As the director of InterfaithFamily/Boston, I have dedicated my rabbinate to connecting interfaith couples and families to Judaism on their own terms while also encouraging the larger Jewish community to be welcoming to the many diverse people who enter our doors. The American Jewish community is undergoing massive change both in our makeup and our understanding of who we are, and the 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study has confirmed what we see on the ground in many ways.
Boston has a thriving Jewish community with so many different opportunities for anyone and everyone. I am privileged to work with so many other Jewish professionals and organizations with a wide variety of offerings, from deep Jewish learning to artistic and creative pursuits, from meaningful programming about Israel to connecting with the land here in America and, of course, everything in between. This study shows that we are already diverse both in interests and in backgrounds.
Despite the still-prevailing assumption that intermarriage is a concern, rather than an opportunity, the Community Study tells us that intermarried families are not only seeking Jewish community, but they are doing so more than ever. The synagogue affiliation rate in this group has drastically increased since the previous study in 2005 and therefore tells me two important things.
First, our wonderful synagogue communities are doing more than ever before to welcome and engage this population. At InterfaithFamily, we send a monthly events newsletter to our thousands of subscribers, chock-full of amazing offerings geared specifically toward interfaith families, but even more so toward everyone. More and more synagogues and organizations reach out to us to include their offerings and are thinking deeply about how to best cater to the increasingly diverse population in their midst. I am so proud to be a part of this community and watch as we evolve together.
Second, the 47 percent of interfaith families in the Boston community are hungry for connection, for Jewish involvement and belonging. Sixty percent of interfaith couples are raising Jewish families and are looking for learning experiences, meaningful conversations and like-minded friends. It’s our responsibility to think profoundly about how our individual communities and our larger Boston Jewish community reflect all the people who already belong, and even more important, those who want to belong.
In the realm of engagement, the study shows us something we already know, that most interfaith families are incredibly similar to Jewish-Jewish families in what they’re looking for in Judaism and how they engage with Judaism. Families are seeking traditional and new ways to find relevancy and educate their children in an increasingly fast-paced and uncertain world. We, the Jewish community, know how to do this so well. This is our bread and butter. Judaism is an ever-evolving religion, culture and community, always turning our traditions and teachings and melding our history with our present as we look toward our future.
This opportunity is ours again as we look toward the younger generations. This is the “Yes, and” generation that is comfortable with a multitude of identities, that wades in dissonance and is just as hungry to connect in meaningful ways. As a child of an interfaith family and a (reluctant) millennial, I acutely understand both the unique and universal desires that my generation has when looking to connect and find meaning in Judaism. The study tells us again what we see on the ground, that my generation is not only more fluid in its understanding of Jewish identity but that we want a variety of experiences, we are a bit scared of commitment to a single Jewish source and we are more diverse in our backgrounds, ethnicities, races, gender identities and sexuality than any previous generation. Yet needing connection and community is human, no matter the generation. The task of our Jewish community is to find the balance between the fixed definition of who we have always been and the dynamic possibility of who we can be.
The Community Study tells us a lot about who we are as a community, provides us with important statistics and facts about our makeup and tendencies and reminds us of the great work we have done in our community. It also pushes us to listen to each other, to hear the stories beyond the statistics, to understand our incredible diversity and how we are stronger because of it. Finally, we are given the gift of imagining our future together, continuing the vibrant work we are doing and looking for new and powerful ways to grow, engage and celebrate our beloved Jewish community.