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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    Israel and American Jews: A Growing Divide?

    The editor’s column in the Nov. 2 edition of the Canadian Jewish News (not online, unfortunately) made an interesting connection between two studies by the American Jewish Committee. One, titled Teaching about American Jewry in Israeli Education, found that only 14 percent of Israeli schools teach anything about American Jewry; the other, titled Young Jewish Adults in the United States Today, found that only one-third of young Jewish American felt that caring about Israel was important to Jewish identity (Israel placed 11th out of 15 markers of Jewish identity).

    Taken together, these two facts suggest that the citizens of Israel and the Jewish citizens of the U.S. are drifting apart and prophesy a future where Jewish-Americans feel a much lower level of connection to Israel.
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    JTA on the News Out of Boston

    On late Friday, JTA, the Jewish newswire, did its story on the extraordinary news out of Boston: 60% of intermarried families there are raising their children Jewish.

    Unlike the Boston Globe story, the JTA story, by Sue Fishkoff, more explicitly makes the connection between outreach and intermarried families raising their children Jewish, starting with the title “Investment in outreach is paying dividends in Boston, study suggests”:

    “CJP is the only federation that has made a serious commitment for over 10 years to fund [outreach to interfaith families],” said Paula Brody, outreach director of the Northeast Council of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose organization receives $140,000 a year from the Combined Jewish Philanthropies for a wide variety of adult-education seminars and workshops aimed at interfaith couples and individuals considering conversion. “We offered these programs before the CJP funding, but it has enabled us to expand our offerings and advertise them in the secular press, so we can reach the unaffiliated.”

    Our own Ed Case is quoted in the article, also arguing the case for the connection between outreach and interfaith families making Jewish choices.

    The JTA story goes into detail how San Francisco, another city with a well-funded, well-organized collection of outreach programs, has also had higher-than-average rates of intermarried families raising their children Jewish:

    San Francisco’s Jewish federation experienced similar results, according to planning director Karen Bluestone. That federation was one of the first in the nation to fund interfaith programming, she notes, following a 1986 Jewish communal study that revealed large numbers of intermarried families.

    In the 20 years since, the Jewish population has more than doubled in the San Francisco Bay Area and intermarriage has increased, but increasing numbers of those interfaith households are identifying with the Jewish community.

    A 2004 communal study showed that 40 percent of the children in interfaith households are receiving formal Jewish education, and 40 percent of the adults indicated that their interest in Judaism has increased in the past five years. The numbers are about the same for Jews and non-Jews, she said.

    While Bluestone admits that “there’s no causality in the data,” she said she sees a correlation between increased outreach and increased Jewish identification.

    “Due to the investments we’ve made since 1986 in outreach and training to be more welcoming to interfaith families, we’ve seen a rise in the number of interfaith families identifying as Jews and raising their children Jewishly,” Bluestone said.

    Brody also makes the important point how there is beginning to be a change in mindset. In the past, the Jewish community viewed those who intermarried as marrying out of the community; but, as Brody says of interfaith families making Jewish choices, “What’s remarkable is that these families see themselves not as where the Jewish partner has married out, but where the Christian partner has married in.”

    60% of Interfaith Families in Boston are Raising Children Jewish

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    There is extraordinary news this morning: according to a demographic study of Boston’s Jewish community released today, 60 percent of intermarried households are raising their children Jewish.

    Michaal Paulson of the Boston Globe did a front-page story on this remarkable development this morning, and the news is clearly striking a chord. As of 9:20 a.m. EST, “Jewish population in region rises” was the most e-mailed story on Boston.com–and rising.

    The news is extraordinary for two reasons:
    1) As our publisher and president, Ed Case, says in the article, “Boston has the most extensive and most well-funded and most well-organized outreach to interfaith families in the country.” This development shows that for a relatively small investment–only 1 percent of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ annual allocations–outreach can produce tangible, measurable, powerful results.

    2) For years leading voices in the Jewish community have been referring to intermarriage as a “threat.” This shows it can be an opportunity, an opportunity to expand and enrich the Jewish community. Why is that? Because 50 intermarried Jews create 50 households, while 50 inmarried Jews form 25 households. If only 25 of the 50 intermarried households–50 percent, that is–raise their children Jewish, they are raising the same number of children as the 25 Jewish households. If more than 50 percent of intermarried households raise their children Jewish–as they are doing in Boston–they contribute to a net increase in the Jewish population, which is what Boston has seen in the last 10 years.

    We will keep you regularly updated on press about this extraordinary development.

    One of Our Adoption Writers to Appear on TV

    Gina Hagler, one of the writers in our current issue, will be interviewed on her local Washington, DC-area station–Channel 24 for News 4 at 4 on Tuesday, November 14.

    She was invited to appear on the TV show as the result of another adoption article she wrote for Washington Parent.

    You might want to watch her debut TV appearance if you’re in the DC area.