Conversation with…Edmund Case
Outreach expert encourages interfaith families to make Jewish choices
By Lisa S. Lenkiewicz
Edmund Case is the president and publisher of InterfaithFamily.com, a non-profit whose mission is to empower interfaith families to make Jewish choices and to encourage the Jewish community to be welcoming of interfaith families.
The son of Beatrice and Lewis Case, founding members of Beth El Temple in West Hartford, Ed grew up in Wethersfield, where his father was a veterinarian. His parents now reside in Westbrook. After graduating from Yale and Harvard Law School, he practiced law for 22 years at a large Boston law firm. He then earned a master's degree in Jewish communal service from Brandeis' Hornstein Program. He is co-editor of “The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook” (Jewish Lights), and frequently writes and speaks on intermarriage issues. In November 2001 he was named to The Forward 50 list of top Jewish leaders.
He resides in Newton, Mass., with his wife Wendy. They have two grown children. He spoke with the Ledger prior to an upcoming July talk at Congregation B’nai Torah in Trumbull.
Q: Your bio says you married a woman who wasn't Jewish, who converted after 30 years of marriage.
A: At my bar mitzvah I wrote a note to be opened in ten years. I predicted that I would be living a strong Jewish life. When I started dating, most of the girls I went out with were from Beth El. But I did go out one time with a friend, Wendy Bosworth -- and it was love at first date. We went out for six years. My parents weren't very happy about it at first, but they were wise and loving and ultimately accepted her completely. We've been married now for 33 years.
Q: Did you end up living a “strong Jewish life?”
A: Wendy and I became active in our local Reform synagogue, Temple Shalom of Newton. I ended up president, and Wendy was the social action committee co-chair for many years. Our two children celebrated their b’nai mitzvah, and we traveled to Israel as a family. I think my prediction came true.
Q: Why did your wife decide to convert after 30 years?
A: Any thoughtful decision to convert is personal and complex. For a long time, Wendy was comfortable saying, "I live Jewishly but am not a Jew;" eventually she wanted to unite how she lived with how she identified. She had been concerned with how her parents would feel, but that became outweighed by other factors. The building of a liberal welcoming mikveh, Mayyim Hayyim, in our area was another positive influence.
Q: How did her conversion change the family?
A: Wendy was very moved when one of the rabbis on her Beit Din said, "I think you're already Jewish." If you ask her, she says she doesn't feel much different now. I don't think her conversion changed our family. If anything it reinforced to our children how important living Jewishly is to both of their parents.
Q: How did you get involved with InterfaithFamily.com?
A: I was a lawyer for 22 years. I gradually realized, from involvement at my synagogue and on the Reform movement's regional outreach committee, that Jewish outreach to interfaith families was my passion. So I went to the Hornstein Program at Brandeis and got a master's degree in Jewish communal service. I started working at a Jewish non-profit called Jewish Family &
Life!, which had started an Internet magazine for interfaith families. Then I founded InterfaithFamily.com as an independent non-profit in January 2002. We took over the Internet magazine and started to add many other activities.
Q: What is its mission?
A: Our mission is to encourage interfaith families to make Jewish choices for themselves and their children, and to encourage the Jewish community to welcome interfaith families. We do three things: educate with helpful, accessible information that demonstrates the potential for positive Jewish involvement by interfaith families; connect interfaith families with each other and with welcoming professionals and organizations in their local communities; and advocate for inclusive attitudes, policies and practices.
There are more than 1,500 articles in our archive. Our Connections In Your Area system lists more than 400 Jewish organizations and professionals. We conduct surveys and write and speak in favor of outreach, and in response to influential critics of outreach. We have a Professionals Advisory Circle of outreach professionals, and a Rabbinic Circle for rabbis. We recently hired a full-time rabbi who will respond to the 60+ requests we get a month from couples asking for help to find a rabbi to officiate at their wedding.
Information about all of our services is available on our website, www.interfaithfamily.com.
Q: Why is outreach so important?
A: Half of Jews who marry are marrying people who are not Jewish. The critical statistic is how many interfaith couples raise their children as Jews. The national rate has been believed to be about 33%, but in Boston--which has the most relatively well-funded, coordinated and comprehensive community
program of outreach, supported by 1% of the federation's annual spending--the 2005 Boston Jewish Community Study found the rate was 60%. I believe that other communities could see a similar result if they invested in tried and true outreach programs. We simply can't afford not to reach out to this population. Our community will be increased in size, and enriched in quality, by welcoming interfaith families and having more of them raise their children as Jews.
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Edmund Case will speak on “Interfaith Families and the Jewish Future,” on Tuesday, July 17, at 7 p.m., at Congregation B’nai Torah, 5700 Main Street, in Trumbull.