Jewish education is an imperative intervention

From time to time, GAJE has brought readers’ attention to the work of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), a policy planning think tank based in Jerusalem whose mission is a rather lofty but vital one: “to ensure the thriving of the Jewish people and the Jewish civilization”.

JPPI tackles the hard questions that decision makers around the Jewish world must address in order to secure the future of the Jewish people as a Jewish people.

Last year the JPPI published the results of a comprehensive study undertaken in the United States in an effort to respond to one of the findings of the 2013 Pew Study on Jewish Identity that Jewish engagement among non-Orthodox youth is falling quickly and perhaps irretrievably away. We pointed in one of our weekly updates to the study, Family, Engagement, and Jewish Continuity among American Jews by Sylvia Barack Fishman and Steven M. Cohen some months ago.

This week, we return to some key observations that appeared in a companion essay entitled Learning Jewishness, Jewish Education, and Jewish Identity by Sylvia Barack Fishman and Shlomo Fischer, that follows upon the larger, main essay.

The main essay concludes, inter alia, “stabilizing or reviving Jewish engagement will depend upon influencing the family-related behaviors of today’s young adult Jews.”

Among the family-related behaviors most touted as transformative is Jewish education. “Our findings demonstrate that educational interventions in childhood can change outcomes in adulthood. Jewish education that extends into the teen years not only makes adult Jews more likely to forge Jewish connections- -it makes them more likely to marry another Jew, and to raise Jewish-by-religion children. Moreover, Jewish education is a strategic intervention that can be very much influenced by imaginative and energetic communal efforts. “

The companion essay delves into the various methods of effective “educational interventions.”

The essay is a wealth of empirical findings and policy recommendations. The one we highlight is the following. It speaks most directly to the far-reaching, long-lasting benefits of cumulative Jewish education.

The Importance of Cumulative Educational Programs

“Our research shows that the successful formation of Jewish identity through Jewish education is the result of cumulative serendipities: Jewish family connections, Jewish formal education, Jewish friends and social networks, Jewish informal education, and travel programs. All of these work together and reinforce one another to produce identified and attached Jews. The greater the number of Jewish educational activities and experiences, such as Jewish supplementary school combined with Jewish summer camp, the more impact each one of them has on the given child and on the family. The combination of youth group, camp, and Israel trips also is correlated with an 80 percent in-marriage rate. This is especially the case in the school-aged years. A major policy challenge is to seek out and support the serendipities, so that they are no longer left to chance, but become, instead, one of the primary strategies for promoting the future of Jewish life.”

The study also speaks about day school education, the acknowledged, single most effective educational intervention parents can undertake for their children. But it must be affordable if it is be accessed at all.

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Shabbat Shalom.

GAJE

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