What We Learned from Our 2006 December Holidays Survey, Part I

What follows is the text–minus the tables–from our report on our 2006 December Holidays Survey, which specifically looked at the 342 respondents (out of a population of 759) who told us they were in an interfaith relationship, had children and were raising the children Jewish. Tomorrow we will post the Conclusions section of our report:

Almost all of the respondents expect to participate in Hanukkah celebrations and Christmas celebrations this year: 99 percent expect to participate in Hanukkah celebrations while 89 percent plan to participate in Christmas celebrations.

The great majority of these respondents plan on doing multiple activities relating to the celebration of Hanukkah in their own home. Ninety-nine percent plan to light the menorah and 63 percent plan on telling the Hanukkah story.
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Israel, Philadelphia, Detroit

The Nativity Story, about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, is coming out on Friday. We’re doing something new with this movie and hopefully others with religious content. We are sending an interfaith couple to see the movie to record their impressions of the movie, in the hope of illuminating how pop culture can mean different things to people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Look for the review in our web magazine next week.

  • Jewish Agency Chairman Ze’ev Bielski’s comments on the American Jewish future–or lack thereof–continue to resonate in the Israeli press. At the United Jewish Communities General Assembly a few weeks ago, he said, “One day the penny will drop for American Jews and they will realize they have no future as Jews in the US due to assimilation and intermarriage.” Their only option, in his mind, is to emigrate to Israel.

    You might expect an outcry of opposition to such wrong-headed and hurtful comments. But you would be wrong.
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  • A Leaky Tent

    If you read The Jewish Week, you’ve seen Marvin Schick’s ads before. Tucked towards the back, they occupy a horizontal half-page and are all-text (small type) editorials on matters of import in the Jewish community. I rarely read them, but his ad from last week–which is also online on his blog–caught my attention.

    Titled “As We Continue to Widen My Tent,” it is a simultaneous attack on the intermarried and non-traditional notions of Jewish identity. It begins with a lament over the intermarriage statistics first revealed by the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. He actually is a bit charitable to the intermarried, saying “a great number continued to be involved in a Jewish life,” but he cleverly damns the intermarried by guilt of association:
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    Thanksgiving Leftovers

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    A number of good links came our way over the Thanksgiving holiday:

  • Paul Golin of the Jewish Outreach Institute wrote a fantastic editorial for JTA titled “Intermarriage battle long over.” In it, he argues that the release of the Boston Jewish Community Survey was a “tipping point” in the Jewish world’s debate over intermarriage. “Jewish leaders must recognize what their constituency already understands: We do not live in an ideal Jewish world,” he says. “Not all Jews observe all of the mitzvot. But we don’t kick people out of the Jewish community if they skip a few.”
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    Bloggers on the News from Boston

    We’re not the only bloggers who have picked up on the implications of the news from Boston that 60 percent of intermarried families there are raising their children Jewish:

  • Rabbi Andy Bachman, the founder of Brooklyn Jews, blogged about the news:

    Out of Boston comes a study by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, whose visionary leadership has actually transformed the landscape of Jewish identity and interfaith families by simply doing what’s right: investing in the choices that people make and as a result, more interfaith families in the Boston area make Jewish choices and raise their kids as Jews than in any other area of North America.Similar changes are being seen in San Francisco as well, which also invests heavily in outreach to intermarried families.

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  • Survivalism vs. Values, Take II

    Following up on last week’s post on Yossi Abramowitz’s comments on how the Jewish community spends too much time on issues of exclusivity and survival, Irwin Kula did an interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on a similar theme:

    Like followers of most religions, Jews have largely neglected much of their own wisdom teachings, Kula says. For much of their history — especially the last couple of generations — Jews have majored on survival and identity issues: intermarriage, Israel, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, the religious right.

    “That’s a death spiral,” he says. “It’s about preservation and exclusivity. Most Americans are asking different questions: How can I love, how can I be happier, what should I do with my life, how to deal with the death of a loved one, how to raise my kids with values.

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    Seven out of 50

    Every year, the Forward, the national Jewish newspaper, compiles a list called the Forward 50, a list of the 50 most notable Jewish figures from the previous year. “Each year’s compilation is a journalistic effort to record some of the key trends and events in American Jewish life in the year just ended, and to illuminate some of the individuals likely to shape the news in the year ahead,” says this year’s introduction. “… We’ve chosen [the 50] because they are doing and saying things that are making a difference in the way American Jews, for better or worse, view the world and themselves.”

    In 2001, our president and publisher, Ed Case was chosen for the list. This year, arguably seven of the 50 have a connection to intermarriage or engaging the intermarried. They are:
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    The Link Sink

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    A bunch of interesting stuff from the past week or so:

  • The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles reports on a series of mysterious billboards that began popping up around L.A. after the High Holidays. One had a picture of latkes and fries and said simply “Latke or fries?” Another had a pic of bagels and lox and sushi with the message “Bagels and lox or sushi?” Another had a yarmulke and cap.

    It turns out they were part of a clever and buzz-generating marketing campaign from L.A.’s Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries, which is trying to market itself to interfaith couples and families. Mt. Sinai gets points not just for a great marketing ploy, but for having the courage to provide a burial spot for the growing interfaith population–it’s one of the emerging problems for the significant number of baby boomers who have intermarried.

