Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene
According to the UJA Federation’s recent survey(https://jfnnj.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Full-Report-Northern-New-Jersey-Jewish-Community-Study.pdf) more than four in five Orthodox respondents (83%) and about two in three Conservative (67%) and Reform (69%) respondents feel they have “a lot” in common with Jews in their denomination. But that strong feeling of commonality declines for those in other denominations, with no more than a third—and in some cases far less than that— feeling they have “a lot” in common with others. Among Orthodox respondents, 23% said they have a lot in common with Conservative Jews and 10% said they have a lot in common with Reform Jews.
More than half of Orthodox respondents (54%) and Reform respondents (60%) say they have “some” in common with Conservative Jews. Majorities of Reform (70%) and Just Jewish respondents (54%) say they have “not much/nothing at all” in common with Orthodox Jews, while close to half of Orthodox respondents (45%) say they have “not much/nothing at all” in common with Reform Jews.
Among donors to Jewish organizations or causes, the most commonly supported are synagogues (above and beyond membership dues and building fund commitments), followed by Israel-focused support organizations, Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, and Jewish educational institution [33%] Conclusions: Jewish education for children and adolescents was priority #7, and Jewish day school education was priority #23.
The most important priorities (which lead to funding) are: safety and security of Jewish institutions, combating antisemitism, social services for the elderly, services for children and adults with special needs, supporting survivors of the Holocaust, fighting domestic abuse in the Jewish community and fighting hunger in the Jewish community. Eighty-three percent of respondents listed ensuring a vibrant Jewish future. How one defines this future and how we define “Jewish” is clearly up for debate and discussion.
Notably, respondents expressed less enthusiasm, by about 20 percentage points, for funding specific forms of formal and informal Jewish education—summer camps, educational trips to Israel, and day school—than about Jewish education for children generally. Modern Orthodox respondents said it is very important to fund Jewish day school education. Among respondents with children ages 6-17 in their household, nearly two-thirds (63%) said they have enrolled a child or children in full-time Jewish day school or yeshiva, followed closely by 59% of respondents who have sent a child or children to a Jewish day camp. About a third of respondents with children ages 10–17 have provided private Jewish tutoring for a bar or bat mitzvah and about a third have enrolled their children in an organized Jewish youth group. Among respondents with the oldest children, ages 14–17, about a quarter have sent their children on organized teen travel to Israel, and about a sixth have enrolled them in post-bar/bat mitzvah Jewish education.
Parents with children in day schools cite them as environments where their children will be instilled with Jewish pride, a love for the rhythm of Jewish life, a strong Jewish social network, and a foundation of Jewish education that will lead them to be adults who are literate about their Judaism and can make informed choices about their own Jewish path. Forty-five per cent cited price and affordability as a factor in sending a child to a day school. Qualitative data reveals some of the frustration of parents who place a premium value on Jewish education yet feel unable to sustain it financially.
Modern Orthodox respondents are the most likely to provide their children with immersive forms of Jewish education, including day school, day camp, overnight camp and teen travel to Israel[95%]; followed in consistent order by Conservative[42%]; Just Jewish[33%]; and Reform respondents [19%]. Among Modern Orthodox respondents, just 2% have not been to Israel.
The following questions remain:
- How does the community plan and collaborate to address needs?
- How does the community determine priorities among causes and programs?
- How can the community help increase the share of non-Orthodox parents making Jewish educational choices?
- How can the community support parents with lower incomes to provide Jewish educational experiences for their children?
To be sure, the Orthodox agenda may not mirror that of the broader Jewish community. But if we want the Federation to respond to our needs, we have to be involved in that process. We should acknowledge some of the community’s other needs even if we may not agree with them. You have to be in it to win it. Support for our programs will not materialize just because we believe them to be correct. יחד גם אחים שבת.
Rabbi Dr. Greene was the director of Federation’s Jewish Educational Services with its Teacher Resource Center, conferences, mentoring, grant funded projects and library for a decade.