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Weblog Entries for January 2010

Getting Ready for Passover in the Matzah Aisle

Earlier this week, we hosted the first part of a FREE, two-part webinar series on Passover in the Matzah Aisle, our Public Space Judaism program that brings a taste of Passover to grocery stores and supermarkets across the United States. Passover in the Matzah Aisle is a strategy for identifying individuals – intermarried and/or unaffiliated – and making a connection for them with the Jewish community. It is an entry point for engaging them with more Jewish activities and programs, and encouraging their increased participation in Jewish life. The webinar series offers the tools to help make that happen.

For those who weren’t able to join us for part one, that doesn’t mean you have missed your opportunity to implement the program! There is still time to join the growing number of communities that are learning how to turn an introduction to Passover that people “stumble over” into a lifetime of engagement. To receive access to a recorded version of the last webinar free of charge, please contact JOI Director of Training Eva Stern at EStern@JOI.org. She will also provide details on how to register for part two, which will take place on March 4.

And be in touch with us to learn how to register for a new webinar series in which we will offer a comprehensive online training seminar for outreach.



No More Us versus Them Thinking

Writing recently in the (New York) Jewish Week, Steve Bayme, national director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, looked at the trends in the Jewish community in 2009. Among the scandals, success, and the work within each denomination to strengthen Jewish engagement, he noted that the “most divisive issue on the Jewish religious agenda remained mixed marriage.”

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Jewish Peoplehood Grant

We are excited to announce that the NADAV Foundation, which works to create lasting connections among Jews the world over, has named JOI’s Mothers Circle program as a recipient of their Jewish Peoplehood Innovation Grant. The grant allows us to build into the Mothers Circle a unit on Jewish Peoplehood and Israel, which will help strengthen the bonds of Jewish community for women of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children.

In its announcement, NADAV explained that the grants were awarded to “help foster Jewish identity worldwide through knowledge of history, culture and religion, while enhancing the sense of belonging to and responsibility for the larger Jewish collective.” We are thrilled that the Mothers Circle has been recognized for its efforts to help secure a vibrant Jewish future, and we look forward to working with NADAV to further engage intermarried families and increase their participation in Jewish life.



New Jewish Population Study in Philadelphia

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia just completed a new Jewish population study and it found Philadelphia is not immune to intermarriage and the challenge of Jewish engagement. While the survey numbers seem catastrophic—of the 45% who intermarry, only 29 percent are raising their children as Jews—the article notes that Philadelphia has only just begun to focus on outreach.

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Jewish Roots in the Southwest

We have written extensively about “lost” Jews, people who come from backgrounds where their ancestors, for one reason or another, were forced to abandon Judaism. Dozens of articles, books and scholarly essays have also been written in the subject – covering Jews from Uganda to Peru – but a journalist from Harper’s Magazine, Theodore Ross, wanted to take a closer look into this curious segment of the Jewish community, so he went on a journey to seek out the anusim, or Crypto-Jews, of New Mexico.

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Celebrating the Mothers Circle

Torah at the Center, the educational journal of the Union for Reform Judaism, recently published an entire edition devoted to outreach, and we are excited to announce that it included a feature on the Mothers Circle, JOI’s program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children (Click Here to download the PDF. The article is on page 22). Pippi Kessler, the Mothers Circle national coordinator at JOI, authored the piece and explains that the Mothers Circe “reflects the new religious landscape, one in which approximately half of all Jews in America who get married marry someone from a faith group different than their own.”

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Intermarriage and Divorce

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Intermarriage comes with a certain number of challenges – from wedding preparations to holiday celebrations to raising children. We understand this, and its something we try to make sure interfaith couples are aware of from the beginning. Though the challenges are surmountable and many interfaith couples live happily ever after, some situations are harder to anticipate. Namely, divorce. And in the context of intermarriage, divorce presents a whole new set of challenges for an interfaith couple.

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Finding the Right Balance

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In 2001, the documentary film “Trembling Before G-d” introduced the world to Orthodox Jews who struggle to reconcile their religion with their homosexuality. As a minority group that has long felt the sting of exclusion, the film gave this population a voice. In the ten years since, that voice has grown stronger. Numerous movies have been made and books written on the subject and more young Orthodox Jews have come out of the closet. Yeshiva University even hosted a panel discussion (attended by over 800 YU students) featuring gay Orthodox Jews discussing their homosexuality. Does this mean the Orthodox community is ready to accept and welcome gay Jews? Probably not. But writing in Slate, Steven Weiss suggests that young Orthodox Jews “are very much willing to rock the boat on gay inclusion.”

