Outreach Pros and Cons

While I was at the Reform movement’s biennial last week, Anthony Weiss suggested in the Forward (Intermarriage Study Muddies Waters, December 12) that Boston’s figure of 60% of interfaith families raising their children as Jews may not be the result of its CJP-funded outreach programs, contrary to a Forward op-ed I co-wrote last year.

Weiss first argues that because other cities without outreach programs report similar rates, Boston’s rate cannot be tied to its outreach programs. But whether those rates are comparable is open to question. I am familiar with and confident in the survey methods (sampling and questions form) and results of the Boston survey; I don’t know the methods used in the other cities surveys and, as Ira Sheskin, the demographer who did those surveys, apparently told Weiss, “differing survey methods make it impossible to make precise comparisons between cities.”

Even if the rates in different cities can fairly be compared, there is no reason why different factors in different cities could determine comparable results. If Baltimore does not have outreach programs, its 62% rate must be due to factors other than outreach programs; but that does not mean that Boston’s 60% rate could not be due to outreach programs.

Weiss next argues that because San Francisco, the one other city with outreach programs, only has a 38% rate, Boston’s higher rate cannot be tied to the programs. Again, it is not clear that the survey methods support precise comparisons. Moreover, as Weiss notes, sub-areas covered by the San Francisco programs did report rates comparable to Boston’s.

I understand the CJP is preparing a further report on the children of intermarried families, which I expect will shed further light on the impact of the outreach programs it funds.

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There was other news about outreach while I was away. Gary Rosenblatt, publisher of the New York Jewish Week, wrote about his interview with Steven M. Cohen, who has been one of the main ideological adversaries of outreach to interfaith families. It is great news if Steven M. Cohen really told Gary Rosenblatt, publisher of the New York Jewish Week, that he would urge Jewish policy makers to embrace both sides of the inreach vs. outreach debate, as Rosenblatt reported in his latest column. In his most recent study, A Tale of Two Jewries, Cohen clearly argued that outreach to interfaith families was a waste of limited resources, as we wrote in a JTA op-ed. We applaud his apparent change of mind.

Unlike inreach proponents, however, who usually refuse to endorse outreach programs that target interfaith families, outreach proponents have always embraced inreach through Jewish educational experiences and are happy if those experiences lead more Jews to marry Jews. What outreach proponents will not embrace is promoting in-marriage or conversion in ways that discourage interfaith couples from engaging in Jewish life.

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