Weblog Entries for May 2009

Mothers Circle Wins Award

Raising a Jewish family in the context of intermarriage is one of the most challenging roads to navigate. The pressure from family, friends, and the community makes an already daunting task just that much harder. But through our Mothers Circle program, an education and support program for women of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children, we have given women in communities across the nation the tools they need to create and maintain a Jewish home.

And others seem to have taken notice of the program’s success. JOI was excited to learn that the Mothers Circle of Greater Indianapolis has been selected by the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis to receive its “Domont Award for the Enhancement of Jewish Life”! The award will be presented at the Federation’s 104th Annual Meeting on Wednesday, June 10th at 7:00 pm in the Laikin Auditorium at the JCC.

Congratulations to Circle facilitator Patti Freeman Dorson and all of the people who worked together to bring the program to Indianapolis! This is a great honor, and we are proud of the accomplishments of not only the Mothers Circle of Greater Indianapolis, but every circle nationwide. All of the participants deserve our thanks for raising a Jewish family and inspiring the Jewish community.

We’re Just Like Everyone Else

We’ve said it before: intermarriage is not a Jewish phenomena; it’s a reality of American culture. Naomi Schaefer Riley of the Wall Street Journal reports that in researching the forthcoming book, American Grace: The Changing Role of Religion in American Civil Life, political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell found that “more than half of Americans are actually married to someone of a different faith from the one in which they were raised.” While Putnam and Campbell define faith as of being from “significantly different traditions,” which includes different denominations of Christianity, their figure says much about American patterns of intermarriage.

In order to better understand how Americans can be simultaneously so religiously fervent and religiously tolerant, they surveyed 3,100 people two years in a row to measure their perceptions of those of other faiths. Putnam and Campbell learned that when one added a new friend from another faith, one’s feelings typically neutralize or warm toward that faith. Which begs Rileys’s question: “Are people more inclined to marry someone of another faith because they are more tolerant? Or do they become more tolerant when they marry someone of a different faith?”

While Putnam and Campbell do not provide a definitive answer to Riley’s question, Putnam does note that interfaith marriage impacts both families involved. (We know this, too. That is why we developed our Grandparents Circle program for Jewish grandparents of interfaith grandchildren.)

“Everyone,” Mr. Putnam says, “has an Aunt Susan,” some member of your extended family who is of another faith. And while you may know intellectually that your own faith does not allow for the possibility of nonbelievers achieving salvation, you think that “Aunt Susan” is a nice person. And you decide that “Aunt Susan is exactly the kind of person heaven is built for.”

And though heaven may be built for Aunt Susan—and this conflicts with one’s faith—it does not impact one’s own religiousness or belief in that faith. Putnam and Campbell therefore argue that one can intermarry and have friends from other faiths but can still be committed to the faith one practiced before intermarrying or making those friends. We agree with Putnam and Campbell and know many intermarried couples who would also concur with their findings. We look forward to the release of Putnam and Campbell’s book and learning more about the United State’s unique religious landscape.

An Inspirational Film

Congregation Neve Shalom of Metuchen, New Jersey welcomed Max Rubin with open arms to its pre-school. While his cerebral palsy may have forecast a host of challenges for some school administrators, Neve Shalom saw an amazing opportunity.

A recent article in the New Jersey Jewish News describes how Max’s parents doubted Neve Shalom would be able to accommodate his needs, but the synagogue rose to the occasion and never said, “no.” From hiring a personal aide to resurfacing the playground, the synagogue worked tirelessly to create a welcoming Jewish educational experience for all, including Max. In the end, with Max graduating shortly, Neve Shalom recognized that everyone benefitted from his presence. As Nursery School Director Martha Mack stated:

“When we first started we thought this would only benefit Max, who is a typical kid—bright, funny, a real all-star. What we didn’t realize is what it would do for us, his classmates, his peers. Max truly gave us a gift—the gift of inclusion.”

