Entries for May 2008
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It’s upsetting to me when people would be non-welcoming to any community. . . .If they’re disabled or if they’re gay or whatever the issue is, I don’t think we have the right ever, ever to turn somebody away or make them not feel welcome.
We couldn’t agree more with the above comment made by Evie Weinstein, the executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in Buffalo, N.Y. Weinstein, along with 35 other Jewish educators in Atlanta, attended the inaugural Hineini Education Project National Training Institute. The institute, which is a program of Keshet, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) education and advocacy organization, provided training and education to Jewish organizations in order to create internal change within the organization and impact current practices used to welcome Jews who identify as GLBT. In a recent article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Andrea Jacobs, Keshet’s director of education, explained:
“A commitment to long-term sustainable change is not about bringing in an outside organization,” Jacobs said, but “building the leadership and the knowledge base within a community so that they can take ownership of it and integrate it and incorporate it into their existing practices.”
JTA Reporter Rachel Pomerance described the gathering as an opportunity for networking and sharing program ideas with Jewish educators committed to creating organizations that are welcoming to the GLBT population. Jacobs said the Atlanta institute went so well, three more workshops have been planned for the coming year.
Through our Big Tent Judaism initiative, we are working to accomplish similar goals of change and inclusion. We congratulate Keshet on their success and encourage all Jewish organizations to join JOI and Keshet in opening their doors and welcoming all those who wish to learn about and engage with the Jewish community!
“Outreach and interfaith work comes naturally to us because it is who we are.” Karen Blue, Louisville Jewish Community Federation honoree.
We were pleased to read in Community, the Jewish newspaper of Louisville, Kentucky, that JOI board member Todd Blue and his wife Karen will be honored by the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville with the Lewis W. Cole Memorial Young Leadership Award. Both Karen and Todd, who made a presentation at our last JOI conference, have dedicated themselves to helping create an atmosphere of inclusion in the Louisville area, and the recognition is much deserved.
Todd and Karen co-chair the Jewish Community Outreach Taskforce, where they make sure that any events planned in the Jewish community are welcoming to interfaith families, the unaffiliated, and any other Jews on the periphery. Through their leadership, they are responsible for bringing JOI and our Mothers Circle program to the Louisville community, as well as the PJ Library, a project of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation. This PJ Library is “a new program that will mail Jewish books to preschool age children,” according to the article.
Todd added that the award “brings further awareness to the interfaith and unaffiliated, and allows for expanded opportunities for the Jewish community at large.” Todd and Karen have made tremendous progress in opening the doors of the Jewish community in Louisville, and as they continue their work to help the Jewish population grow spiritually and numerically, we are excited to help them along the way.
It is with a certain amount of pride that I write today’s blog entry. As a native Kansas Citian, I was delighted to read in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle about the various steps the community is taking to welcome the interfaith community into their midst. But the pride is twofold; one of the interfaith couples interviewed for the piece explain how they utilized the resources offered by JOI’s website, read several of our books, and participated in our Mothers Circle program.
As most people reading this are probably aware, intermarriage rates in America hover around fifty percent. Synagogues and other Jewish institutions in the Kansas City area have tried to find ways to turn this into an opportunity – an opportunity to welcome interfaith couples and add to the rich tapestry of the local Jewish community.
One of the biggest outreach programs run in Kansas City is called Genesis, which was started by Susan Tivol and Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz. The program began nine years ago, and since then nearly 1,500 people have participated in Genesis events and courses. Tivol said the program provides couples with “tools and an opportunity to work through the interpersonal issues that they face in an interfaith marriage.”
Some couples, like Kory Hochler and his wife, who is not Jewish, participated in the program before they were married. He said Genesis was an opportunity to “be more open” and start the interfaith conversation.
“I think that the reality of the times we live in is that interfaith couples are likely to happen, and there’s an understanding in the Jewish community that if you try to exclude them or ostracize them you may lose people who may be vibrant members of the community,” Hochler said.
Genesis also happens to run the local chapter of the Mothers Circle, our program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children. This was exactly what Amy Bryant was looking for. She was raised and remains a Methodist, but decided with her husband Jordan that they would raise their children Jewish. They moved to Kansas City two years ago, and Amy signed up for the Mothers Circle.
“These are women we feel we owe a big thank-you to that they have committed themselves to raising Jewish children in a household with a Jewish partner,” said Tamara Lawson Schuster, Genesis program coordinator.
