Remember the inreach-outreach debate that dominated much of American Jewish life communal discussions a decade ago?
If you don’t, the basic gist was: Should the Jewish community focus on deepening the engagement of already committed and synagogue-affiliated Jews (and too often, “committed Jews” was used interchangeably with “in-married Jews”) or should it cast a wide net and seek to reach out to the unaffiliated and (gasp) intermarried?
My sense is that ultimately, most Jewish leaders concluded that such a binary approach was kind of silly, that there’s a need to do both, and that they’re not even all that diametrically opposed: many people shift from “affiliated” to less affiliated at different points in their lives, a more deeply engaged core of Jews may do a better (and more enthusiastic) job of inspiring and bringing in new people, so-called “inreach” programs like adult education and day schools can also appeal to those on the periphery.
A similar debate has emerged in recent years concerning outreach to the intermarried: focus on programs and classes that specifically target interfaith families/couples and their needs, or simply welcome such families into programs offered to the broader Jewish community?
Again, it seems the answer is: why choose when you can and should do both? For some interfaith families and at some points in their lives, they’ll want interfaith-specific programs and may want the comfort and camaraderie of being with folks with whom they share a common bond. Other families, particularly ones like mine that have already resolved the big conflicts/decisions about holiday observance or lifecyle events or religious education (or are at least in between big conflicts), may find intermarriage-specific programming unappealing or uninteresting.
The solution, to me, seems fairly commonsensical: offer a range of options, make sure you are as welcoming and inclusive as possible, don’t pressure people to attend interfaith-specific events just because they are intermarried and let people decide for themselves what they do and don’t want to involve themselves with. Of course no one institution can offer everything, but that's what collaboration is for.
InterfaithFamily.com (which recently was one of 10 “standard bearers” honored in the annual Slingshot guide to innovative Jewish organizations) has been making that point for a while, and is now using findings from surveys to back it up.
I’m not sure how much weight to put in their findings, since they are based on a relatively small sample of the self-selected: 498 people who participated in four of its online surveys, one before Passover/Easter and one before Chanukah/Christmas.
Presumably, anyone who goes to InterfaithFamily.com and participates in its online survey is the sort of person who is already attracted to projects/programs specifically addressing intermarriage. Unless s/he is solely in it for the chance to win an Amazon.com gift certificate, the incentive offered to participants. Plus, these might not even be 498 separate people; the opinion of one person who participated in all four surveys would be counted four times.
However, for what it’s worth, when asked if they prefer programs “for interfaith families,” 13 percent said yes and 64 percent said it “depends on the program.”
In addition, 88 percent said it was "important" in attracting them to a Jewish organization or synagogue that it offered programs described as "for interfaith families," with almost three-quarters saying it was "a lot" or "somewhat" important.
And in the most recent survey, 61% said that the program title "Raising a Jewish Child in Your Interfaith Family" would be more likely to interest them than the title "Raising a Jewish Child."
For more findings, go to: http://www.interfaithfamily.com/about_us_advocacy/Interfaith_Families_Program_Preferences.shtml