InterfaithFamily opens S.F. office to serve on local frontby emma silvers, j. staff
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InterfaithFamily, the 10-year-old national nonprofit dedicated to providing interfaith couples and families with resources to help them engage with Judaism and get more involved in Jewish life, has expanded to the Bay Area with a San Francisco branch.
Rebecca Goodman, the director of InterfaithFamily/San Francisco, says last month’s opening is part of a long-term expansion plan for the organization, which aims to have local offices in nine communities around the United States in the next five years. Hired in October, Goodman is, for the time being, the San Francisco branch’s sole employee.
A veteran of Jewish education who grew up in San Mateo, Goodman worked at Temple Beth El there. She’s also headed up programs at the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles, at Contra Costa Midrasha and at Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco.
“Everybody can do a little bit better,” says Goodman. “People here definitely want to be open to interfaith families, but I think we sometimes forget to take a step back and say, ‘What kind of messages do we send out? How can we be even more welcoming?’ ”
Launched with the help of a $270,000 grant from the S.F.-based Jewish Commun-ity Federation (which has pledged support for three years in total), InterfaithFamily/San Francisco has just begun getting the word out about its existence.
The organization, says Goodman, has a three-pronged approach to reaching and supporting interfaith families: 1) a Web platform that responds to their needs and serves as a portal to other resources; 2) training and guidance for Jewish professionals; 3) programs and classes for local interfaith families.
To get the program going, Goodman has been doing outreach with Bay Area congregations, JCCs and nonprofits. She also plans to work with the local organizations already doing work around interfaith issues, such as Building Jewish Bridges and Jewish Gateways (both based in the East Bay) .
Her role, so far, has been as a sort of consultant about the needs of people in interfaith relationships and their families.
“I get calls from all sorts of people,” she says. “A woman who’s not Jewish, who’s raising a Jewish daughter who’s ready for religious school, has questions about whether or not mom has to convert. People who are retired are looking for resources for Jewish learning as adults.”
And if the question is something out of the organization’s reach, Goodman says she can “help point folks toward other resources that might be helpful.”
Soon, InterfaithFamily/S.F. will start holding online classes and workshops; registration is currently available on its website.
Beyond that, the agency does many other things, such as helping families find clergy or lay leaders for weddings and baby namings (since many rabbis will not perform such ceremonies for intermarried couples). An e-newsletter every other week alerts people to goings-on in the Jewish community — speakers, museum exhibits, religious services, tot groups, hikes and parties, for example.
The approach is based on a local community-based model that was piloted in 2011 in Chicago; San Francisco is the third location for the program, as a Philadelphia office opened just ahead of the Bay Area’s.
InterfaithFamily.com CEO Ed Case, who is based at the national office in Boston, says the Bay Area was a natural choice for a new office. For one, statistics suggest that at least 55 percent of Jewish families here involve an intermarriage. Case also points to the existing resources here, such as JCCSF’s Interfaith Connection, and people like Jeff Zlot of the Federation’s Interfaith Outreach Endowment.
Still, he says, “There’s never been a serious effort in the Jewish community to engage interfaith families on a really organized, national basis.” He added that he thinks the San Francisco office will be a crucial step in the organization’s national expansion efforts.
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