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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.



5 Comments

  1. I´m very interested in this study. I´d really like to know more about it. Congratulations from Buenos Aires. Ezequiel Erdei

    Comment by Ezequiel Erdei — November 16, 2006 @ 8:31 am

  2. Hello Ezequiel,

    Thank you for your interest! I’ve just added a link to the preliminary study in the blog. The link is: http://www.cjp.org/local_includes/downloads/16072.pdf

    Best,

    Julie Seltzer

    Comment by Julie Seltzer — November 16, 2006 @ 2:24 pm

  3. there is an article in the current edition of The Forward regarding the Boston study. in addition, there is a piece written by Edmund Case (the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com) and the URJ’s Kathy Kahn with regards on how to engage the intermarried in Jewish life.

    Comment by heather — November 17, 2006 @ 12:14 pm

  4. I’m confused. Where in the Boston study does it say that outreach programs are associated with children raised Jewish in intermarried households? You say “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…” but no where in the study is there mention on an emphasis on outreach. Can you clarify this for your readers? It seems to me that this is a blatant misinterpretation of the data in order to promote your agenda.

    Comment by Daniel — December 3, 2006 @ 4:07 am

  5. Thank you for posting your comment. Although the study does not specifically say outreach is responsible for the very high rates of Jewish identification among intermarried families, it is not a “blatant misrepresentation of data” to suggest that there is a connection between the city with one of the two best organized outreach programs in the country having more intermarried families choosing to raise Jewish children and 60% of families in Boston with a parent from a different religious background raising Jewish children. The authors of both articles mention in our blog posting contend that outreach and a welcoming attitude toward intermarried families is in part responsible for the Boston Jewish community’s positive effect in reaching this population. It is possible that other factors impact the decisions made by these Boston families, but top notch outreach, welcoming institutions, and a variety of Jewish options make a difference.

    Comment by Amanda Milstein — December 28, 2006 @ 9:39 am

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