Readers of this blog may already be familiar with The Mothers Circle – one of JOI’s flagship programs, serving mothers of other religious backgrounds who have committed to raising Jewish children. While these women often do not feel welcomed by the Jewish community, we believe them to be our unsung heroes. The majority of Jewish households in North America are, in fact, intermarried households – where one spouse was not raised Jewish. And it is these women, these mothers raised in other religious backgrounds, who we should look up to. Choosing to raise their children in a faith other than their own, these mothers, for whom The Mothers Circle was designed, hold the key to Jewish continuity in North America.
Yet, steeped as we are in the daily routine of work here at JOI, it is often easy to overlook the positive change we manage to bring daily to Jewish communities around the country. Now is the time to celebrate our success!
JOI has recently released a case study featuring the wonderful success of one community where The Mothers Circle has been implemented successfully over the past four years. One of close to a hundred communities who have already implemented Mothers Circles, Portland, OR has a legacy of successful recruitment. As is the case nationally, alumnae of the Portland Mothers Circle overwhelmingly go on to affiliate with Jewish organizations and to choose Jewish education for their children.
In his weekly note to his community, Marc Blattner, CEO and President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland chose to feature our case study. Marc writes:
Started in 2008 (via an Innovation Impact Grant from the Jewish Federation) by a coalition of Jewish organizations, our local Mothers Circle has one of the highest enrollments of any North American community. Since its inception, the community has hosted four Mothers Circles, which have served over 80 women who were not born Jewish. Upon completing The Mothers Circle program, many of these women serve in leadership positions at Jewish communal organizations, send their children to local Jewish schools, and generally involve themselves deeply in the Portland Jewish community.
Communal funding enables the course and the concurrent childcare to be offered to participants free of charge, adhering to a core JOI principle to “lower the barriers” to participation in Jewish life.
Beyond the learning and sharing within the group, guest speakers from the partner organizations are brought in to meet with the group. This serves to familiarize the women with the Jewish community and to help them understand the role community plays in Jewish life. The course also includes a tour of important Jewish locations in Portland including the community mikveh, the Holocaust memorial, synagogues, and the Robison Home. With exposure to the resources available to them in the Jewish community, these women (and therefore their families) have greater insights as they continue their Jewish journey.
What led to Portland’s success? Beyond the dedicated and talented moderators, it seems to be the spirit of communal commitment and collaboration, especially when it comes to recruitment. As we note in our case study,
Outreach to The Mothers Circle target population can be a challenge, especially because potential participants are usually unaffiliated with institutions in the Jewish community. But the Jewish community in Portland demonstrates that it is key to community sustenance and future growth to reach these women and provide them with the tools necessary to raise Jewish children in the context of an intermarriage.”
Because of its demonstrated success, The Mothers Circle enjoys a positive reputation among the member institutions in the Portland Jewish community. While achieving this broader community awareness can be helped through exposure in the community press and the like, multiple program partners, and encouraging alumnae to speak about the program to their social circles, indispensable to the success of the program are the attitudes of communal professionals toward the program. If a community understands the benefit of The Mothers Circle to all communal institutions, staff members at various organizations are far more likely to make recruitment of participants a priority, as well as manifest an interest in taking part in JOI’s variety of training methods to reach a broad range of unengaged populations in the community.
We are excited to share the success of the Portland Mothers Circle with you, and look forward to sharing similar successes with other circles and other JOI programs.
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