The Biggest Divide in the Jewish Community

The Jewish community is made up of groups, both denominationally and socially. The spectrum is wide, often with heated disagreements on the nature of Judaism and Jewish identity. But all of these groups have one thing in common, said Paul Golin, JOI associate executive director. Writing in the Huffington Post, he pointed out that they all have “a deep engagement with their Jewish identity, which often (though not always) manifests itself through participation in the organized Jewish community.” In other words, they are all in some sense Jewish “insiders.”

Much has been written about trying to unify those on the inside, but Golin thinks there is a more important discussion at hand – bridging the gap between those on the inside and those on the outside. “That divide is growing wider,” Golin warns, “to the point where we may see an irreparable, Arctic-ice-shelf-like drop-off in the Jewish population over the next 20 years, if we can’t find a way to better bridge the gap between the inside and out.”

At JOI, we have long believed that addressing this divide is what will make or break the future of the Jewish community. “Literally millions of American Jews are headed toward the exits, and we aren’t putting nearly enough resources toward trying to convince them that it’s worth it for them to engage or re-engage,” Golin writes. These are the people – both individuals and families – who are the key to our growth.

What we need to do is work to understand why are there outsiders and how can we motivate them to take part in Jewish life. There are numerous questions we should be asking to shrink this disconnect. What does the Jewish community look like to outsiders? What is it that keeps us involved? How can we best share the “hope and meaning that those of us on the inside have experienced?”

It’s time we focused more of our attention on reaching those on the outside, or those drifting away. These efforts don’t have to supersede programs that create “new forms of expression for those already on the inside.” But we need to recognize that the future of the Jewish community will be determined by how many continue their exodus or turn back to Jewish engagement.

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