Concerns for Jewish continuity in North America

The Jewish People Policy Institute, the forward-looking think tank focused on the Jewish future based in Jerusalem, has released two action-oriented papers dealing with concerns for Jewish continuity in North America. eJewish Philanthropy introduced the articles on its website.

Family, Engagement, and Jewish Continuity among American Jews, was prepared at JPPI by Profs. Sylvia Barack Fishman and Steven M. Cohen. The authors surmise that considerable disturbing evidence points to deeply challenging trends in America’s Jewish families – late marriage, intermarriage, reduced child-bearing and non-Jewish child-rearing. Nevertheless, prominent Jewish thought leaders are sharply divided over the state of the Jewish family and its implications for the Jewish future.

Fishman and Cohen contribute to this policy-related discourse by demonstrating that Jewish social networks (spouse and close friends), Jewish education, Jewish family formation, and Jewish inter-generational continuity mutually reinforce one another. They postulate that Jewish personal relationships nurture more Jewish engagement; and the more Jewishly engaged develop and sustain more Jewish personal relationships. Hence, fewer Jewish relationships mean less engagement and fewer Jews; and less engagement and fewer Jews mean fewer personal relationships among Jews in families or among friends.

The second paper – Learning Jewishness, Jewish Education, and Jewish Identity – was prepared under the lead of Prof. Barack Fishman and Dr. Shlomo Fischer, a JPPI Senior Fellow in cooperation with the Institute’s experts in the field. The paper summarizes the latest quantitative and qualitative research on Jewish identity formation for each point of intervention along the Jewish life cycle: early childhood, elementary and middle school, adolescence, college years, and emerging adulthood. The research findings in the paper are analyzed in light of the theoretical perspectives of social networks and social capital.

Both articles are a trove of insights and more importantly, typical of the JPPI, they also offer policy suggestions for the steps that ought to be taken if we are to achieve our objectives for our children and the future of the Jewish people.

Jewish education is the linchpin throughout the key lifecycle stages of our children’s lives in ensuring Jewish continuity. Its role is ever more crucial, the authors of the studies conclude, given the expanding importance of the complex, reinforcing construct of our children’s social network.

There can be no doubt that we – as a community – must move heaven and earth to enable as many children as possible to receive a Jewish education. For the sake of the children, of course, but equally for the sake of the community that we must ensure will remain thriving, diverse, creative and Jewish for all time to come.

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Shabbat shalom.

GAJE

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