Some of the congregations in the Kansas City area have also taken steps to include interfaith couples in synagogue rituals, especially Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
Though there are restrictions on non-Jews participating in ritual acts such as reading the Torah blessings, congregations try to include both members of the couple in life-cycle events.
“We expect both parents to participate in the passing down of the Torah – after all, in the majority of families, both parents have determined that the child is receiving Judaism as their faith and culture, so we want both parents to participate in the symbolic passing of the Torah to their child,” said Rabbi Vered Harris of Congregation Beth Torah. “This has caused tears for some parents; they have been so moved by the acceptance and validations of their commitment to their child’s Jewish identity, regardless of their own spiritual journey.”
But reform temples in Kansas City are not the only ones working to create an inclusive atmosphere. Conservative synagogue Beth Shalom (where my family has held membership for six generations) will soon start a program called Keruv (Outreach). This program will address “non traditional family units, who are committed to maintaining an interfaith relationship and want to maintain a connection with Judaism.”
Rabbi Alan Cohen, who is stepping down after 19 years at the helm of Beth Shalom, said of the Keruv project: “The congregation is very eager to establish programs and a plan and make interfaith couples feel as comfortable as possible within the synagogue.”
These are all tremendous steps towards growing and strengthening the Kansas City Jewish community. I am proud to have come from such a warm and welcoming community, and I’m sure these programs will continue to draw in people seeking an environment of acceptance.
How does a community start over? That’s the question many in the New Orleans Jewish community are asking as they work to grow their numbers in the post hurricane Katrina age. And those Jewish newcomers who are moving to New Orleans to help rebuild the city might be the answer.
In a recent article in the Times-Picayune, Bruce Nolan describes how the New Orleans Jewish community is throwing open the doors to its institutions, hoping to attract newcomers who have been drawn to the wounded region. The Jewish community has gone so far as to offer moving grants, one year of free membership to a synagogue, free memberships to the local Jewish Community Center, and even helped with social networking. It’s all part of what the New Orleans Jewish community calls their “newcomer program,” a year-old program designed specifically to make the Jewish community as accessible as possible to all those interested in joining.
Nolan tells the story of Katie Tutwiler, who was raised by an Episcopalian father and a non-observant Jewish mother in a home with “no strong religious influence.” She moved to New Orleans out of a moral imperative, not for the financial incentives that came with her being Jewish. But the actions of the Jewish community and their welcoming spirit have led her to help rebuild not only the city, but her own Jewish identity. Nolan writes:
“Tutwiler heard about the Jewish incentives program from her grandmother, Catherine Kahn, a New Orleanian and board member at Temple Sinai, who urged Tutwiler to check it out. Now Tutwiler sometimes accompanies her grandmother to temple, a starting point from which Tutwiler has begun to inquire about her Jewish heritage.”
Catherine, who is known to her friends as Cathy and sits on JOI’s President’s Advisory Board, Katie, and everyone else who is helping to strengthen the New Orleans Jewish community are taking great strides in Jewish outreach, and we are excited to see the community continue to grow. By utilizing methods that match many of the principles of our Big Tent Judaism initiative – such as lowering barriers to participation, offering free samples, and most importantly welcoming all newcomers – the “newcomer program” will hopefully attract more people like Tutwiler, and both New Orleans and their Jewish community will stand strong.
While Big Tent Judaism was designed for Jewish communal institutions, its message is universal. The idea of creating an opening and welcoming environment is one that transcends Judaism – it can be applied to any religion seeking to grow and strengthen their community. That’s why we were disheartened to read about a church in Minnesota that filed a restraining order against the parents of a 13-year-old autistic boy in order to keep the boy out of church.
The church claims the boy, who stands at 6 feet and over 200 pounds, is unruly and out of control, and it’s for the safety of the parishioners that the boy be kept out of church. But the boy’s parents say the claims are exaggerated, and that his autism, while sometimes difficult to manage, does not put the other churchgoers in any danger. They are upset the issue has been turned into a criminal matter.
Since we are not involved in the matter, it would be futile for us to say who is right and who is wrong. What concerns us is the message this might send to others who care for family members with disabilities. Religion shouldn’t discriminate or shut out anyone who might find comfort in its tenets, and we hope the boy and his family ultimately find a parish where they will feel welcome.
Over the last eight years, we have been successful in bringing our outreach programs to communities across North America. There are Mothers Circles in over 30 communities. Grandparents Circles have already sprouted in Los Angeles, Hartford, and Atlanta. Call Synagogue Home is in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. Our Community Transformation Initiative is in various stages in Louisville and a dozen other communities.
