Community reacts to
alarming census report
By Barry Fishman,
Ottawa Jewish Bulletin
October 31, 2005
Most community professionals, lay leaders and experts believe the
recently released Charles Shahar report, 2001 Census Analysis: The
Jewish Community of Ottawa, Part 6 Issues of Jewish Identity, will
forever change the way the organized Jewish community views itself
and how it goes about its business.
The report will shock and
Some of the highlights: Since 1991, the number
of intermarried arrangements has doubled. Almost half (48.3 per
cent) of couple households in which at least one spouse is Jewish
are intermarried. In absolute terms, 2,070 of 4,285 couple
households are intermarried. When both spouses are less than 30
years of age, the level of intermarriage is an astounding 82.1 per
cent. Almost half of Jewish children under 15 live in intermarried
households (43.6 per cent). About a third of the youngest children
of intermarried couples are being brought up Jewish (32.1 per cent),
approximately half have no religion (49.1 per cent) and the rest
(18.8 per cent) are being raised within another religion.
The 2001 Census Analysis report applies “high
identification” to those with a religious identification, “moderate
identification” to those with an ethnic identification and “minimal
identification” to those who claim another religion.
is a lower proportion of Jews who are “highly identified” in Ottawa
(74.5 per cent) than in Canada as a whole (80 per cent). Montreal
and Toronto, perhaps because of their size, have the highest
identified Jews. Ottawa is slightly behind Winnipeg (77 per cent) in
the number of people who highly identify themselves as Jewish. (See
Fourteen per cent
of Ottawa Jews consider themselves moderately identified and 11.5
per cent are minimally identified.
Ironically, compared to
most other cities of similar size in North America, Ottawa still has
a lower rate of intermarriage and a stronger sense of identification
with the community.
The results of the census do not come as
a complete surprise.
The Federation Education Outreach
Committee Report of 2005 recommended a broad outreach strategy be
developed to enhance participation in Jewish education. The report
noted the steep drops in enrolment in Jewish supplementary schools
and the slow decline in Jewish day school enrolment.
another report, the Jewish Identity and Responsibility (JIR)
Committee, under Chair Rona Shaffran-Tanenbaum, noted the high
levels of intermarriage, the high rate of non-affiliation, the
shrinking membership in various community institutions and the fact
that, despite raising more funds, the Federation has fewer
households making donations.
The JIR committee’s
recommendation to hire the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), a
national, non-denominational, independent organization, to help the
community reach the unaffiliated and the intermarried has been
accepted by the Federation Board of Governors.
The JOI does
a scan of the community and helps set up best practices for
community organizations to reach the intermarried and unaffiliated.
On its website, JOI says the model and methodology it uses “will set
off a chain reaction throughout North America to get Jewish
professional and volunteer leaders to reevaluate many aspects of
their organized community, leading to a community open and welcoming
to all, and therefore a stronger Jewish community.”
believes it is imperative that Judaism be taken to where the people
are. Its model, “Public Space Judaism,” calls for Jewish programming
in secular public venues such as malls or parks. Some examples would
be Succah-building at Home Depot or Chanukah Mall madness.
The “Destination: Jewish Culture” events, such as street
fairs, author readings and film festivals are held in secular
venues. They introduce participants to Jewish topics and provide a
positive low -pressure way of meeting the organized Jewish
The “Open Door” community takes place inside
Jewish institutions and could include such examples as the Reform
movement’s Taste of Judaism seminar or fairs or carnivals that are
open to all.
Mitchell Bellman, president and CEO of the
Federation, feels intermarriage is a “symptom” of the declining
affiliation level among Jews. It is, he says, a trend that is
happening throughout North American Jewry.
“The problem is
not intermarriage, but Jewish identity, involvement, affiliation,
and how to increase it.”
He sees the JOI helping the
community become more open and welcoming towards the intermarried
and unaffiliated, and learning to think creatively in finding venues
and programming to engage them.
Professor Allan Moscovitch,
school of social work, Carleton University and member of the 2001
Census Analysis, the Jewish Community of Ottawa professional
advisory committee, chairs the Federation Allocation Committee. He
is hoping the new emphasis on outreach and the decision to make more
funds available will result in innovative programming being produced
by institutions and organizations.
On Tuesday, November 22,
Moscovitch will discuss the just released census data at an open
community meeting beginning at 7:00 pm in the Social Hall at the
Soloway JCC. He believes “it is an opportunity, a challenge” the
community must take up and work together to improve the
Without a doubt, outreach to unaffiliated and
intermarried families will be the number one issue facing the Jewish
community in the coming years. The survival and growth of our
community depends on how we deal with this new reality.
yet things are not necessarily as bad as they seem. There are
numerous groups running or planning to run programs for unaffiliated
and intermarried families. The arrival of JOI may be just what this
community needs to encourage the process.
In the next few
months, the Bulletin will cover the Jewish Outreach Institute
extensively, talk with community members about the issue and
introduce you to some of the organizations and people who are
committed to reaching out to unaffiliated and intermarried families.
As always, your ideas and suggestions will be greatly
We can all begin the process of becoming a more
welcoming, open community by attending the November 22 Federation
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