  • Julie Wiener is at it again. Her latest column tells the fascinating story of a couple of rabbinical students whose parents were intermarried, and explores the ways in which their interfaith background was a key factor in their choice to go into the rabbinate.
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    Our Op-Ed in the Forward

    An editorial co-authored by our president and publisher, Ed Case, will be in tomorrow’s issue of the Forward and is now available online.

    Co-authored by Kathy Kahn, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Outreach and Synagogue Community, “Engaging the Intermarried” offers a blueprint to other communities who are looking to engage intermarried families and encourage them to raise their children Jewish. It’s not noted in the editorial, but the previous demographic study of Boston’s Jewish community, done in 1995, showed that 33 percent of the area’s interfaith households were raising their children Jewish; only 10 years later, that percentage had nearly doubled, to 60 percent.

    Why? Because more so than any other community, with the possible exception of San Francisco, Boston has made outreach to interfaith families a priority, both in terms of attitude and financial support. As the editorial says:

    The community has put its money where its mouth is. [Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston's federation] has a dedicated line item in its budget expressly for “Services to the Intermarried.” CJP’s funding for this area — just over $300,000 for the current year — is the highest in the country, yet it represents just 1% of CJP’s total annual allocations. Nationally, even as the Jewish community federations spend $800 million a year and Jewish family foundations spend $2.5 billion a year; the amount spent on programs of outreach to interfaith families is below $3 million — only one-tenth of 1%. By spending just 1% of its allocations — a relatively small investment by any measure — CJP has achieved dramatic results.

    As the op-ed explains, it’s also about an overarching approach that focuses on good programming (Boston has a rich variety), working through the religious movements (the CJP directly funds the Reform and Conservative movements), use of welcoming language (which is incorporated into invitations for every CJP event), marketing (especially online) and evaluation.

    Both the Forward and the New York Jewish Week did stories about the news. The Forward article, by Nathaniel Popper, followed a similar tenor as the JTA article, connecting the results to Boston’s outreach efforts, and makes the important point: “The findings from Boston could fuel and shift the long-standing national debates over Jewish demographic trends, a seemingly obscure but perennially divisive topic in Jewish philanthropic and religious circles.”

    The New York Jewish Week article, however, focuses on critiques from opponents of outreach:

    But sociologist Steven Cohen said his understanding of the study leads him to conclude that its results were not so unusual.

    “The real issue is how you define a Jewish child,” he said. “There are narrow definitions and broad definitions; both are valid. The Boston study chose to use a broad definition, thereby including children who have no religion and … whose families undertake Jewish behavior. … The National Jewish Population Survey got pretty much the same numbers [when using the same definition].”

    [Study author Leonard] Saxe disputed that, saying the study found that 30 percent of the children were raised with no religion but that about 60 percent were being raised as Jews.

    “When we asked [intermarried parents] what they were doing to raise their kids as Jews, we found that just as many were getting a Hebrew school education as the inmarried families,” Saxe said.

    But Steven Bayme, national director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department at the American Jewish Committee, said he would like to know the seriousness of the children of intermarried couples regarding their “Jewish connection” and whether that connection is “sustainable and will last them in terms of molding a Jewish identity.”

    “I’m concerned that the success of outreach activities to ensure Jewish grandchildren can only be measured over time,” he said. “We have to see what happens to them as adults.”

    If those complaints aren’t weak enough, in the Forward article, Cohen, pointing to the study’s finding that Jewish women in intermarriages raise their children Jewish much more often than their male counterparts, says: “For those who believe that welcoming has made the difference, they have to answer why Jewish women feel much more welcomed than Jewish men … If there is a difference, it’s probably attributable to Boston’s superb efforts in Jewish culture.” For a sociologist, he should know better: women almost always take the lead role in child-rearing, so of course they’re going to more often dictate their child’s religious upbringing. But the fact that they make a Jewish choice isn’t a given; that choice can be encouraged by the local Jewish community through outreach programs.

    Meanwhile, the authors of the Boston study, Leonard Saxe, Charles Kadushin and Benjamin Phillips, wrote an op-ed for the Forward that discusses the 60 percent news, but from a slightly different angle. They focus more on the “the broad range of Jewish insitutions that serve religious, cultural and educational needs.”

    Difficult Decisions

    Greetings InterfaithFamily.com readers! I wanted to share with you all a very interesting experience I had the other night. Quite often, my position here at InterfaithFamily.com as the Community Connections Coordinator intersects with my “real life” outside of work – as evident in the story I’m about to tell you. Outside of working here, one of my volunteer hats is to be the Social Action chair of my synagogue board. Part of this role is to attend the monthly temple board meetings to give a report. Monday night was our monthly meeting, however, it was like no other meeting I had ever attended. The rabbi of our congregation is retiring after over 30 years of service to the community, and our congregation has the daunting task of finding a new rabbi to be the spiritual leader of what is a small, but very warm – and extremely diverse – Reform congregation. Our search committee and long range planning committee brought a candidate to meet with us at our monthly meeting, and we had the opportunity to ask this rabbi as many questions we could come up with!
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