As we develop new program models to reach our target populations, we are now beginning the next phase of our program strategy. As a result of our past success, we intend to cast a wider net, layering JOI programs across entire target communities rather than specific populations. By doing so, we will be able to connect with larger constituencies from a variety of approaches and ensure that JOI best practices are employed in institutions throughout an entire community.
We think that this is what it will take to bring JOI into its next stage. We are proud of everything we have accomplished so far, but we know that with more training, education, and networking of inclusive Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders, we can help create a truly welcoming North American Jewish Community. We hope that you will join us in our efforts.
Congratulations to Rabbi Karen Bender of Temple Judea in the greater Los Angeles area for an inspiring congregational column addressing the congregation’s efforts to create a more welcoming environment for interfaith families.
In the column, Rabbi Bender expresses her belief that the act of welcoming congregant’s family members of other religious backgrounds is not only a moral responsibility, but a matter of Torah.
No less significant is the moral principle that is put forth thousands of years ago by the prophet Isaiah: “My House will be called a house of prayer for all Peoples.” In other words our commitment to Torah and its values includes a welcoming attitude towards non-Jews in our house of worship. We are not threatening Jewish ideals by welcoming non- Jews into the synagogue, we are fulfilling them.
This congregation is fulfilling these Jewish ideals by taking full advantage of Call Synagogue Home, a JOI project in partnership with STAR (Synagogue: Transformation and Renewal), generously supported by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation. Call Synagogue Home is designed for congregations of all denominations to use life cycle events to reach out to and nurture the relationship with interfaith families. Congregations can use these events—which range from the traditional, such as birth or marriage, to non-traditional, such as moving into a new home –to foster the relationship (and retention) of those who are already part of the synagogue community. Temple Judea has created a committee of invested lay and professional leaders who have dedicated themselves to look closely at how welcoming the congregation is toward interfaith families as they approach the Bar/Bat Mitzvah experience.
Now with their research behind them, we at JOI look forward to working with the Call Synagogue Home Committee to further their efforts in helping Temple Judea create a religious home for interfaith families and everyone else who has chosen to be a part of the Jewish community.
Recently, I embarked upon my first journey to Ohio. The purpose of my trip? To help Jewish Federation of Cincinnati maximize the outreach potential of “Celebrate as One” – a huge multicultural festival inspired by Israel’s 60th birthday. The celebration featured a wide range of talent from Cincinnati and beyond and its initial success was readily apparent last Thursday evening as thousands of Cincinnatians came out, even when at first the weather did not cooperate. The event also drew over 175 volunteers from the community! “Celebrate as One” brought in an incredibly diverse crowd of performers and attendees, and it was evident by the smiles, dancing, and captive audiences at Fountain Square’s three performance areas. Folks from the entire community clearly appreciated the talent and diversity reflected in the evening.
For one young adult I spoke with who grew up in the area, it was the first time he saw the Jewish community sponsoring something that he felt truly good about. We know that many folks, especially those of the younger generation, can feel turned off by a sense of exclusivity in Jewish events, and this evening certainly lowered that barrier. As Shep Englander, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, stated in an email to the Federation, “the multicultural openness attracted hundreds of younger and less engaged Jews, who never come to our ‘Jewish only events.’” We commend the Cincinnati Federation for putting on such a wonderful program, and for recognizing the connection between event themes and the potential to reach out to a previously unengaged population.
The big question is – what happens next? That’s exactly where we at JOI come into the picture. My role in traveling to the event was to train volunteers and professionals from the Jewish federation of Cincinnati to help transform this festival from a one time event into an opportunity for the Cincinnati Jewish community to create meaningful relationships with its attendees – particularly those who are Jewishly unengaged. I trained over 20 professionals and volunteer leaders in effective name collection techniques and helped to strategically place them around the square, with a focus on entrances and high-traffic locations. As a result, hundreds of names were collected. The Jewish community can now begin to build relationships with the unengaged, bridging them from the outside of the community to the inside. We look forward to working with the Cincinnati Jewish Community to help develop systematic and systemic strategies to effectively carry out these next steps.
Most of the programs we run deal with interfaith relationships from an adult perspective – Mothers in The Mothers Circle, or grandparents in The Grandparents Circle. While the topic of raising children comes up often, we rarely hear of an interfaith relationship from the child’s point of view. That’s why we have programs in development for “adult children of intermarriage.” But until we roll those out, we would still like to know: what is it like to grow up as the child of Jewish intermarriage?
