The Canadian Jewish Community

An article on the website recently reported on a new study by the United Israel Appeal of Canada titled “National Task Force on Jewish Demographics.” The study found that the Canadian Jewish population is facing the same challenges that are being dealt with in other Jewish communities – stagnant numbers, an aging community, and rising intermarriage rates.

We were given a sneak-peek of the study, and we are glad to see many of our suggestions for making sure intermarried couples don’t abandon Judaism were included. In order to create “pathways for interfaith couples and families,” the study found “several areas where the organized Jewish community can make a difference.” Such as:

Develop opportunities for grandparents to connect with their Jewish grandchildren in a Jewish setting.

Offer experiences and materials for non-Jewish family members. For example, without any education, how many non-Jewish grandparents would support the concept of a Bris?

Make resources readily available for intermarried couples. This could include a list of classes, peer groups, resources available, web sites…

The conclusion, which we have known for years, is to create more opportunities for intermarried couples and their families to connect to the Jewish community. The study found that more Jewish experiences means a “greater likelihood that they will raise their children Jewish.” Do so, and we might see a reversal in the stagnant number and the aging Jewish community.

This might sound simple, but the biggest hurdle is making contact with these families in the first place. For instance, JOI coordinates Public Space Judaism programs around various Jewish holidays. Families, regardless of their level of affiliation, are more inclined to celebrate Hanukkah or Passover than any other, so in the weeks leading up to those holidays we’ll have outreach volunteers assemble in malls or grocery stores (and implement a JOI-designed program) – places where folks are going to be doing their holiday shopping. Our goal is to meet people where they are, rather than wait for them to come to us. This is a way for institutions to make that first contact and try to foster a lasting relationship with unaffiliated families.

The bottom line is what the Canadian study found is true for the worldwide Jewish population. That’s why it’s so important to include intermarried families – and all others on the periphery of the community – and encourage their increased participation in Jewish life. Our future depends on it.

1 Comment

  1. It is not surprising that Canada has the same issues. Why would they be different in this regard?

    One question you might ask: Is religion a means to an end (such as an enhanced relationship with God) or an end in itself?

    Another question to consider:

    Why not outreach adult children of intermarriage? To say the money or research is not there is to admit it is not a priority, which has been plain for the last twenty years. If it had ever been a priority the money would be there, instead of, say, being invested in outreach to other groups (not that it shouldn’t be - it definitely should be, go for it, etc.) The research would have been done - if we mattered. Adult children of intermarriage are flat out, undeniably not a priority. Never have been - not in my lifetime.

    So it’s natural to wonder why not. Is it because no one wants to admit adult children of intermarriage are sometimes not raised as religious Jews? Would that be like admitting outreach to intermarried couples doesn’t work? (Despite the fact that that probably has very little to do with it - probably has more to do with the status of Jewish immigrants fifty years ago - and/or Holocaust fall-out.)

    It’s a very pervasive attitude. Inexplicable really, when converts are welcome, the GLBTQ community is welcome, mothers from other faiths, men who converted, young Jews of breeding age who are invited on trips to Israel - all of these people are seen as either inherently more worthwhile or likelier targets (perhaps) than Half-Jewish adults of intermarriage, for some mysterious reason. There must be hundreds of thousands of us, and our numbers are - by your own admission - growing due to increased rates of intermarriage. Are we that embarrassing? What makes us worth so much more threatening than all these other groups?

    Comment by Sara — July 31, 2009 @ 7:59 pm

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