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The primary mission of the Jewish Outreach Institute (www.JOI.org) is to "reach out and welcome in" the intermarried, and to promote inclusiveness in the Jewish community for intermarried families and disconnected Jews. Originally founded in 1988 as a think tank and research facility devoted to the study of intermarriage, JOI's services have since grown to include advocacy, training of outreach professionals, and the sponsorship of innovative outreach programs throughout North America as part of its Jewish Connection Partnership program (www.JewishConnectionPartnership.org). This column is an opportunity for JOI to share its findings and views with the InterfaithFamily.com readership.
Study Shows How Outreach Programs Succeed in Increasing Jewish Identification among Intermarried Families and Unaffiliated Jews
"The program truly made a difference in how we run our home and it helped us create a strong Jewish environment for our children." This is the kind of feedback the Jewish community has longed to hear for years from previously unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, and now a new report from the Jewish Outreach Institute not only shows a correlation between outreach and increased affiliation, but also identifies the most successful types of outreach programs and the steps they take to engage the unengaged.
Considering that one-third of American Jewish households are intermarried, and perhaps as much as another third are not affiliated with the Jewish community, this report-titled "The Impact of Jewish Outreach on the Intermarried and Unaffiliated"-provides a blueprint for the community to grow its numbers rather than accept the projected decline in American Jewish population.
More than 700 program participants returned surveys describing the results of their experiences, making this study the most comprehensive assessment ever undertaken of outreach programs to interfaith and unaffiliated Jews. Included in its findings:
Among intermarried survey respondents, those identifying as "Moderately Involved" in Jewish life rose from 30% prior to program contact to 47% at the time of survey completion. Those identifying as "Highly Involved" increased nearly four-fold, from just 3% prior to program contact to 11% at the time of survey completion.
Among all survey respondents, 51% identified themselves as either "Minimally Involved" or "Not At All Involved" in Jewish life prior to program contact. After program participation, that percentage fell to 34%, which shows that the outreach programs studied are effective in both (a) attracting unaffiliated Jews to participate and (b) increasing their level of Jewish involvement.
About half of all respondents agreed that the outreach program had an impact on their Jewish home life, and an overwhelming majority agreed that the program was both "Helpful" and "Inspired Jewish Life Involvement."
Among intermarried survey respondents who had not been members of a synagogue prior to program participation, 35% joined one after program participation, and another 25% were still considering membership at the time of the survey.
There are many other encouraging findings from this study, which examined the outreach programs of the Jewish Connection Partnership (JCP), a grant-giving coalition of foundations that is managed by the Jewish Outreach Institute. Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky, JOI's executive director, explains, "The JCP was founded in 1998 to stimulate the development of innovative, grassroots outreach programs throughout North America. The goal was to draw unaffiliated Jews into the community, as well as to deepen the Jewish lives of interfaith couples and families. In three years we've given a little over a million dollars in seed money and matching grants to a wide variety of programs, many of which have been qualitatively studied in this report as well. We hope these positive results will persuade the community to rededicate its efforts and resources to better welcome in all those on the fringe of Judaism back to the center."
Besides the quantitative and qualitative studies, the "Impact of Jewish Outreach" report also includes projections made by the renowned Jewish demographer Professor Sergio Della Pergola of Hebrew University, which put the importance of outreach into context. These numbers, according to JOI's founding director Dr. Egon Mayer, "illustrate that the size of the American Jewish population can be expected to erode dramatically over the course of the next eighty years if the status quo is maintained, and even if intermarriage suddenly came to a halt-not a likely prospect-the population can be expected to decline by more than two million, or about 40%, within the next four generations." However, a scenario in which the number of Jews intermarrying continues to increase, but 80% of them raise their children as Jews, offers an increase in the American Jewish population. Dr. Mayer continues, "In fact, every percentage point above fifty is one more step away from decline and towards growth. This suggests that successful outreach to interfaith families, welcoming them and encouraging them to raise Jewish children, is essential to the vitality of the American Jewish population."
The full report "Impact of Jewish Outreach On The Intermarried and Unaffiliated" is available from the Jewish Outreach Institute.
The Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI) is an independent, national organization founded in 1988. It is engaged in outreach to the unaffiliated with a special emphasis on intermarried families and their children. JOI plays a pivotal role in helping intermarried families incorporate Judaism into the rhythm of their lives. JOI also serves as a training institution and network for outreach professionals. All of its programs are informed by research and evaluation.
The Jewish Connection Partnership (JCP) is a coalition of foundations devoted to funding innovative outreach programs for the unaffiliated and intermarried, founded in 1998. The partners are: The Nathan Cummings Foundation, Jewish Community Endowment Fund of San Francisco, Rita & Harold Divine Foundation, Joseph Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, Samuel Bronfman Foundation, Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, The Blaustein Philanthropic Group, and Arthur Blank Family Foundation. The Jewish Outreach Institute is the managing partner, charged with awarding the grants and overseeing, assisting, and evaluating the specific JCP projects.
Jewish Outreach Institute
For Further Information Contact: Paul Golin Director of Communications Tel.: (212) 760-1440 Cell: (917) 680-1963 firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky is the Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute. An ordained rabbi, Dr. Olitzky was most recently Vice President of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He is formerly the National Dean of Adult Jewish Learning and Living at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), where he served on the faculty and administration of its New York campus for 15 years. Before his initial appointment at HUC-JIR as Director of the School of Education and the Graduate Studies Program, he was the assistant rabbi and director of religious education at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Olitzky is the author of numerous books and articles on Jewish spirituality, healing, and religious practice. A leader in the development of innovative Jewish education, particularly for adults, he has shaped training programs for clergy of all faiths, especially in the area of pastoral care and counseling in the Jewish community. He has done pioneering work in the area of Twelve Step spirituality, as well as Jewish Gerontology. Dr. Olitzky also served as a consultant to Synagogue 2000, a project designed to revitalize and re-spiritualize synagogue life around the country. A prolific author, Dr. Olitzky's most recent publications include Sacred Intentions: Daily Inspirations from Jewish Wisdom (with Rabbi Lori Forman, Jewish Lights Publishing); Jewish Paths to Healing and Wholeness (Jewish Lights Publishing); and Preparing Your Heart for Passover (Jewish Publication Society).
Dr. Egon Mayer is Founding Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, a non-profit organization committed to helping interfaith families integrate within the Jewish community. He is also a Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and Director of the Center for Jewish Studies of The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Dr. Mayer is a widely sought-after lecturer and author of major studies in Jewish intermarriage, including Intermarriage and the Jewish Future (1979), Children of Intermarriage (1983), Conversion of the Intermarried (1987), and Rabbinic Officiation and Intermarriage. His widely acclaimed book, Love & Tradition: Marriage between Jews & Christians, was published by Plenum Publishing Company in 1987. Dr. Mayer is also author of a book on the Orthodox and Hasidic communities of Boro Park, From Suburb to Shtetl, published by Temple University Press. Born in Switzerland and raised in Budapest, Hungary, Egon Mayer immigrated with his family to the United States during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. He received his B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1967, his M.A. from the New School for Social Research in 1970 and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1975.
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