Our hope is that Jewish organizations across the country can appreciate the impact of inclusion—that welcoming all and lowering barriers to participation by accommodating specific needs can benefit everyone. Max’s parents hope that many others can learn from Neve Shalom’s example. In honor of his graduation from Nursery School, his parents hired a team of professional film-makers to create a short film documenting the community’s efforts toward inclusion. “Saying Yes: The Story of Max Rubin” premiered last week and will hopefully serve as inspiration for schools and organizations everywhere to say “Yes.”

We at JOI love the idea of sharing steps towards inclusion with colleagues at other organizations. If you’re interested in sharing your success story “welcoming all” or learning from the triumphs of others, we invite you to join the Big Tent Judaism Coalition of nearly 300 organizations committed to greater inclusiveness.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama,

We were thrilled to read about your recent proclamation naming the month of May Jewish American Heritage Month. As an organization devoted to outreach, we appreciate your act of inclusion, and as American Jews we are honored to be recognized in such a meaningful way.

As we read your kind words, we couldn’t help but notice what we think might have been an oversight at the bottom of the proclamation. We hate to be nitpicky, but it was signed “in the year of our Lord two thousand nine.” With all due respect Mr. President, as Jews, the year of our Lord is currently fifty-seven sixty-nine. Hey, we all make mistakes.

We assume that upon learning of your error you will promptly sign a new proclamation. And when you do, please give credit to the “Jewish Outreach Institute.” Feel free to add the following: “JOI’s attention to detail in this matter has taught me just how important language is when trying to create a community that is inclusive to all.”

This is not to say we aren’t grateful for your gesture. We are. Your good intentions have been duly noted, and we look forward to helping you navigate the complicated and nuanced world of outreach.

The Jewish Outreach Institute

A New First

Last year we wrote about Alyssa Stanton, a rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati. Yesterday, Sue Fishkoff of the JTA profiled Stanton since she will soon be ordained as the first African-American female rabbi.

Stanton will be leading from the pulpit at Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, N.C., a conservative synagogue “affiliated with the Reform movement.” This is notable because it means she will also be the first African-American rabbi of a predominantly white congregation.

Stanton is also a Jew-by-choice, adding another level of diversity to an already inspiring member of the Jewish community. Diane Tobin, associate director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco (which studies racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community), noted:

There are so many who do not identify with the mainstream Jewish community. As more people like Rabbi Stanton come along as role models, others will see themselves better reflected in the community.

In so many ways Stanton challenges the notion of what Jews “look like” and shows us how rich the community can be if we are open and welcoming to all who approach. She chose a Jewish path and she is now on the verge of becoming a rabbi. Having her as a part of the community demonstrates how important it is to embrace everyone who is touched by Judaism.

Coincidentally, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, the first black rabbi from sub-Saharan Africa who was ordained last year at American Jewish University in Los Angeles, is currently on a speaking tour in the United States. Leader of the Abayudaya (the Jews of Uganda), he too serves as an example of just how diverse a people we are and how our capacity for inclusion – no matter the person’s background – is what will determine the future of the Jewish community.

A Provocative Sermon on Intermarriage

A few weeks ago, JOI’s Paul Golin blogged about an article in New Voices, the student run Jewish magazine. The piece, by Jeremy Gillick, was titled “The Coming of the Intermarried Rabbi,” and in it he got to what Paul called the “crux of what we at JOI have been discussing internally recently, the difference between being ‘tolerant’ and being ‘embracing.’”

In the article, Gillick mentioned a controversial sermon by recent Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (the Reform Movement’s rabbinic seminary) graduate Yael Shmilovitz. Originally presented as the HUC-JIR Senior Sermon in October of 2007, the sermon was memorable because Rabbi Shmilovitz said outright: “I am for interfaith marriage. I really am.”

First a little background. HUC-JIR has rabbinic students sign a policy consent form that reads, in part: “…any student currently engaged, married, or partnered/committed to a person who is not Jewish by birth or conversion will not be ordained or vested.” This troubled Rabbi Shmilovitz. She said in her sermon:

If I signed it, would that mean that if I met that special person, and they weren’t Jewish, that they would have to convert in order for me to be ordained? Is that even a worthy motive for conversion to Judaism? If making a Jewish family is at stake, can’t I have one with a non-Jewish spouse? What if my spouse was Jewish, but disinterested? Would that then be OK? As an education student, already at HUC for three years, I was fully aware that some of my classmates were born and raised in families where a Jew and a non-Jew had wed; if I signed, what would that say about these unions? That they are regrettable? If I signed, what would it say about my classmates, the children of those unions? What if by signing this sheet, I was signing away an important spiritual tenet of mine? Which is–it is love that binds a family together, and it will be through love that I will make a Jewish family, a new Jewish family, a unique Jewish family, no matter the obstacles? If I signed, what kind of rabbi would that make me?

We urge you to read the entire sermon because, whether you agree with her thesis or not, it’s quite powerful. Sometimes it takes a radical, provocative statement like “I am for interfaith marriage” to get people talking about an issue that most would rather avoid. What are your thoughts?

The Religion Decision

Intermarriage, religious continuity, adult children of intermarriage, inclusiveness… these are topics covered on this blog on a daily basis. Intermarriage creates a complicated path to navigate, and at JOI we do our best to help families find their way to a meaningful Jewish future. But these are not simply Jewish issues. They are American issues, spanning religions from Baptist to Zoroastrian.

Writing in the Boston Globe, Lylah M. Alphonse opened up a seemingly simple question to her readers. She asked: “Who makes the religion decisions for your kids?” It has touched off quite a robust discussion on the Globe’s website. Some say they have chosen to raise their children in both religions and when the “children reach an age when they can decide for themselves, then they can choose whatever religion (or none) that they want to practice.”

The ones who say they aren’t going to have any religion in the home say they will support whatever future decisions their children make. But some argue: “How are children expected as adults to choose a religion when they are not introduced to one when they are younger?” And for many there is the added pressure of grandparents and extended family, all weighing in with their opinions on what the parents should or shouldn’t do.

The discussion is evidence that nearly every religion grapples with intermarriage. It’s an issue that is becoming unavoidable as religious groups blend more and more. So we would like to open this question up to the readers of our blog – if you are in an intermarriage, how do you make religious decisions for your family? How do you respond to external pressure from family, friends and the community? We welcome your insights!

Improving Outreach

The mechitzah, the separation barrier erected in traditional synagogues between men and women during prayer services, symbolizes the gender norms that once permeated Jewish life. While the mechitzah still plays an important spiritual role in the context of prayer for many traditional synagogues, many no longer maintain this division. Even those who do not embrace the mechitzah still maintain a gender binary that excludes many who wish to be full contributors to the organized Jewish community. The organization Kol Tzedek (which means Voice of Justice) authored a recent report on Transgender Inclusion in the Bay Area and notes:

The strength of gender norms and our community’s discomfort with the violation of those norms has frequently hindered transgender people from taking the first step toward participating in the life of the community.

In the past few years many public and noble subversions of these gender norms have occurred—which JOI believes the Jewish community is all the better for (including TransTorah which we previously blogged about). But Kol Tzedek points out that many areas are left for improvement. Empowering and fully embracing transgender people in the Jewish community is imperative —even in San Francisco, a city with a history of embracing gender diversity.

Kol Tzedek recommends to the Bay Area Jewish community a number of action steps, many of which JOI implements in regard to the inclusion of intermarried families: Organizational audits (much like JOI’s Environmental Scans), educational curriculum, community forums (like JOPLIN and Empowering Ruth) and safe spaces for the exploration and articulation of “a uniquely Jewish trans/gender ethic and experience.”

Furthermore, Kol Tzedek recommends the “inclusion of transgender outreach to interfaith families and conversion efforts.” We at JOI are excited to explore the intersection of transgender social justice and inclusion and engagement of interfaith families. Both subvert the antiquated social norms and boundaries which we believe keep the Jewish community from growing more vibrant.

