Opening the gates of the Jewish community

Gary Tobin, president of the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community Research, is one of a few sociologists and demographers who are involved in the ongoing debate about the real size of the Jewish community and the importance and validity of reaching out to those on the periphery. He is a brave soul, taking many unpopular positions, most of which agree with positions taken by JOI.

Tobin is an optimist. While most think that the Jewish population in North America is shrinking, he says it is growing. While most are clinging to the core, he is embracing those on the periphery. While most see the Jewish community as monolithic, he sees its brightly hued tapestry. His latest op/ed, carried by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and aptly titled “Intermarriage studies may be right; community’s fearful response isn’t” is no exception.

In this piece, Tobin confirms what JOI has been regularly communicating to Jewish communities:

‘Prevention’ of intermarriage is the primary ideology and practice of the Jewish communal infrastructure. This approach is neither desirable nor workable beyond a minority of Jews….[And] Who wants to be part of a community that scolds its members as bad Jews for choosing the wrong partner?… We should be far more concerned about how to help families to be Jewish than about how to keep gentiles away. What do we do to positively promote conversion? How do we advocate for Judaism? How do we attract and involve rather than warn, scorn and criticize?

Perhaps Tobin’s call should be the beginning of the community’s agenda for the next 5-10 years: “The Jewish community should promote the joys, meaning and benefits of Jewish life. We should overcome being afraid of who will be lost to Judaism and instead work on who will join us.”

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