One very important part of our work at the Jewish Outreach Institute involves educating interfaith families about how to embrace Judaism in their day-to-day lives. Through programs such as The Grandparents Circle, The Mothers Circle, How Should I Know, and Answering Your Jewish Children, we seek to provide interfaith families with the tools they need to feel confident being a part of the Jewish people. Over the years, we have heard wonderful stories of our programs’ impact on the lives of participants and on communities as a whole. We would like to share the stories of such communities and the programs’ impact in transforming the North American Jewish community into a more welcoming place.
Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos, CA began hosting the Grandparents Circle in 2009. The course focuses on teaching grandparents how to nurture the Jewish identities of their grandchildren from interfaith families by providing concrete tools such as arts and crafts, high-tech communication for long-distance grandparents, and swapping stories about family rituals. However, in many communities, including at Shir Hadash, the program also empowers grandparents to radically re-envision the way that they view intermarriage and the future Jewish identities of their grandchildren.
Grandparents Circle facilitator Rabbi Melanie Aron’s objective in teaching the Grandparents Circle course is helping participants to re-define their goals of encouraging Jewish continuity. While a number of the participants initially saw their child’s intermarriage as the end of Jewish continuity in their family, Rabbi Aron instead encourages them to look at the Jewish identities of their grandchildren as they may develop over time. As she explains, even if grandchildren do not come to identify meaningfully with Judaism until they are older, and even if they do not practice Judaism in the same way as their grandparents, their Jewish identity can still be strong.
One of the greatest benefits of the Grandparents Circle course to participants was the improved communication between participants and their adult children. Through a recent event which allowed participants to interact with intermarried couples and ask questions about their experiences, participants in the Shir Hadash Grandparents Circle were able to better understand their own adult children’s relationships to Judaism. As a result of conversations such as these, participants felt better able to speak with their adult children about Judaism, even in situations where the relationship had previously been strained.
According to Rabbi Aron, classes like the Grandparents Circle increase the visibility of interfaith issues not only for participants in the program, but for the community in general. In the years since beginning the Grandparents Circle, Rabbi Aron has noticed that more congregants feel comfortable speaking with her about intermarriage one on one. She feels that programs like the Grandparents Circle demonstrate to older members that Jewish organizations are committed to addressing their needs as Jews, and that there is a place for them to discuss their concerns and questions within the community. We at JOI would like to commend Congregation Shir Hadash for making their Jewish community a place where grandparents can gain hope and support.
For more information about the Grandparents Circle, please visit the Grandparents Circle website or contact Grandparents Circle National Coordinator Marley Weiner at firstname.lastname@example.org
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