In that vein, educate yourself! Below the jump find a review of some commonly misunderstood words in the Genderqueer (like this one!) lexicon*:


Free Samples

Paul Golin, JOI’s associate executive director, revisits the issue of cost as a barrier to participation in an op-ed in this week’s Jewish Exponent, Philadelphia’s Jewish newspaper. Perhaps, he writes, Jewish institutions should use some old-fashioned business techniques, like offering free samples. Haven’t you ever signed up for a free trial and liked it so much that you “renewed the subscription annually without thinking twice?”

Most people have. And conversely, Paul adds most people don’t buy a car without giving it a test drive. So what if we apply this to Judaism? “Few will commit to big-ticket items like JCC or synagogue membership without fully understanding why they’re doing it,” he writes.

So the barriers here are twofold. Cost is certainly something people look at, but the second is answering why they should spend the money at all. We believe lowering or eliminating the cost – whether that means one month complimentary membership or free High Holiday services – will make it easier to answer that question. If more unaffiliated people have more incentive to participate, we can “do a better job listening to and serving the needs of” this population.

Of course, lowering or eliminating cost is a challenge for most organizations, as is developing an outreach program that is sustainable in today’s economy. Luckily, we have an entire session titled “Outreach costs less, not more” at our upcoming conference in Philadelphia, June 7-9. We invite you to join us and share your thoughts on what kind of innovative, low cost outreach methods we as a community can develop to encourage increased participation in Jewish life.

Female Torah Scribes

Should gender matter when it comes to writing a Torah? Should it matter if the person holding the quill, carefully transcribing each letter and mark, training for years to learn the correct method is a man or a woman? Some believe that a kosher, “synagogue ready” Torah can be written by only men, but Jen Taylor Friedman disagrees. Working from an apartment in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, Friedman, the first female Torah scribe, was recently profiled in The Riverdale Press.

Friedman earned the distinction two years ago and has sold two Torah scrolls since. Detractors believe she is out of bounds, and that according to Jewish law women are simply ineligible to write a Torah. While Friedman has the utmost respect for Jewish law, she believes that a in the grand scheme of things it should be “Torah first, politics second.”

She has also moved beyond writing and has started teaching other “aspiring female scribes,” including former JOI staff member Julie Seltzer. We see this as a positive step forward in terms of creating a more inclusive Jewish community because it adds an additional avenue for the expression of Jewish identity, even as we acknowledge and respect that more traditional understandings of Jewish law will not accept such a Torah as kosher. What do you think? Are there lines in terms of gender equality that cannot be crossed? This question continues to be grappled with, even in the Conservative and Orthodox movements.

Inclusion or Division?

Yeshiva University Chancellor Rabbi Norman Lamm has created quite a stir over his recent comments in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. He stated that the future of American Jewry is in the “hands of haredim and the modern Orthodox.” But in doing so, he managed to completely disregard the significance of both the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism.

He said the Reform movement “may show a rise, because if you add goyim to Jews you will do OK.” (By goyim he appears to be suggesting that Jews of patrilineal descent are not Jewish in any way; the derogatory way in which he wields that word serves as yet another example of how it is not “neutral” as some would claim.) He added that the “Reform movement is out of the picture, because they were never got into the picture, and the Conservatives are getting out of the picture,” and then implied non-Orthodox Judaism is watered down. What’s interesting though is that amidst Rabbi Lamm’s statements, the Post lets the reader know that according to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey, the Reform movement is still nearly twice as large as the Orthodox.

At the same time, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel was attending a convention of the Rabbinical Council of America in Teaneck, NJ. The headline in the New Jersey Jewish Standard read: “Orthodox rabbis promote ‘inclusiveness’ at Teaneck confab.” Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, co-chair of the conference, was quoted as saying “We want to show that… the Orthodox world is not monolithic,” and that inside Orthodox Judaism’s big tent there is “room for a variety of opinions within halacha, and especially for individual community articulations of that community vision.”

Sounds like two different heads on the same body. One is promoting inclusiveness and a willingness to work with others; the other is using the kind of outdated language that only causes division within Judaism. Let’s hope people choose to listen to the former.

A Second Chance for Inclusion

Why might a certain group of ancient Israelites wandering through the desert make the Passover offering on the 14th of Iyar instead of the 14th of Nisan (the day of the Exodus from Egypt)? I thought you’d never ask! And in the answer, we get an important reminder that the grassroots struggle for inclusion is biblically rooted.

The answer is Pesach Sheni, or Second Passover. This holiday, which is marked on the calendar one month later, was created as a way for Israelites who had were unable to participate in the Passover sacrifice in the ancient Temple for a variety of reasons could finally do so. The reason might have been that they were away on a journey or that they were ritually and therefore temporarily prohibited from making the Passover sacrifice. This “minority” demanded the right to fulfill this important Passover mitzvah in some way and God answered (through Moses), by providing a designated time, the 14th of Iyar (which fell on May 8th this year), for the group to fulfill the mitzvah.

Tirtzah, an online community of self-identifying frum (religiously observant) queer women, featured a guest blog about the Second Passover, relating it to their own struggle for equality in Jewish ritual and practice. Dina Berman and Tamar Gan-Zvi Bick write that Pesach Sheni is a divinely sanctioned opportunity to provide new solutions and rituals for inclusion for many groups—from gay men to single women. In their interpretation, this biblical effort to include an otherwise excluded minority encourages the ritual empowerment of marginalized populations.

JOI is excited to be a part of this biblical tradition, hearing the voices of those marginalized from our communities and reclaiming Jewish ritual on behalf of those unnecessarily excluded. New rituals for those who have been historically unwelcomed enrich our community, rather than degrade it. The Big Tent Judaism Coalition’s recent “Fifth Cup of Wine for the Newcomer” is one contemporary example. Let Pesach Sheini serve as a reminder to continue thinking “outside the box.” Reclaiming Jewish life cycle events and ritual activities is a powerful way to include all who are on the periphery of the Jewish community.

New Torah Commentary

JOI’s Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is featured in a new book by Jewish Lights Publishing called “Modern Men’s Torah Commentary: New Insights from Jewish Men on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions.” Every portion speaks to the “most important concerns of modern men—issues like relationships, sexuality, ambition, work and career, body image, aging, and life passages—by opening them up to the messages of the Torah.” Rabbi Olitzky’s chapter is on Vayetze, with the famous “Jacob’s Ladder” dream sequence.

This book comes at a time when JOI is actively working on new men’s programming. Traditionally one of the harder demographics to reach, we even have an entire think-tank at our upcoming conference in Philadelphia (June 7-9) devoted to figuring out how the Jewish community can better engage men in the 21st century.

Perhaps a book like this can help. A new perspective on old writings might be exactly what it takes to inspire someone to rediscover the Torah and gain a deeper, more meaningful understanding of Judaism.

Happy Mothers Day!

This Sunday is Mother’s Day, a great opportunity for the Jewish community to offer praise and gratitude to the amazing and diverse mothers who keep our community alive. JOI’s Mothers Circle course was developed to show our support for the thousands of mothers of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children, and to date over 750 moms have benefitted from the program!

The Mothers Circle was recently featured in the New York Jewish Week as part of a series called “What’s Working: New Paths to Jewish Engagement.”

This Mother’s Day, many Mothers Circles around the country are finishing their courses for the year, and the mothers who have attended since last fall say that they are prepared in new ways to deal with their children’s questions and the Jewish community’s opinions about where they fit into the larger Jewish mosaic.

The classes teach about holidays, life cycle events, death and dying, all from a Jewish perspective. They also give mothers a place to discuss the balance between coming from a different religious faith and committing to raising Jewish children. As Jennifer Failla, a mother from Austin, Texas, puts it with a deep breath of relief, “It’s kind of like, oh, I’m not alone.”

