were excited to read in the recent San Diego Jewish World some musings on our approach to the Jewish community called Big Tent Judaism.

Alan Rusonik, executive director of the Agency for Jewish Education in San Diego, heard about Big Tent Judaism from a friend, and wondered how it could apply to Jewish schools. He wants to use the ten principles of BTJ (which can be found here) to help make Jewish schools welcoming for all those who would cast their lot with the Jewish people. To spur a conversation, he asks:

Is your classroom a “Big Tent?” or can you better apply the “Big Tent Judaism” approach in your classroom? Which of the “ten principles” do you currently practice, and which ones do you need to improve upon? What resources do you have at your disposal so that you can inculcate the “Big Tent” approach in your classroom?

We think these are great questions that not only apply to schools, but to all Jewish communal institutions. When our biblical forbearers Abraham and Sarah opened their tent, they did so to let people know that all were welcome. Today, our Big Tent should be used to help connect unengaged, unaffiliated, and all Jews on the periphery to Jewish institutions. Rusonik is right - Jewish schools are one of the points of access to the community, and they should be open to all who approach.

Chabad’s Passover Outreach

While there are some who may disagree with Chabad’s ideology and their practices, and others who may even be resentful of some public stands that they may take on other movements in the continuum of the Jewish community, Chabad has two of Passover programs this year that are worthy of notice.

First, somewhat consistent with our own Passover in the Matzah Aisle program, Chabad rabbis made themselves available in many supermarkets this Passover season as “Passover Experts.” They set up tables near the Passover food section, ready to answer any questions about Passover and Passover food items. While this approach may be designed more for those already on the inside of the community, and is certainly coming from a particular perspective on observance, I have to admit that as I pondered the food items this year, there were many questions that bubbled to the surface.

Second, Chabad set up an International Seder Finder on line where people can find a Seder from Kansas to Kazakhstan, and everywhere in between. Even if the Seder finder did not really make its way into the secular press and would require some hunting on the part of the target population, this is a useful tool for those not so close to the inside of the community. Of course, the sedarim (plural for seder) listed are only those at Chabad centers around the world and I would have preferred a more community-wide approach. And it also includes all of the Passover events sponsored by the local Chabad center (and is not selective for the intended audience).

Nevertheless, I would welcome this as a service provided by local communities and coordinated by Community Outreach Coordinators as it is an important step forward in reaching those on the periphery of the community.

Top 50 Influential Rabbis

Creating a “best of” or a “most influential” list is always a great way to ignite a debate. Is “Citizen Kane” the best movie ever? Did “The Beatles” have the biggest impact on rock music, or does that designation belong to Elvis? A list, for better or for worse, will get people thinking and it will get people talking. Make it a list about religion and you’re guaranteed to spark a robust conversation. That’s what happened last year when Newsweek published a list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America.

Now they have done it again. And for two years running, our own Rabbi Kerry Olitzky has made the list as “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 media executives), initially came about because these three were “interested in the future of American Jewry and the evolving role of the rabbi.” The rabbis they name represent an incredibly broad cross-section of the Jewish community – from orthodox to reform, each rabbi has made a unique impact on the community at large. Whether you agree with the list or if you think there have been rabbi’s left off, we’re thrilled that Newsweek is continuing to promote a healthy dialogue within the Jewish community.

Making the Right Decision

While the discussion concerning intermarriage continues in North America, there is very little heard on the issue from Israel—except from those who choose to condemn North Americans who have indeed married someone from another faith. We know that intermarriage occurs in Israel, but for various reasons those who have done so have been forced to stay below the radar, especially because of its political ramifications.

We also know that the rate of intermarriage is higher among the gay and lesbian population than it is among the heterosexual population. This has nothing to do with education or identity. It is simply a factor of demography. More people, more options. Fewer people, fewer options.

While Israel is not taking the lead in either population, it was heartening to see this small news item in the JTA. It seems that a gay Palestinian who fled to Israel to escape vengeful family members has been given temporary residence rights in Israel—where he is now living with his Israeli boyfriend.

It’s hard to imagine not only the difficulties that face such a socially and religiously taboo relationship, but also Israel’s decision to recognize that relationship. Granting the Palestinian temporary residence was an unprecedented move, and we congratulate the state of Israel for making the right decision. It once again affirms the notion of Big Tent Judaism for the entire Jewish community.

Going Green on Passover

The karpas doesn’t have to be the only thing green about your Passover Seder. Earth Day happens to fall on the third day of Passover this year, so the folks at The Jew and the Carrot, a website devoted to “Jews, food, and contemporary issues,” have come up with a guide for holding a Seder that is delicious, healthy, and easy on the environment.

