2006 in Review: Real Steps toward a More Inclusive Community
What kind of impact are we making? To recognize progress, you have to take the long view. 2007 marks the 20th Anniversary of the Jewish Outreach Institute’s founding, originally as an academic think-tank at the City University of New York. It also marks our seventh year since moving out of the university setting to become an independent, national organization directly serving intermarried families and unaffiliated Jewish households, along with the Jewish communal professionals and leaders eager to engage them more deeply in Jewish life.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky leading an outreach workshop for communal professionals in 2006. (Courtesy of Community, Louisville, KY)
While we tend to focus assiduously on the work-at-hand, a new year allows us to take a moment to reflect on—and perhaps even celebrate—our accomplishments thus far. Thanks to JOI’s dedicated and growing staff, 2006 continued our trend of every year being more productive than the last.
The Community Transformation Initiative (CTI), perhaps our most ambitious project, is running in various stages in both large and small North American communities. In each community, CTI begins with what we call an “outreach scan,” a survey of Jewish institutions such as synagogues and Jewish Community Centers to see what kind of programs they already run that would attract the intermarried and unaffiliated, and to measure the welcoming attitudes of their staff and volunteer leadership. We then share our findings with the entire community, as a way of showing what their institutions look like to people on the outside. For example, we conduct cold calls requesting program information, the same way any other newcomers might approach the institutions.
While the outreach scans reveal things the community may not have known, it is most powerful in reminding Jewish professionals and lay leaders about things they already know they should be doing but aren’t, either because it’s not enough of a priority or because they lack the staff and/or training to do so. That’s where the next steps of the Community Transformation Initiative come in: JOI’s professional training; the creation of networking opportunities around the issues of outreach; the addition of more low-barrier Jewish programming; and the coordination of efforts through a trained outreach professional—all tailored to the specific needs of the community as determined by the outreach scan.
In 2006, JOI completed five outreach scans, surveying the Jewish communities of Los Angeles (Conejo Valley and West Valley); Louisville; Morris County, New Jersey; Ottawa; and Phoenix. Taken together, the scans required over 300 hours of interviews with communal professionals at 124 Jewish institutions, plus reviews of as many websites, cold calls, and blind emails. After presenting our findings, we have since been engaged with many of those institutions in the next steps of the CTI.
To bring our ideas to even more communal professionals and lay leaders, we partnered with United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the Jewish federation system, to offer the flavor of our outreach scan in the form of an online self-assessment tool at WelcomingJewishCommunity.com.
The kinds of low-barrier programming we suggest when we work with these communities reflect JOI’s definition of “outreach”: to take the Jewish community out to where people are, both physically and spiritually, rather than waiting for them to come to us. We’ve developed a model for this programming called Public Space JudaismSM, and in 2006 we made great strides in both piloting and replicating our low-barrier programs.
The number of communities implimenting our Passover in the Matzah Aisles program expanded across the country, to engage families during the week before the holiday where they’re most likely to be: shopping in the supermarkets. Our senior program officer, Eva Stern, coordinated the effort through conference calls, consultations, and materials to communal professionals in over 20 communities.
We also expanded the consultative help we offer communal professionals on a variety of programs and outreach methodologies through our JOPLIN: Jewish Outreach Professionals Log-In Network website and listserve (joplin.joi.org).
The Mothers Circle, our free educational and networking program for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children, expanded out of its pilot phase in Atlanta, Georgia to fifteen additional communities across the country, including those in California, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, as well as in other states.
And we shared our cutting-edge outreach methodology through presentations to national Jewish organizations including Hadassah: the Women’s Zionist Organization of America and the Foundation for Jewish Camping, as well as with many individual synagogues and communities throughout the country. Ruth Decalo, senior director of program and training, spearheaded the introduction of JOI’s outreach methodology to four large college campuses through our work with Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. And our newest publications—such as Jewish Holidays: A Brief Introduction for Christians, which I co-authored with Rabbi Daniel Judson—extend our message far into the community while being an indispensable asset in our work.