This Mother’s Day, we at JOI hope that mothers throughout the Jewish community, both those born Jewish and those of other religious background, will be greeted with respect in all Jewish institutions.

Happy Mothers Day!

For more information about the Mothers Circle program, visit, email, or call Pippi Kessler, National Coordinator of the Mothers Circle, at 212-760-1440.

Will Online Affiliation Save Judaism?

We have been writing for a while now that Judaism in the 21st century needs to better embrace cyberspace. Online social networking sites offer people worldwide low barrier entry points to participate in communities that share their beliefs, and the Jewish community has an opportunity to use this trend to help attract and engage the unaffiliated in our midst.

Writing for the website, Jewish rapper Y-Love calls this “Post-Geographic Judaism.” He says that today, “anyone who has a message relevant to any segment of the general populace in America,” it has to be done online. He points out that its not just young people anymore – “3.2 million seniors have joined Facebook in the last year.” Social networking is a part of our everyday lives. So what does this mean for affiliation? Y-Love writes:

A decline in synagogue attendance and offline affiliation does not necessarily mean the death-knell for Jewish observance when organic, intentional online communities are seen as equally relevant and salient as their offline counterparts. When we see our online relationships not as “less than” our offline ones, but as differently-structured equally strong connections, our sense of “community” is redefined. In the online realm, a user goes from “unaffiliated” to “connected” in an instant. Every connection is intentional, yet effortless. This is a phenomenon which can save Judaism.

Using online connections has definitely seen success in the past. This past October, over 200,000 people logged on to participate in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services through the Jewish TV Network. And just last week we blogged about how YouTube is the number one method for new-media marketers to get out a particular message.

Will this “save Judaism?” That’s too hard to tell. Y-Love is right in asserting that “social media must be appreciated as equally valid and viable modes of communication.” Online communities are “no less real,” but we do need to take it to the next level and encourage people to go from online to offline. A vibrant Jewish community can exist online, but it is more inclined to grow through personal relationships with local rabbis and mentors, and a warm and welcoming real-life Jewish community.

Intermarriage and Circumcision

Everyone in the sphere of a family is affected when a couple intermarries. Life suddenly gets a little more complicated – there are more holidays to celebrate, more customs to learn, but more importantly everyone will want to know how you are going to raise your children. For the Jewish grandparents, this can manifest in numerous ways – will they have a bar/bat mitzvah? Will they go to Hebrew school? Will they celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah? And if it’s a boy, will they be circumcised?

It’s the last question that prompted someone to write a letter into the Forward newspaper’s Bintel Brief. Circumcision for a Jew is a lifelong reminder of their heritage, so when a grandmother found out that her son and daughter-in-law weren’t going to circumcise their child, she wanted to know what to do next. She and her husband have already explained how important it would be to them, so should she back off or push the issue? The remarkably sensitive reply came from a guy who wasn’t always known for being remarkably sensitive – former New York City mayor Ed Koch.

First, he said since the grandparents have already stated their case, they shouldn’t press the couple – that might drive away them and the grandchildren. He said its better to let the son and daughter-in-law bring it up:

If, in the future, during a conversation, your son or daughter-in-law raises the matter, as they might, you can use that opportunity to provide factual information, your views and even talk of the need for Jews to remember who they are and not become indifferent to the traditions into which they were born and for which so many died in the last 2,000 years…

But, be careful not to antagonize either of them. The most important aspect of life is family and the love and support of one another that exists among those in that family.

This is great advice. The worst thing these or any grandparents can do is create a relationship based on disappointment. Instead, grandparents should focus on what they can do to share and explain pieces of Jewish tradition with their grandchildren. Maybe it’s something as simple as having a mezuzah on the door or wearing a hai necklace – anything that will encourage children to say “What is that?” Those become perfect teaching moments.