Their goal is to encourage people to host a “sustainable” Seder, which means keeping the traditions without damaging the environmental, economic, or social resources that future generations will need. They suggest everything from using non-toxic cleaning products to rid your house of chametz (bread crumbs), to buying organic, free range eggs.

Passover is a time to commemorate the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt and our journey from slavery to freedom. It’s also a time to celebrate the arrival of spring – a season that represents eternal rebirth, renewal and hope. Hosting a sustainable Seder is a great way to celebrate both.

We see outreach to interfaith families and unengaged Jews in a similar light - as a kind of rebirth and renewal of the Jewish people, one that advances the cause of Tikkun Olam (healing the world). This Passover, as we recount the story of our liberation, lets look at what we can all do to strengthen and grow the future of the Jewish community. And since we know that there will be many people sitting around the Passover table this year for whom this is the first Passover experience, perhaps we might consider how attractive and accessible a “green” seder can be – especially for those of other religious backgrounds who are now part of our families.

Fun prizes and better relationships

If you held a Purim carnival at your synagogue or Jewish institution that attracted 1,000 people, would you consider the event a success? If your goal was to have a large turn out, then your answer to the question is probably a resounding “yes, it was.” However, if your goal was to engage those who attended the carnival, you must actually know who showed up in order to determine your success. For that, you need an effective name collection technique.

Several weeks ago, Congregation Emanu-El in New York City took advantage of JOI’s name collection methodology at their annual Purim Carnival, collecting the program attendees’ interests and contact information through a fun, quick and easy raffle. Amy Geldzahler, Department Manager of the Department of Lifelong Learning Congregation Emanu-el, implemented the raffle after learning about JOI’s best outreach practices and methodology. She later reflected on her experience with the raffle:

“…it has actually been very interesting to see how it works in real-life. The activity of collecting names in a way other than a sign-in sheet was a great way to engage with people, a chance for education with the signs we put on the table, and it was nice to give them something back in exchange for their information (a chance to win a Purim-related prize).”

Utilizing incentive-based name collection like Amy’s raffle is a win-win situation for both those planning, and those attending the event. It provides greeters and name collectors with an unobtrusive technique to gather key contact information they can use to follow-up with program attendees, as well as providing the participants with an opportunity to meet friendly representatives from the Jewish institution. Plus, they get to win an attractive, program-related prize! If your synagogue or Jewish institution had success with a raffle or other unobtrusive, name collection technique with a unique incentive, we at JOI would love to hear about it!

Grandparents Circle in Hartford, CT

As we already know, interfaith marriages can put quite a strain on the relationship between parents and the children getting married. But when those parents become grandparents, the conversation takes on a new dimension – Jewish grandparents are now seeking ways to help their interfaith grandchildren find meaning in a Jewish life.

That’s why JOI has started a program called The Grandparents Circle, which is based on the book “Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren to Do (And Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren,” by our own Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin. The program offers grandparents skills and techniques to nurture, and in some cases help establish, their interfaith grandchildren’s Jewish identities. It was piloted in Los Angeles in January, and is now starting in Hartford, Connecticut, where it was recently featured in The Hartford Courant.

Writer Elizabeth Hamilton talked to a few sets of grandparents to find out how they reacted to the news their children were going to marry someone of a different faith. One couple said they were in mourning, another said they embraced the idea because “we felt we had no choice. We didn’t want to alienate our son.”

But all the grandparents interviewed want the same thing – they want to create and maintain a close knit “cultural and religious relationship with their grandchildren.” For some, that means inviting their family over for Shabbat dinner. For others whose grandchildren live out of town, it’s giving Jewish-themed presents on holidays and birthdays. What’s most important is that the grandparents respect the decisions their children have made and stay involved, not grieve over what they might perceive as a loss. One of the grandparents interviewed, Rona Gelber, summed it up nicely: “There’s never a ‘no.’ There’s always an opening.”

The Grandparents Circle provides participants with a supportive and open-minded environment to share their achievements, express their frustrations, and acknowledge their challenges. For more information, or if you would like to bring the Grandparents Circle to your area, please contact

Anniversary of Policy Change at JTS

It’s been one year since the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York decided to accept the ruling of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards – the lawmaking arm of the Conservative movement – and allow openly gay and lesbian students to become ordained as rabbis and cantors. To celebrate the anniversary, students in Jerusalem had wanted to hold a ceremony on the campus of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, which is affiliated with the JTS. But, because the students celebrating the anniversary didn’t want to give equal time to the opposing viewpoint, they were forced to hold the ceremony in a park nearby.