We also continued our advocacy campaign for a more inclusive Jewish community toward intermarried families, with associate executive director Paul Golin and me issuing opinion pieces all year long and speaking in a variety of settings. The Highlights section of this new “Inside JOI” newsletter format touches on some of that work, but offers only a glimpse into what we’ve been working on at JOI. We encourage you to read and comment on our homepage weblog to keep up with more of our efforts, and we thank you for your ongoing support. Together, we can “open the tent” for all who would join our community, and continue to provide answers to those on the periphery as to: Why be Jewish? Where is my place in the Jewish Community?
As we reflect back on 2006, we are reenergized to continue addressing these challenges in the years ahead.
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
Highlights of our Work in 2006
TRAINING Jewish Professionals and Volunteer leaders
- Kerry Olitzky spoke on “Visions of the Jewish Future” at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Paul Golin participated in the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s New Jersey Regional Biennial Convention, with workshops addressing how to engage unaffiliated young adults, and retirees and empty-nesters.
- Kerry Olitzky made presentations to the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education (CAJE) on JOI’s signature Public Space JudaismSM model, as well as the implications of interfaith marriage on the Jewish educational classroom.
- New training materials and resources for professionals were added to a revamped JOI website for professionals under the rubric: JOPLIN: Jewish Outreach Professionals Log-In Network (joplin.joi.org).
- Three Outreach Professional Network (OPeN) workshops were held for the Westchester County, NY Jewish community. Participants learned outreach techniques such as effective follow-up, a crucial tool in transforming single outreach contacts into ongoing Jewish engagement.
- Together with our work with Hillel (see below), Ruth Decalo also gave a training presentation to Hillel’s Jewish Campus Service Corps (JCSC Fellows) at its annual training conference.
RESEARCH on Intermarriage and Outreach
- JOI completed its environmental community Outreach Scans—of Los Angeles (Conejo Valley and West Valley); Louisville; Morris County, New Jersey; Ottawa; and Phoenix—followed by community-wide presentations and ongoing professional training.
- JOI completed a pilot project with Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life by conducting Outreach Scans of four major universities—University of California, Berkeley; University of Florida; Indiana University; and University of Pittsburgh—followed by debriefings about our findings and staff training sessions.
- Ruth Decalo made a presentation in San Francisco and is working with professionals in Chicago and Boston as part of our follow-up to the JOI study “A Flame Still Burns” about adult children of intermarriage age 22-30 years old.
DIRECT SERVICE to the Intermarried and the Unaffiliated
- Communities using our Passover in the Matzah Aisles program model expanded to twenty, thanks to a training conference call led by Eva Stern and materials for professionals and lay leaders on using Passover as an opportunity for reaching out to unaffiliated Jews and intermarried families. Similar support led to a number of communities implementing our Color-Me Calendar for the Jewish New Year program.
- JOI’s Mothers Circle program co-sponsored Sunday in the Park with Bagels with the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, a free public-space family food fair, offering tastes of the Jewish holidays.
- The Mothers Circle—for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children—went from pilot stage in Atlanta to replication in 15 communities such as Hartford, CT; St. Louis, MO; and El Paso, TX.
- In December 2006, the JOI.org website fielded 373,099 page requests, the highest-ever monthly total. That breaks down to 137,849 “unique sessions,” with visitors averaging 2.7 pages viewed per session. Our SpinTheDreidel.com learning game was accessed 12,298 times that month.
ADVOCACY for a More Inclusive Community
- JOI staff made presentations to numerous communities and organizations, including panel discussions on interfaith marriage to 1,000 participants at the annual national convention of Hadassah: the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and to 150 attendees at a forum sponsored by the Jewish Week at the JCC of Manhattan.
- Both the secular and Jewish press quoted JOI extensively throughout the year and carried a number of our opinion pieces, including “Conversion Is Not An Outreach Strategy” in the Forward by Kerry Olitzky coauthored with Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and “Intermarriage Tipping Point Long Past, but Institutions Must Now Catch Up” by Paul Golin, distributed to numerous papers internationally by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
- JOI has formed three boards to serve in an advisory and advocacy role: a President’s Advisory Board to focus on strategy; a Women’s Advisory Board to help with JOI’s gender-based programming; and a Board of Professional Advisors to work with staff on projects related to interfaith outreach and Public Space Judaism programming.
- Kerry Olitzky and Paul Golin served as guest editors for the CCAR Journal, the professional journal for Reform Rabbis, and devoted the entire issue to the subject of interfaith marriage.