It’s a delicate balance, and Jewish grandparents might not be happy with every decision made about raising interfaith grandchildren. But life will present itself with plenty of other opportunities for grandparents to nurture, and in some cases establish, the Jewish identity of their grandchildren.

Community Collaboration

In about a month, JOI will convene a gathering of Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders for three days of networking, training and inspiration at our North American Conference, All are Welcome: Transforming the Jewish Community through Outreach, in Philadelphia. In a time of declining resources, keeping outreach on the financial agenda is sure to be a topic of discussion throughout the conference (both formally during Rabbi Bennett Miller’s Monday morning session “It’s Not Just About Fundraising: Finding New Resources for Compelling Outreach Programs” and informally during meals and other networking opportunities).

One strategy for maintaining and maximizing the Jewish community’s outreach offerings is collaboration. By working together to offer a wide variety of programs and minimize redundancy, Jewish organizations can continue to expand their reach to unengaged Jews and intermarried families. During the JOI conference Tuesday morning panel Voices of Collaboration, Rabbi Philip Warmflash, founding director of the Jewish Outreach Partnership, will discuss the importance of being aware of all the Jewish resources in a community and working together to increase their impact. According to Jewish Exponent, Rabbi Warmflash will practice what he preaches as he assumes the position of executive director at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia in September. As current leader of the Jewish Outreach Partnership and future leader of the Central Agency for Jewish Education, Rabbi Warmflash knows firsthand the impact of collaboration in the Jewish community.

Learn more about collaboration and many other exciting topics by registering today for JOI’s conference taking place from June 7-9, 2009. We hope to see you there!

Building the Jewish Community in Munster, IN

We were excited to read some comments from Rabbi Ben Kramer of Beth Israel Synagogue in Munster, Indiana. In an article about his installation at Beth Israel, he talked about what it’s like to be a rabbi in a small town where there is not a large Jewish infrastructure. He said it provides an opportunity “confront our Jewishness more frequently than Jews who live in heavily Jewish cities.”

As a former rabbinic intern at JOI while pursuing his studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, we were proud to see he has taken what he learned here and is now applying it to his congregation. He said:

“The idea that rejecting intermarried couples would lead to the conversion of the non-Jewish spouse, or even to a decline in the rate of intermarriage, has proven to be wrong,” Kramer says. “While I believe we must continue to uphold the ideal of in-marriage, to do so does not necessitate alienating intermarried couples and intermarried families who are looking to raise their children in a Jewish home.”

One of Kramer’s many goals is helping each person to explore his or her Jewishness.

“My goal is building a community within our congregation by providing a warm and comfortable place for all Jews and to help them find an entryway into our tradition that is meaningful to them and will ignite in them a passion for deeper engagement with Judaism and with our community.”

Welcoming intermarried families, lowering barriers to participation, increasing access points – Rabbi Kramer indeed “gets it.” This is important because as a conservative rabbi, he is part of a movement that has struggled in the last few years to attract and retain members. But his philosophy is designed around the fact that the Jewish community is evolving, and he knows it will take an innovative and progressive approach to reach all those on the periphery.

Twelve Jewish Steps

The Jewish Outreach Institute would like to congratulate our Executive Director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky on the second edition of his book “Twelve Jewish Steps to Recovery: A Personal Guide to Turning from Alcoholism & Other Addictions,” published by and available from Co-authored with Dr. Stuart Copans, the second edition (due in stores August 2009) is a revised, updated and expanded version of a book that has over 25,000 copies in print.

Much like the work we do at JOI reaching out to intermarried families and unaffiliated Jews, the book serves a population that the community often rarely discusses - or even acts like are not even there. The goal for both the book and JOI is to provide practical ways to address real world concerns and serve the needs of those who may not feel the Jewish community is there for them.

Whether it’s helping someone regain control of their life from a crippling addiction or creating a more inclusive Jewish community for those on the periphery, we know from the innumerable folks we have worked with over the years that the best approach for both is an understanding and openness about the issues.

Click Here!