For the fifth consecutive year, InterFaithways, the only organization in Greater Philadelphia dedicated to welcoming interfaith families to the Jewish community, will host its annual Family Shabbat Weekends, Nov. 4 to 6 and Nov. 11 to 13.
This year, 52 congregations throughout the five-county Philadelphia region and in neighboring Southern New Jersey and Delaware will sponsor special Oneg Shabbats, learner's services, Shabbat luncheons, potluck dinners, speakers and other programming to deepen the relationship between the congregations and interfaith families.
Participating congregations reflect all streams of Judaism. InterFaithways' rabbinic consultant, Rabbi Rayzel Raphael, noted, "This year, we are seeing more and more Conservative and even Traditional congregations wanting to participate, indicating a new openness and welcoming attitude toward interfaith families."
The 2011 weekends are dedicated to the memory of Leonard Wasserman, the organization's founder and chairman of the board who passed away last month after a valiant battle with cancer. Originally a program of Jewish Family and Children's Service of Philadelphia, InterFaithways became an independent organization in September 2007.
Over the past 12 years, it has been at the forefront of efforts to provide information on Jewish holidays, life cycle events (including weddings, baby ceremonies and Bar/Bat Mitzvah), Jewish rituals and prayer and Jewish culture through its website,www.interfaithways.org .
It also maintains a special online resource library for rabbis and educators that includes divrei Torah, sermons, articles and other materials to discuss interfaith issues in a congregational or school setting.
According to Wendy Armon, InterFaithways managing director, "Through innovative programs like Interfaith Relationships From Woody Allen to Ben Stiller, a specially edited motion picture depicting the heartbreaks and humor of mixed marriages, the organization strives to 'teach the teachers' at Gratz College Hebrew High School and at synagogue religious schools throughout the Delaware Valley about ways to sensitize their students to interfaith issues."
Throughout the year, Raphael hosts Friday evening Shabbat dinners for those in interfaith relationships. Participants learn blessings and songs, and sit down to a traditional Shabbat meal. InterFaithways also coordinates Jewish holiday celebrations, social events and special activities for grandparents.
InterFaithways advocates and provides support for institutional and attitudinal change in the Jewish community. Innovative and creative programs provide opportunities for open dialogue among interfaith families and Jewish professionals.
The organization's staff provides training and consultation to rabbis, educators and other Jewish professionals so as to make the community more welcoming to interfaith couples and families.
InterFaithways is the local clearinghouse for Mothers Circle, a national initiative created by the Jewish Outreach Institute for women of diverse religious backgrounds who are raising children Jewishly. This learning and support group enables these moms to explore Jewish holidays and rituals, and deepen their connection to the religion of their husbands and children.
To learn more about the InterFaithways Family Shabbat Weekends, or other organizational programming, write to the Interfaith Family Support Network, 8339 Old York Rd., Elkins Park, PA 19027; call 215-207-0990; or visit:www.interfaithways.org .