We asked a handful of Boston’s young adult Jews to reflect on the just-released 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study. We wanted to know what stood out to them, and what they found most interesting or surprising. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Please post a comment below. We want to know: Where do you think the Boston Jewish community goes from here?
“As a single, young adult Jew, I find people asking me all the time about my Jewish affiliation. I’m asked if I prefer dating Jewish for my parents. No, for myself. Then I’m asked if I’m religious. Not really? People hear I spend my time engaged in Jewish text, learning and culture and plan to someday raise a Jewish family, but are confused that I don’t keep kosher or regularly go to synagogue. Dating apps ask what denomination I identify with, and I don’t know the answer. I was raised Conservative, but now what am I? This study starts to answer that question in a new way. I really connect with the new typology of engagement as defined by this study. I am immersed in Jewish life, and not being tied to an institution no longer puts me on the periphery. Without the concentric circles idea, there are so many ways to engage and feel like a ‘good Jew.’ Not that I didn’t feel that way before, but as the times change, so do the labels. I hope these (or something like them) become mainstream to a point where I don’t feel like I have to qualify my engagement to confused dates and acquaintances.
“I guess what I’m saying is that I feel validated in my engagement. Seeing these statistics, I know I’m not alone in finding Judaism through culture, learning, Israel and social community, but maybe not through prayer and synagogue affiliation. What does this mean for the future of Judaism in Boston and the traditional synagogue model? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m committed to continuing to build my Jewish life in Boston along with, per this research, many others who share my perspective and engagement. The young adults of Boston, we’ve got this. You can trust us! Even though we’re doing it differently, I promise we aren’t going anywhere.”
—Becky Price, 29
“My wife and I are part of the demographic shift described in the report. We live in Cambridge, outside the major Boston Jewish neighborhoods. We are members of Minyan Tehillah, an independent minyan unaffiliated with any of the major movements. And yet we are deeply involved in the broader community, through CJP, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, Hebrew College, Mayyim Hayyim, the Jewish Arts Collaborative, the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts and more. We chose to live in Cambridge because of our minyan—it was the only one of its flavor in the Boston area when we moved here. And what we also found was a pocket Jewish community very accepting of different modes of practice, methods of engagement and levels of observance. There’s an acceptance of the diversity of Jewish practice in pocket communities that’s sometimes hard to find. But I’m delighted to see the report reveal that this may be a broader phenomenon in Boston, that there are many communities, with many ways of connecting to our practices, our traditions and our values. I hope this will help our Greater Boston Jewish community re-evaluate how we think of ourselves, and who we think of as part of our community—and that we will see this and see the 70 faces of our community.”
—Samuel Gechter, 44
“After finishing reading CJP’s Overview, I felt like something was missing. So I went back and searched for a word. And then I went into the larger Cohen Center Report and searched the same word. It came up once in the overview, and five times in the full report. The word? Justice. Over the past 16 years, social justice has slowly but surely become the bulk of how I identify my Jewish identity (food and holiday celebrations with family being the other components). My connections to any Jewish institutions are almost exclusively ones that work toward a more just world in its mandate. I don’t give to Jewish organizations that conflict with the idea that all human beings deserve justice, equity and freedom. So was it just that I am the only one? Are there no others like me? Hint: There are lots of others like me. I’m not sure what happened.”
—Emilia Diamant, 31
“The only thought I typically have when it comes to community studies is boring. This one, however, being so important to me, was intriguing. In many ways, it told the story of my upbringing. When I was younger, my family belonged to a Conservative synagogue, and I went to Sunday school up until my bar mitzvah. Since then, we are no longer members of a congregation; rather, we attend services at Chabad, where no membership (or ticket, in the case of the High Holy Days) is needed. It seems the study supports this as somewhat of the norm: higher membership to traditional institutions among families with pre-bar mitzvah aged children. However, that is not to say that I am less involved. As the study lays out, I would consider myself to be in between the ‘immersed’ and ‘cultural’ categories. I regularly participate in Jewish activities and volunteer my time to Jewish organizations and communities.
“The study poses the question as to whether this is a snapshot of the current environment, or if it’s a trend toward the future. I certainly can’t answer that question definitively, but for me, I’d imagine it to be more of a snapshot. I imagine the younger demographic, the millennials (of which I am begrudgingly a member), will raise their children in a similar manner in which they were raised: joining a synagogue and entrusting the services of traditional institutions of Jewish learning with childhood education, while continuing to turn to their community to foster a connection to Jewish heritage and culture.”
—Ross Yellin, 30
“A little less than five years ago, my partner and I left Boston over the High Holidays. Looking for a Rosh Hashanah service during our travels, we found a majestically large temple located in a small rural area. When we entered, we noticed two things immediately: only the first few rows of seats were filled, and we were the only folks under 50 in the building. In this particular story, we actually left Massachusetts, but the analogy stands: the community is changing.
“The 2015 Greater Boston Jewish Community Study shows how our demographics are shifting—the Jewish community is moving away from rural areas and suburbs and into the city. As someone who mimicked this change myself, moving from the rural to the urban, this isn’t surprising. And as part of the 22 percent of our Greater Boston community that identifies with the millennial category, I’m heartened to see how our community is evolving. When I moved to Boston 10 years ago, I often felt pushback on my own identity as a member of an interfaith family. I often argued, and still do, that embracing everyone—no matter their background or where they stand on their own Jewish journey—leads to a more robust community. The study shows how interfaith families are raising Jewish children, participating in Jewish activities and rituals, and, like much of the community, are placing an emphasis on informal education as a way to engage.
“For many in our community, Judaism remains a deeply personal and hard-to-define part of our life. Those who identify as culturally connected with Judaism need to be seen as just as valuable to our community as those who identify as immersed or ritually observant. As the politics and behaviors of our country continue down an uncertain and frightening path, I challenge Jewish institutions, educators, lay leaders and professionals across the community to continue to push and engage beyond rituals and holidays. Judaism is a powerful force for good, with a rich history and teaching of acceptance, kindness and service. Our community needs these principals now more than ever.”
—Jordyn Rozensky, 33