For years we’ve been told that Canada’s Jewish community is decades behind the U.S. in terms of high intermarriage rates. However, as recently reported in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, at least one city is experiencing a skyrocketing rate. The article discusses a newly-released population study conducted in 2001 that found:
Since 1991, the number of intermarried arrangements has doubled. Almost half (48.3 per cent) of couple households in which at least one spouse is Jewish are intermarried. In absolute terms, 2,070 of 4,285 couple households are intermarried. When both spouses are less than 30 years of age, the level of intermarriage is an astounding 82.1 per cent. Almost half of Jewish children under 15 live in intermarried households (43.6 per cent). About a third of the youngest children of intermarried couples are being brought up Jewish (32.1 per cent), approximately half have no religion (49.1 per cent) and the rest (18.8 per cent) are being raised within another religion.
At JOI, we see two challenges in those numbers. First, of the one-third of intermarried households already raising their children Jewish, how is the organized community welcoming them in and supporting their decision? Second, of the half who say they are raising their children with “no religion,” what does that really mean? After all, Judaism is not just a religion, it’s a culture and a peoplehood. What opportunities are available for engaging those households in cultural and communal Jewish activities?
Luckily, JOI will have the chance to work directly with the Ottawa Jewish community on these challenges, as mentioned in the article:
The Jewish Identity and Responsibility (JIR) committee’s recommendation to hire the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), a national, non-denominational, independent organization, to help the community reach the unaffiliated and the intermarried has been accepted by the Federation Board of Governors. The JOI does a scan of the community and helps set up best practices for community organizations to reach the intermarried and unaffiliated….JOI believes it is imperative that Judaism be taken to where the people are. Its model, “Public Space Judaism,” calls for Jewish programming in secular public venues such as malls or parks….Mitchell Bellman, president and CEO of the Federation, feels intermarriage is a “symptom” of the declining affiliation level among Jews. It is, he says, a trend that is happening throughout North American Jewry. “The problem is not intermarriage, but Jewish identity, involvement, affiliation, and how to increase it.” He sees the JOI helping the community become more open and welcoming towards the intermarried and unaffiliated, and learning to think creatively in finding venues and programming to engage them.
We believe that this is both the most challenging yet most important work that a community can undertake, and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves with the good folks of the Ottawa Jewish community!