Lake Bell might have the answer. She is an upcoming Hollywood starlet who is currently co-starring with Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz in the romantic comedy What Happens in Vegas… For her next role, she is taking the leap from co-star to co-writer, with a project called Not Our Class, Dear. In the movie, a young man finds out that he might be the product of his non-Jewish mother’s affair with her Jewish therapist. She was recently profiled in Allure magazine, where she explained:
My mother is the ultimate WASP, and my father is the ultimate Jew. I grew up with these two cultures colliding constantly, and I always found it funny. That’s where it’s from.
This movie has the potential for not only being very funny, but also dealing with the issues that children must confront when trying to define their spiritual identities within the context of intermarriage. It’s a Hollywood movie, so we don’t expect it to have all the answers, but we hope Lake Bell will use her personal background to continue this conversation in an intelligent and meaningful way.
We are pleased to announce that JOI has been selected by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) as one of their 2008-09 grant recipients. The grants are awarded to organizations that are spearheading programs to address issues that affect Jewish women of all ages and denominations.
JOI was singled out for an event titled “Summit on a More Welcoming Jewish Community.” This is a conference to educate 75 female professionals and lay leaders in the Jewish community about the critical need to serve all Jewish households, particularly those which do not participate in Jewish communal life. Participants will be trained in outreach, with an emphasis placed on identifying and fulfilling the needs of the unengaged and underserved Jewish populations. The conference will also focus on the diversity of today’s Jewish households.
We want to thank the JWFNY for recognizing our efforts, and we look forward to working together to help create a welcoming atmosphere that will strengthen Jewish life and further enrich the North American Jewish community.
Imagine putting together a group of 50 people to work together over a 24-hour period to create a comprehensive plan for a Jewish community to reach those on its periphery. Imagine this group working with “big ideas” that they have created, shaped and refined using the lens of outreach and the field’s best practices as developed by the staff of the Jewish Outreach Institute. Imagine this as the culmination of a year-long process of salon conversations with some of the Jewish community’s most prominent thought leaders and a visioning process for the community to determine its priorities.
That is the formula for an Outreach Boot CampSM. Over the next few days, my colleagues and I will be leading a series of intensive discussions with members of the Northern New Jersey Jewish community, giving them an opportunity to provide feedback to thought leaders and Jewish communal professionals on the challenges facing the organized Jewish community.
The event, sponsored by the Russell Berrie Foundation in cooperation with the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, will hopefully lead to not just a broader discussion about inclusiveness, but also solutions on how to help navigate the future of the Northern New Jersey Jewish community, one in which we believe diversity is the key to its continuity and future.
Are you looking for innovative programming for both the summer and high holidays to engage unaffiliated and intermarried families with young children in Jewish life?
Join us on Tuesday, May 27th at 3:00 pm (EDT) for a free conference call to learn about a number of creative programs and techniques to enhance your already existing programs. We’ll discuss program design, potential for community collaboration, and innovative techniques to build relationships to attract and engage unaffiliated and intermarried families with young children. We will also hear from professionals who have successfully brought these programs and techniques into their communities!
Among the programs we will highlight are:
“Sunday in the Park with Bagels” – Learn about this warm weather program that offers families an opportunity to engage in the in the spirit and celebration of the Jewish holidays through food.
“Color-Me Calendar for the Jewish New Year”— Learn how we can use the confluence of the back-to-school excitement and the High Holiday season as a launching pad for Jewish engagement throughout the entire year. Join us to discuss how this interactive program will allow Jewish professionals to help bring their calendar of programs to unaffiliated families.
To RSVP, or with any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org by Thursday, May 22nd with your *name, *organization, *daytime telephone number, *mailing address, *email address, *how you heard about the call, and *any particular questions you would like us to try to address on the call. I will then send you instructions to dial into the conference call.
As always, we would like to offer all call participants the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts. Thus, we will happily set up another call in the near future if the number of participant reservations grows too large for a meaningful exchange.
We look forward to having you join us!
Yesterday, we wrote about the Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) conference in San Francisco which brought together a large number of racially and ethnically diverse Jews. Many of the attendees had very interesting personal stories, but one woman’s story proved to be particularly inspirational.
The JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) recently published an article about the ordination of the first black female rabbi—who also happens to be a Jew-by-choice. “Reform Student on Track to Become the First Black Female Rabbi” profiles Alysa Stanton-Ogulnick who will be ordained at Hebrew Union College next May. Stanton-Ogulnick’s uplifting story demonstrates how women continue to break down barriers in the Jewish community.
Of her reception in the Jewish community, Stanton-Ogulnick recounts:
“People look at me and ask if I was born Jewish. . . .I say yes, but not to a Jewish womb. I believe I was at Sinai. It’s not as if one day I scratched my head and said, hmm, now how can I make my life more difficult? I know — I’ll become Jewish!”
This is an exciting time for anyone who has chosen to become a part of the Jewish community, and we would like to congratulate Stanton-Ogulnick on her accomplishments. Through our program Empowering Ruth, we often hear of the personal and emotional struggles that come with becoming a Jew-by-choice – from both within the Jewish community and from without. Stanton-Ogulnick’s story encapsulates many of the same difficulties people face on their Jewish journey, but it also shows how rewarding that journey can be.
While JOI’s focus is mainly on engaging and encouraging interfaith families and unaffiliated Jews to become more involved in Jewish life, we also promote a welcoming atmosphere for anyone who wants to be involved in the Jewish community. That’s why we were happy to read about a recent conference in San Francisco sponsored by Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue), a project of Gary Tobin’s Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
Be’chol Lashon sponsored the event to bring together African, Asian and Latin American Jews. Writing in the JTA, Sue Fishkoff described the event as three days of “networking and sharing information about their struggles to join the global Jewish family, a family that is not always eager to embrace them.”
The conference was held in part to shed light on groups outside the Jewish mainstream who struggle to find a foothold in the wider Jewish community. These are people with “Jewish heritage, spiritual seekers, Jewish communities of historical significance,” Tobin said, yet they are still shunned by many in the Jewish mainstream. Rather than focus on intermarriage, he wonders “why aren’t we extending our ideological borders to include all these people who are so interested in joining us?”
At issue for many of those in attendance is conversion. While some, like the Abayudaya of Uganda, have been formally converted, others feel their ancestry gives them ample claim to the Jewish community. The anusim of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America believe that because their ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism under the Inquisition, they should now be allowed to reclaim their Jewish status without a formal conversion.
These groups raise some excellent questions about who is and isn’t Jewish – if your ancestors were Jewish, should you have to convert? Or in the case of the Lemba of South Africa, who “point to the Jewish cultural practices they have maintained for centuries,” do they need to undergo a formal conversion?
But more importantly, why does there seem to be such an effort to keep these Jewish groups on the periphery? This isn’t an issue of demography – these groups aren’t interested in the number of Jews worldwide. This is an issue of people who identify as Jews, who’s ancestors lived as Jews, being pushed to the side by the Jewish mainstream.
At JOI, we often talk about barriers to Judaism – whether it’s language, money, or ideology. We work to make the Jewish community more accessible through low barrier entry points to Jewish engagement, for both intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews. We applaud our friends at Be’chol Lashon for taking the lead in giving these other groups on the periphery access to the Jewish community. Diane Tobin, director of Be’chol Lashon, sums it up nicely when she says “We will work with anyone who wants to move forward toward being part of the Jewish community.”
Maybe it is the fact that this seems to be one of the most powerful weeks in the contemporary Jewish calendar (the transition from Israel Memorial Day to Israel Independence Day, preceded a week ago by Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day.) Or maybe it is the fact that I am overly sensitive at this time of year, but it drives me crazy that this is when the Chief Rabbinate in Israel decides once again to deal with the conversion issues. Now they are talking about revoking a conversion that is 15 years old!
While we are trying to build bridges to those on the periphery of the community, while we are trying to celebrate the miracle of Israel reborn in the midst of the worst tragedy that the Jewish community ever experienced, those who should understand what it is like to be a stranger are making it nearly impossible to enter the Jewish community—even as a convert to Judaism.
Simultaneously, it is the right time to celebrate the first non-Orthodox synagogue whose building was supported by the Ministry of Housing in Israel. The fact that it is a Reform synagogue is an affirmation for the pluralism that we seek in Israel and throughout the Jewish community worldwide, including America.
These two developments show us the dynamic of what it is to be a Jew in the 21st century - we are constantly pulled in various directions, with exhilaration and sadness mixed together.
