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.”

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