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Sincerity of Interfaith Relationships

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We have been talking about interfaith relationships in Israel for a long time. We know many in the country are strongly opposed to intermarriage, but a recent story in the newspaper Ha’aretz showcases the surprising depth of that hostility. According to the paper, an Israeli man and a Filipino woman wanted to get married. Their request was denied by the Interior Ministry because of “doubts about the sincerity of the relationship.” But the story doesn’t end there. Ha’aretz reports that a document from the Interior Ministry clearly indicates that their request was doomed from the start.

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Where We Were in 2009

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Though 2010 is well underway, we wanted to take a moment and share with you a map highlighting just how far JOI reached in 2009. As you can see, we were able to spread our message of welcoming and inclusion to communities across North America, many for the first time. This map not only shows the breadth of our work, but also the depth. A growing number of communities now run multiple JOI programs, giving intermarried families, unaffiliated Jews and all those on the periphery even more opportunities to connect with and engage in Jewish life.



Intermarriage and “The Simpsons”

Fans of the long running television show “The Simpsons” know that Springfield is home to one of the most famous Jewish celebrities in the world – Krusty the Clown, born Herschel Krustofski. For those unfamiliar, Krusty is the host of a local children’s television show and shares his hosting duties with a sidekick. But during “The Simpsons” most recent episode, the plot involved Krusty getting a new sidekick, one he ended up falling in love with. Her name is Princess Penelope, and she isn’t Jewish.

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New Documentary Explores Jewish Identity

There is a movie currently making the rounds at film festivals – both Jewish and secular – that highlights the amazing journey a person takes when they search for their own identity. Titled “Off and Running,” the documentary tells the story of Avery, a young African-American woman being raised by her adoptive Jewish lesbian mothers. The movie, which premiered at the renowned Tribeca Film Festival, follows Avery as she decides to contact her birth mother.

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Passover in the Matzah Aisle Webinar

Passover is only a few short months away, which means it’s time to start preparing for Passover in the Matzah Aisle. If you volunteer or work at a Jewish communal organization and are interested in bringing this Public Space Judaism program to your area, we invite you to join us for a FREE, two-part webinar series where we will share with you the best ways to use the holiday to reach unaffiliated Jews and intermarried families in your community. You will learn helpful tools for developing Passover programming and hear from folks who have successfully transformed a taste of matzah into a lifetime of engagement.

Registration is free and it only takes a couple of minutes. The first session will take place on Tuesday, January 26 at 2 pm Eastern Standard Time. This is a great opportunity to learn not only what it means to take Judaism to where the people are, but how Passover can help you build relationships and engage more of the unaffiliated in your community. If you have any questions, please contact JOI Director of Training Eva Stern at EStern@JOI.org or 212-760-1440. We look forward to hearing from you!



The Best in Jewish Education

The end of a year (or in this case, a decade) is a time of reflection. It’s an opportunity to look back at what was accomplished, as that can give a good idea of where we need to go in the future. JESNA, the Jewish Education Service of North America, recently compiled a list of what they consider the best in Jewish education over the last decade. Everything on the list has been a successful endeavor, showing us what models will work in Jewish education as we embark on a new decade. We at JOI were thrilled to see that our signature method of Jewish education and engagement – Public Space Judaism – was considered one of the “best.”

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Lowering Barriers for Jews-by-Choice

Rabbi Marc Angel, founder and director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, is troubled by the ever restrictive policies regarding Israel and converting to Judaism – particularly Orthodox conversion. Writing in The Forward, he says the new policies have had a profoundly negative impact on Jewish peoplehood. “These policies prevent and deter many people from converting to Judaism according to Halacha (Jewish law),” he writes. “They cause unspeakable pain and frustration to numerous individuals who want to cast their destiny with the Jewish people – but who are rejected, humiliated and threatened by the rabbinic bureaucracy.”

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A Blog about Jewish Cooking

We often advocate for eliminating the use of words like “goy” and “shiksa” because they carry negative connotations. They are often spoken in hushed tones or used in a derogatory manner. But some don’t think this has to be the case. Much like how the LGBT community has reclaimed the word “queer” and tried to strip it of its negative connotations, a blogger is attempting to do the same thing with the word “shiksa.” And she is doing it with a blog about Jewish cuisine.

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Intermarriage and Philanthropy

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The (New York) Jewish Week reports that a forthcoming study on Jewish giving finds that “intermarried Jewish women donate less money than intermarried men – and both lag behind Jewish-Jewish couples.” Intermarriage, according to the study, has a direct impact on Jewish philanthropy. After reading a comprehensive summary, we believe the study didn’t take into account all the variables that would lead to such a conclusion.

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New Show about Jewish Dating

Those involved in the Jewish dating scene now have a new web series which aims to tell their story“From Date to Mate.” Produced by Shalom TV, the show tries to depict “the world of the desperately seeking 20-something New York Jew with vivid storylines, strong characters and impressive production values.” But according to the Forward, there is one line the show won’t cross – none of the characters will end up intermarried.

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