Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Forget about Jewish Affiliation, Think about Jewish Connectedness

My colleague, Beth Finger, is working tirelessly on a project called Jewish Without Walls. Be sure to check it out on Facebook.

During our conversation this morning, we both challenged the relevance of  "Jewish affiliation", which has been used in every Jewish demographic study as a measure of community success in modern America. The problem is, and has always been, that the operational definition of "affiliation" is often "pays dues to a synagogue". Even those who expand the definition someone, rarely get beyond handing money to an organization (JCC, Federation, Hillel) as the operational definition.

The problem with the definitions:

  1. Synagogue affiliation doesn't include serious Jews who are "not religious".
  2. Those for whom membership is of little if any value are "not affiliated", although they may be "very Jewish": large numbers of elderly and many Gen Y'ers, for example
  3. These definitions don't include significant numbers of Jews who relate to their Jewishness independently, including growing numbers who use social media to express their Jewishness

I'd like to suggest a more important measure of success than "affiliation". It's about Jewish Connectedness. This idea (with gratitude to Beth for helping to shape this over breakfast) takes note of all sorts of ways of relating meaningfully to one's Jewishness and, if desired, one's Judaism:

  • "seasonal" connections of families of summer campers
  • participants in independent minyanim and Chabad
  • younger adults, in particular, who are doing Jewish in non-institutional spaces or in secular spaces
  • Jews connecting online in meaningful ways
  • folks who participate in Beth's Jewish Without Walls, in havurot and in other groupings that are not (yet) dues-based groups
Someone with far more of a mathematical intelligence than me will figure out how to measure Jewish Connectedness. For now, I simply propose that we begin using Jewish Connectedness as an operational definition of success and as THE goal of our work in building Jewish communities and in the work of Jewish education at all ages.

Looking forward to comments...