An article on the website Jewishinfonews.com 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.