What a Difference Outreach Can Make…

Intermarriage is often presented as the End of the Jewish People or, at the very least, the cause of a reduction in the size of the Jewish community. However, a new study of Boston released by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute shows that with an emphasis on outreach to the intermarried, this is not the case at all. With a concentration in programs for the intermarried, a Federation supporting the efforts, and a plethora of Jewish communal activities, intermarried parents will choose to raise their children as Jews. The Boston study concluded that almost 60% of the children raised in intermarried families are being raised as Jews. This compares to what the NJPS claims as 33%. We believe that the NJPS numbers are flawed and this methodology is much more robust; the national figures may be much higher. In any case, 60% is significantly higher than any other community measured and actually leads to growth in the Jewish community—as it seems to be doing in Boston.

The number of intermarried families, for example, is close to reaching the number of in-married families. There is no reason not to believe that with an intermarriage rate of 37-40% (according to the study), there will soon be more intermarried families than in-married families in the community. (However, the study’s authors were careful not to make any such future projections.) Two articles, Investment in Outreach is Paying Dividends in Boston, Study Suggests by Sue Fishkoff and Jewish Population in Region Rises by Michael Paulson analyze the results of this new study that confirms what we at JOI have been saying: how we respond to the challenge of interfaith marriage will determine the future landscape of the North American Jewish community. In Boston, the landscape looks hopeful indeed.

The organized Boston Jewish community decided to welcome intermarried families and devote considerable financial resources to intermarriage outreach programs beginning in the late 1970s. It is now one of the best-funded and most-organized community-wide outreach to the intermarried efforts in the country; the growth of the Boston Jewish community reflects the results of their investment. According to the study, much of the growth can be attributed to the inclusion of intermarried families in the Jewish community.

One of the most interesting notes in the study concerns the gender divide that JOI has also noted in its work. Almost all of the children of Jewish mothers in the survey are being raised as Jews, while relatively few Jewish fathers married to non-Jewish women were choosing to raise their children as Jews. It was this insight that led JOI to develop its Mothers Circle program which provides education and support to non-Jewish women married to Jewish men who are raising Jewish children. The Boston study confirms our efforts to reach this population. It is also what has propelled us to develop concomitant programs for men who are intermarried.

Not only is the Jewish community in Boston growing, but 90% of adult Jews are somehow involved or affiliated with Jewish organizations or institutions. This too bodes well for the Jewish future in Boston, considering that the majority of Jews in most other communities are unaffiliated. Kudos to the authors of this study and to the Boston Jewish community for its successful efforts in programming for the intermarried and for providing a variety of Jewish options for the unaffiliated. It is time for the rest of the organized Jewish communities throughout North America to follow suit.

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