I recently had an inspiring conversation with Alona, a Jewish community volunteer thinking deeply about how she can build vibrant Jewish connections in her Sussex County community. How can she and the synagogue that she helps to lead reach and engage with more Jews in the area? How might they bring together people who are spread out geographically? In a time when most Jews participate in familial and personal Jewish activities in their homes, how might they offer appealing community programs?
I met Alona at an information session about our Federation’s recently released 2020 Community Study of the Greater MetroWest Jewish community. The purpose of the 2020 Community Study is to provide the Greater MetroWest Jewish community with reliable information to help all of us, here at Federation, and throughout the Jewish community, to better fulfill our mission to care for people in need, build a vibrant Jewish community, and by extension to save the world.
Alona and other Jewish leaders have been eager to hear what could be gleaned from the study. We haven’t collected this sort of data about the Greater MetroWest Jewish community in over 20 years, and there’s much to learn. Over the course of two months and 13 virtual meetings, we shared the data with more than 120 representatives from special interest groups – synagogues, day schools, and social services agencies, as well as geographically. For anyone interested in watching the information sessions, you can find them at the link above.
But what’s next? How do we synthesize this data in a constructive way to help Alona and others like her answer the pressing questions that will make a significant impact on our community in the years ahead?
The informational meetings were great starts to the conversation about what the data in community study means and what we might do in response to further strengthen our community. In those initial discussions a few interesting characteristic came up repeatedly as people considered the data together.
First, a look at the map of Greater MetroWest reveals differences across the region but confirms that, no matter where we’re located, Jews in all areas of Greater MetroWest participate in a range of Jewish activities, including personal activities in our homes and communal activities in Jewish institutions. These characteristics call on us to think how to create more convenient and more relevant access points for people to connect with Jewish community throughout Greater MetroWest.
Second, our community is comprised of diverse households, many or which include people who do not identify as Jewish. While there are some differences in Jewish engagement between inmarried and interfaith households, Jewish adults in interfaith marriages in our community participate in all types of Jewish activities, especially Jewish activities done in their homes with family. The large portion of us building interfaith families calls on us to create more diverse welcoming opportunities for all members of Jewish households who wish to connect with Jewish community.
Third, some Jews in our community face significant financial challenges and there are financially struggling households of all age groups and household compositions, and in all geographic areas of the Greater MetroWest community. These statistics call on us to use our historic creativity, generosity, and commitment to Jewish values to provide support to those in need, lifting up all members of our Jewish community with dignity.
I was so glad to have these conversations with caring members of our community, like Alona. Our Federation lay leaders and professionals are working in partnership to bring together trends from across the community study reports, and to identify priority areas for attention and exploration based on the data, such as those described above. We will share our work as it proceeds in the weeks and months ahead. At the same time, we invite the entire Greater MetroWest Jewish community to join us in this process of self-reflection by reading the 2020 Community Study reports and considering what we can each do ensure our Jewish community’s strong future.