This episode seems like a step backward, especially in a movement that is trying to re-energize and encourage people to have greater participation in the Jewish community.

When the Conservative movement’s lawmakers adopted the policy, they did so while also approving separate, contradictory opinions on gay and lesbian ordination. One opinion said it was okay, but two others said it was not. In an article for JTA, Ben Harris highlighted the friction on both sides, which runs rather deep. He writes:

“The dispute at Schechter points to the continuing tensions within the Conservative movement over homosexuality and the apparently different directions in which the movement’s various international affiliates are moving.

Following the 2006 decision by the movement’s law committee to permit the ordination of gay clergy, both JTS and the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University) changed their policies to admit gay rabbinical students.

But Schechter’s dean, Rabbi Elinat Ramon, declined to change her school’s policies, basing her decision on the more conservative ruling.”

While Rabbi Ramon sees homosexuality as incompatible with Conservative Judaism, JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen believes the changes “revitalize the sense that Conservative Judaism is a living organism,” as he has said in the past.

At JOI, one of our goals of outreach is to engage those who feel they are on the periphery of the Jewish community. Our interpretations of Jewish law can grow with and adapt to the realities of contemporary society—as they have historically—and the ordination of gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors is another step on the way to welcoming everyone into our community.

Lowering the Language Barrier

At JOI, one of our methods for lowering the barriers to participation in Jewish life is to use positive, inclusive language. This can mean using words or phrases like “of a different background” instead of “non-Jew.” Although these distinctions might seem inconsequential, they often make the difference between someone feeling welcomed, and someone feeling singled out.

To illustrate the power of words, our own Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and Liz Marcovitz wrote an opinion piece for the JTA on how Passover is a good opportunity to eliminate such language from our speech so we can “welcome and include all those who wish to engage with Judaism in our Big Tent.”

Negative language has the ability to oppress people, make them feel like they don’t belong. Rabbi Olitzky and Liz believe we should stop “defining those who are different from us by using negative words and stereotypes,” and they offer a suggestion on how to take steps in that direction.

As you sit around the Passover seder table this year, be conscious of the words you use to describe others. Consider their impact because all too often we forget that words have the power to marginalize and oppress members of our society.

This holiday, we invite you to make this pledge and bring it your seder table: “I promise to the best of my ability to eliminate from my vocabulary all words that are hurtful, insensitive and oppressive of others, and include only words that are welcoming, sensitive and liberating.”

Please join us in taking this pledge to help create a truly inclusive and welcoming Jewish community.

Mothers Circle in the Wall Street Journal

We were very excited to see our Mothers Circle program featured in today’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. Writer Julie Wiener did an excellent job conveying the amazing dedication of women of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children, in spite of the challenges they face. She interviewed many of the women who have helped make the program a success, and highlighted why the program is so essential. Here’s some of what she had to say:

Today, with intermarriage increasingly pervasive in the American Jewish community, it is no longer unusual to see gentile moms coordinating the Hebrew school carpool and hosting Passover seders. In fact, the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) — a New York-based group seeking to make the Jewish community more welcoming and inclusive — estimates that there are over 200,000 households in the U.S. in which gentile mothers and Jewish fathers are raising Jewish children.

The Mothers Circle, a national program sponsored by the institute, aims to give these women the know-how and confidence to pull this off.

Piloted in Atlanta in 2002, the program has now reached 30 communities throughout the country and hundreds of mothers. Congratulations to everyone who has helped make the program what it is today. You can contact me if you are interested in learning more or finding a Mothers Circle in your community.

Rosner’s Domain

On top of my usual JOI responsibilities this week, I’m also fielding questions about intermarriage and outreach as a guest of journalist Shmuel Rosner over at “Rosner’s Domain” on the Haaretz newspaper website. It’s posted in reverse chronological order, so it begins toward the bottom.

So far I’ve already answered questions on rabbinic Officiation, the Christmas tree, and “downsides” to the intermarriage trend. Here is an example:

“Intermarriage pushes the American Jewish community to confront the big questions: what does it mean to be Jewish? How do we express our Judaism? Who is a Jew? It’s good to grapple with tough questions; that’s what Jews do. We will have a stronger community if we can provide compelling answers to those big questions.”

If there’s something you would like to discuss further that doesn’t come up in the Rosner conversation, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. I look forward to hearing from you.

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