|SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 10 (JTA) — The majority of
children in interfaith households in Boston — almost 60 percent, far
above the national average — are being raised as Jews.
That’s one of the key findings of the 2005 Greater Boston Jewish
Community Study, commissioned by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies,
the central planning and fundraising arm of Boston’s Jewish
community, and carried out by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt
Social Research Institute.
Researchers interviewed 400 Jewish households
by phone and an additional 1,400 individuals from a list provided by
Jewish organizations. The margin of error differed by question.
Some local Jewish leaders say a key factor is the community’s
heavy investment in outreach programming — $321,000 this year,
almost 1.5 percent of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ $27
Those funds are given to programs aimed at interfaith families
and individuals considering conversion run by the Jewish Community
Center, Jewish Family Services, the Reform and Conservative
movements and other agencies.
“There’s no other way to explain it,” said Ed Case, publisher and
president of InterfaithFamily.com, a Boston-area nonprofit that
encourages intermarried families to make Jewish choices.
The study’s preliminary findings, announced Friday, show strong
growth of the Jewish community, which now stands at 265,500, or nine
percent of the total population. That figure includes 57,000
non-Jews living in Jewish households; indeed, the study found that
half of area Jewish households involve an intermarriage.
The number of non-Jewish adults in Jewish households has risen
from 25,000 to 42,500 since 1995, the study found.
As increasing numbers of those interfaith families identify with
the Jewish community, more and more are raising their children
Jewish. Institute director Leonard Saxe, the primary investigator on
the study, called the 60 percent figure “exceptional.”
In comparison, the National Jewish Population Study 2000-2001
reported that between 33 percent and 39 percent of children in
interfaith households were being raised as Jews. The 2002 Jewish
Community Study of New York put the figure at 30 percent in the New
“When we first saw the 60 percent number, we said, ‘that can’t be
true,’ ” said Gil Preuss, vice president for strategy and planning
at Combined Jewish Philanthropies. But it made sense when he
considered other figures: Some 37 percent of local intermarried
families are members of synagogues, and more than 70 percent of the
children who are being raised Jewish in intermarried families are
receiving formal Jewish education.
The Boston study also reveals that 90 percent of local Jews “are
connected in some way, even if it’s just giving money” to Jewish
organizations, Preuss continued.
All of this suggests a Jewish community that is vibrant and
growing, in contrast to previous surveys that showed a drop-off in
Jewish populations in the Northeast.
Saxe and Combined Jewish Philanthropies officials are loathe to
draw direct links between increased Jewish affiliation among the
intermarried and increased communal investment in outreach
programming, but Preuss said, “We hope it had some impact. Clearly
we’ve tried to make the Jewish community and the CJP warm and
Other Jewish leaders are less hesitant.
“CJP is the only federation that has made a serious commitment
for over 10 years to fund this,” said Paula Brody, outreach director
of the Northeast Council of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose
organization receives $140,000 a year from the Combined Jewish
Philanthropies for a wide variety of adult-education seminars and
workshops aimed at interfaith couples and individuals considering
conversion. “We offered these programs before the CJP funding, but
it has enabled us to expand our offerings and advertise them in the
secular press, so we can reach the unaffiliated.”
Case says Boston’s outreach investment rate is almost 10 times
the national average given by Jewish federations, a figure the
United Jewish Communities is unable to confirm.
“Boston has the most highly organized and best-funded outreach of
any community, with San Francisco a close second,” he said.
Preuss says the Combined Jewish Philanthropies used a 1995 Jewish
communal study to redraw its strategic plan to encourage local
synagogues and Jewish agencies to be more open and welcoming to the
unaffiliated, particularly the intermarried. They increased funding
for adult Jewish education, mainly run through synagogues, from $3.6
million to $6.4 million.
“It’s an activist approach” to building Jewish identity,
“connecting people in diverse ways to Jewish life,” Preuss said.
“That’s how we see our purpose, not just to collect and distribute
Brody says her Reform outreach programs reach 600 to 750 non-Jews
or interfaith couples every year, a number she compares to “a
medium-sized congregation of unaffiliated people stepping into the
Jewish community every year for the past 10 years.”
One such couple is Nick and Amy O’Donnell. He’s Catholic, she’s
Jewish, and four years ago, even before their engagement, they took
part in “Yours, Mine and Ours,” a Reform outreach program for
The program “offered a place where we could work through the
things that were important to us in an environment that wasn’t
trying to herd us in one direction or the other,” said Nick, 31,
noting that they were getting enough pressure from their families.
By the end of the course, they’d decided to raise their children as
“Boston has sent a particular message of welcome, and the data
shows that families are responding,” Brody continued. “If you put
resources in this area, you will get results. You will get
San Francisco’s Jewish federation experienced similar results,
according to planning director Karen Bluestone. That federation was
one of the first in the nation to fund interfaith programming, she
notes, following a 1986 Jewish communal study that revealed large
numbers of intermarried families.
In the 20 years since, the Jewish population has more than
doubled in the San Francisco Bay Area and intermarriage has
increased, but increasing numbers of those interfaith households are
identifying with the Jewish community.
A 2004 communal study showed that 40 percent of the children in
interfaith households are receiving formal Jewish education, and 40
percent of the adults indicated that their interest in Judaism has
increased in the past five years. The numbers are about the same for
Jews and non-Jews, she said.
While Bluestone admits that “there’s no causality in the data,”
she said she sees a correlation between increased outreach and
increased Jewish identification.
“Due to the investments we’ve made since 1986 in outreach and
training to be more welcoming to interfaith families, we’ve seen a
rise in the number of interfaith families identifying as Jews and
raising their children Jewishly,” Bluestone said.
Saxe says his study in Boston could “change the debate about
intermarriage.” He noted gender differences: The children are raised
Jewish in virtually every intermarriage where the woman is Jewish,
but the figure is much lower when the Jewish partner is the man.
That suggests that Boston’s Jewish community should focus both on
providing better Jewish education to non-Jewish mothers and on
finding more effective ways to engage Jewish boys and young men in
Jewish life, so they don’t “run from the bimah” after their Bar
Mitzvahs, he said.
The findings also suggest that intermarriage, instead of having a
negative effect on a given Jewish population, can lead to the
reverse if more intermarried families affiliate with the Jewish
That’s true in Boston, Brody noted, where most of the “Jewish
population” increase since 1995 is made up of intermarried
“What’s remarkable is that these families see themselves not as
where the Jewish partner has married out, but where the Christian
partner has married in,” she said.
Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, says
he hopes other Jewish federations will take their cue from Boston
and San Francisco.
“Other communities are beginning to invest in outreach,” he said
— “perhaps not to the level we have, but people are beginning to
understand that it’s something that needs to be done.”