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Jewish Journal

Pluralistic rabbinical court seeks new funding; InterfaithFamily.com marks 200th issue

by Amy Klein

January 11, 2007 | 7:00 pm

Pluralistic Rabbinical Court Seeks New Funding

The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California, a local pluralistic religious court dealing with conversions, went on hiatus Jan. 1 due to lack of funding.

The beit din was founded in 2002 by George Caplan, in memory of his wife, Sandra Caplan. When Sandra Caplan, a Jew-by-choice, was dying, her husband promised her that he would work toward a unified conversion process for the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements.

Since 2002, Caplan, a former Jewish Federation president, has been the primary funder of the beit din, along with some of his friends. Caplan recently announced the court should seek funding elsewhere, according to Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, the beit din's secretary.

"He feels he's guided it through the first years to make it all possible -- and he's right," Goldstein said.

Caplan will continue to fulfill his promise to his wife and is investigating funding for a communitywide mikvah, or ritual bath.

Rabbi Richard N. Levy, director of the School of Rabbinic Studies on the Los Angeles campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism (UJ), helped found the organization and serve as its co-chairs. As the beit din gained momentum, two-dozen rabbis from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements joined the court. To date, the Sandra Caplan Bet Din has trained 96 dayanim, rabbis who can perform conversions.

Since its founding, the beit din has overseen the conversions of 107 people.

Goldstein and Rabbi Dan Shevitz, the av bet din, or the head of the court, insist the court is not closing, but is instead seeking other funding and structuring opportunities. They hope the court will be operational at the end of the month.

"There are fewer and fewer things that the denominations can do cooperatively with one another. The Jewish community has become splintered to an unacceptable degree," said Shevitz, who is the rabbi of Mishkon Tephilo in Venice. "Therefore it's incumbent upon us for whatever we can do together we should do together. Welcoming converts not to one denomination or another but to the totality of the Jewish people -- if we can do it, we have to do it."

For more information, visit scbetdin.us.

InterfaithFamily.com Celebrates 200th Issue

Do the terms "interfaith family" and "interfaith outreach" seem to be everywhere you turn these last few years?

If so, that's not only due to the rise in intermarriage, but perhaps because of the popular Web site catering to issues for this growing population, at InterfaithFamily.com. The Web magazine, published biweekly since November 1998, will post its 200th issue on Jan. 16.

"InterfaithFamily is a nonprofit that provides resources and services to couples with one Jewish partner and one non-Jewish partner," said Micah Sachs, the publication's online managing editor.

The Web magazine, which has 20,000 unique visitors per month, primarily features original personal narrative articles on topics of interest to interfaith families and couples, focusing on holidays, birth ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, weddings and mulitcultural relationships. It also features articles from other publications of interest to interfaith families.

The Web site provides a database of programs that are friendly to interfaith families, and does advocacy in the Jewish community to be more welcoming to interfaith families. This year they will host a conference of "outreach professionals" in Pennsylvania, and create a rabbinic resource on the subject of interfaith marriage.

Although the mission of InterfaithFamily.com is to "encouraging Jewish choices," Sachs said, "by the same token, we're very accepting of interfaith families where they are.

We advocate to the Jewish community to be more welcoming to interfaith families regardless of where they're at. When you close the door to someone who's on the fence you have no chance of influencing their decision."

OU Offers $20,000 Award for Best Unaffiliated Outreach

The Orthodox Union (OU) is offering a grant of up to $20,000 to a member synagogue that can create an outreach program targeted at unaffiliated Jews with minimal or marginal synagogue involvement. The program should be able to be replicated by other communities.

The initiative, made possible through the OU's Department of Community Services and the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, comes at a time when the assimilation rate in the North American Jewish community is hovering at 50 percent or above, and there are a large number of unaffiliated or marginally affiliated Jewish individuals and families, according to the OU press release.

The award is intended to support a variety of activities in the area of outreach, including discussion series, multifaceted conferences, symposia, public forums, and hands-on learning experiences, among other initiatives.

This is not the first time the OU has made a large grant available for synagogue programming. Last year, the OU awarded grants of up to $20,000 for unique programs having a positive impact on their communities and synagogues. The programs included Israel action; education for children and adults; and lay leadership development, among others.

"Last year's grants program was so successful that the OU was determined to bring it back," OU President Stephen J. Savitsky said. "While last year's programs touched on many aspects of Jewish life, given current Jewish population statistics the OU decided to dedicate the new initiative solely to outreach."

"Outreach is one of the ways we show our care and love for our fellow Jews," OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb said. "With this grant, the OU is proud to encourage our synagogues to think of creative new approaches to involve more people in Jewish life."

Applications are due at OU headquarters by March 1, 2007. Applicants will be notified by letter on or before March 29, 2007.

For an application more information, visit ou.org or call Frank Bushweiz at (212) 613-8188.

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