While Passover is a few weeks behind us, a recent article in Haaretz caught my attention and I wanted to share it. While I think that the author admits that it is not your typical Passover celebration and might even be “over the top” to use her words, it does offer us a glimpse into who is now sitting around our Seder tables—and our Shabbat dinner tables and other holiday events, as well—when our families are inclusive to all our relatives.
Well, Caryn Aviv’s table might win the prize for being among the most inclusive. And she is sensitive to what a newcomer to the table might experience as a result. Her enthusiasm—and that of her gay co-parents (which she explains in a prior column as the gay couple for whom she carried, delivered, and is now raising a child with)—ended up extending 27 invitations for Seder. So no one really knew how many to expect. (My wife is the same way. She extends invitations to lots of people, never wanting them to be alone for the holidays, and then neglects to keep a count of who said yes.) But that enthusiasm and the diversity of the table is really what Seder is all about: welcoming the strangers among us. Here is what Caryn had to say—and I agree:
What I think this seder demonstrated was the both/and complexity and richness of contemporary Jewish life in America today. Most American Jews are now part of multicultural, hybrid, interfaith extended families. And for those who have had their heads buried in the sand the past twenty years, the reality is this level of family diversity is fast becoming the norm almost everywhere in the United States.
A recent article in the Boston Globe tells a touching story of how Carolyn Hastings, herself an Episcopalian, is raising her granddaughter Jewish. Carolyn’s daughter was a Jew-By-Choice who died of leukemia, leaving behind a one-year old daughter named Meg. To honor her daughter’s memory, Carolyn is committed to raising her granddaughter Meg Jewish.
It is Hastings, 63, who usually prepares the Friday Sabbath meal and ritual for Meg, and who has devoted an evening a week recently to attend a class for non-Jews on raising Jewish children.
Carolyn participates in the Boston area Mothers Circle course and in the Mothers Circle National Listserve for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children. She’s different than most Mothers Circle participants in that she’s a grandmother, but we at the Jewish Outreach Institute are happy that, in partnership with Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Boston and the Boston Jewish Community Women’s Fund, we’ve been able to provide Carolyn with the necessary education and support to honor her deceased daughter and raise Meg Jewish.
With Mother’s Day quickly approaching, we at the Jewish Outreach Institute want to thank all the mothers out there who are raising Jewish children! From Hebrew school to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, matzah ball soup to potato latkes, mezuzahs to menorahs, and everything in between, we appreciate all you do!
We know that raising children in a religious tradition that is not your own can be particularly challenging, and we especially thank mothers of other religious backgrounds for their willingness to take on the challenge!
Like most Jewish organizations, we receive all kinds of calls and inquiries from across the United States—and from all over the world. Last year, we even had three members of the Australian Jewish community travel to the U.S. specifically to attend our conference.
This came to mind because we recently received an inquiry from the F.S.U. (Former Soviet Union) about our Mothers Circle program. Not surprisingly, with a high rate of intermarriage, there are many Russian women in the F.S.U. raising Jewish children without the support of the Jewish community. I suspect that this is the case in many countries formally hidden behind the Iron Curtain. We will provide whatever assistance we can since such programs are free to anyone who wants to implement them—it is all part of our easy access ideology, and I will be meeting with various community representatives at the upcoming Jewish Community Centers Association conference. It really would be nice to take JOI’s successful program models and best practices and share them on a worldwide level. Unfortunately, we are only able to deal with the U.S. and that is a big enough challenge.
Anyone interested in a JOI franchise in the F.S.U? Or in the Czech Republic? Or in Hungary…?
I am making a presentation at the upcoming JCCA (Jewish Community Center Association) Conference in Miami in a few days. I have one goal in mind: to help all member JCCs become “big tent” institutions and join our Big Tent Judaism coalition. I would think it would be an easy sell. After all, of all the Jewish communal institutions in the organized Jewish community, the JCC professes to be more inclusive than any other. Thus, it makes sense for them to concretely affirm their ideological stance in this way. And, as part of our commitment to members of the coalition, we offer free support to these institutions to help make them as inclusive as possible.
This is a trying time for Jewish communal institutions, and JCCs are not immune. Costs are up; membership is down. Perhaps Big Tent Judaism is one way that we can be helpful in resolving some of the challenges facing many institutions in the Jewish community. Fifteen JCCs are already members of the Big Tent Coalition, but that means we have yet to partner with the majority of JCCs nationwide. So if your community has a JCC and it is not a member of the Big Tent Coalition, send them our way. Your community will be better—and more inclusive—for it.