July 12, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 12, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The State of Our Jewish Community

By Rabbi Dr. Wallace Greene

Part I

When “we” talk about “our” Jewish community we generally refer to our insular Orthodox community with its myriad and varied organizations serving “our” needs. However, there is a larger and broader Jewish community providing services to all of our coreligionists as well as to us. They support many worthwhile programs from which we often can and do benefit. As befits any large communal organization, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey conducts periodic reviews to determine its priorities and the effectiveness of its programs.

Surveys and studies can be manipulated and skewed to show predetermined conclusions, and that is why Federation tries very hard to be objective so that funding can follow outcomes. Sometimes, however, when a large-scale study draws conclusions with which the leadership disagrees, they ignore the recommendations until the next survey is more to their liking. A dozen years ago a major study showed that Jewish education was a major priority for our community. Since Federation is not populated with “day school people,” this conclusion was shelved and some important key leaders quit after putting in many hours to reach these objective conclusions. A few years later Jewish Educational Services, Federation’s education department serving all the congregational and day schools in our area, was dissolved because the leadership had other priorities.

A new study, commissioned by Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, with support from The Russell Berrie Foundation, and conducted by Rosov Consulting, has been completed. (See bit.ly/3SCrbRf). This study is designed to aid the Northern New Jersey Jewish community in better understanding its needs and aspirations, strengths and challenges, experiences and perspectives. According to this study, lack of appealing programs, lack of time, and financial costs are the top barriers that prevent people from feeling more connected to the Jewish community. However, “Orthodox respondents are consistently among the most highly engaged.”

Over 75% of the respondents described the following causes as very important funding priorities: safety and security locally and in Israel, social and human service needs for vulnerable populations, planning for the Jewish future, broadly defined Jewish education and Holocaust education. Over 60% of the respondents described programming for the following specific groups as very important funding priorities: programs for older adults, families with young children and teenagers, newcomers to the community and college students.

Among the questions asked was: “How can the community better support parents who wish to make Jewish educational choices for their children?” Denominational affiliation and household income are strongly related to immersive Jewish educational choices, such as day schools, day and overnight camps and teen trips to Israel. Modern Orthodox respondents and those earning $250,000 or more are the most likely to provide their children with these educational experiences. But this doesn’t really answer the question.

About 40% of respondents attended Jewish day camps, day schools and preschools. Among the approximately one third (36%) of all respondents who are Orthodox, the vast majority are Modern Orthodox (90%), while small numbers are Hasidic (2%), Yeshivish (1%), or did not provide a specific Orthodox identity (5%). 37% felt that the Jewish community is not welcoming enough to Jews with limited financial means. In addition, a retiree said: “One of the things that keeps me from being involved in some things is that there is a kind of cliquishness in the Orthodox community in Teaneck. A lot of it is age-cohort related. They all know each other, and I feel left out.” A parent of children with disabilities observed: “With the local Jewish scouting community, there’s always been this discomfort as a Reform Jew in Bergen County. And not everybody acts that way, but you’re never sure when you walk into a room if you’re going to be Jewish enough.”

Respondents who indicated they are very or somewhat interested in stronger connections to the community were asked to identify a series of program topics and activities that would interest them. Topping the list are Jewish arts, culture and literature; Jewish cooking; and volunteer opportunities. To a lesser extent, the focus groups and interviews also revealed interest in Ulpan/Hebrew courses and Jewish history, including local Jewish history. There was also interest in light learning in a mostly fun-oriented environment, and they center Jewish identity and ritual without requiring deep commitment or knowledge. “The things I feel like are missing are the big joyous celebrations of holidays. There’s a synagogue in South Orange that had a huge kegger for Purim, it was all adults, everyone dressed up, and it was really Jewish and really fun and really rowdy! With the population of young adults we have, I’d love to see more of that … more opportunities to really experience the joy in that way,” said a Hudson County young adult.


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.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles