Jewish Identity in the Diaspora
Although Jews who identify as “Jews by religion” generally exhibit strong feelings of commitment and belonging to the Jewish people, we must continue to cultivate this population’s connection to the Jewish people. This can be accomplished through interventions that continue throughout childhood, the teen years, and early adulthood. Therefore, high-level Jewish education, which is rich in opportunities for Jewish peer interaction and lasts throughout the teen years – summer camps, college classes in Jewish studies, and Israel trips – must be strengthened and supported.
Jews who report having no religion and lack a significant sense of belonging and commitment to the Jewish people present a greater challenge. The Jewish people should initiate experimental programs that encourage the rebuilding of their Jewish identity without diverting resources from more connected populations. Moreover, we must conduct further, mainly qualitative research in order to continue to clarify the correspondence between intermarriage and “Jews of no religion.”
The findings of recent studies and surveys, such as those of the Pew Center, demonstrate the need for both strengthening the Jewish identity of “Jews by religion” and finding ways to reach “Jews of no religion” who generally exhibit very weak Jewish commitment. The Jewish engagement of non-Orthodox Jews-by-religion cannot be taken for granted. The Pew study shows that a Jewish marriage and identifying with a wing of Judaism are the best guarantee of Jewish communal engagement and strong feelings of belonging and commitment. It has been shown that early and continuous educational interventions, which are rich in opportunities for peer interaction, can certainly contribute to marriage with other Jews.
The existence of a large number (over a million) of Jews “of no religion,” who lack a significant sense of belonging and commitment to the Jewish people raises challenges regarding the socio-cultural infrastructure of Jewish public and political influence. We, therefore, recommend allocating a small amount of resources in order to research this phenomenon and initiate experimental programs designed to respond to it.
Toward a Unified Framework for Reporting Expenses and Activities of Federations and other Jewish Organizations
Federations and Jewish organizations should establish a unified and consistent framework for such reporting across Jewish communal philanthropic institutions in the U.S. and, if possible, other Diaspora communities. This framework should also apply to those organizations not legally required to report to the IRS. Such a uniform framework would establish and define a clearly defined and agreed upon categorization of outlays in areas such as education, Israel, and social welfare. Such a framework would optimize planning and facilitate both longitudinal and inter-organizational comparison.
Federations currently make public detailed information on their activities. What complicates discussion and policy analysis is that they vary considerably in how such support is characterized at a more aggregate scale in annual reports and other documents. Such variation make comparisons between time periods, organizations, and regions in regard to activities and expenses, as well as outcomes and achievements necessary for informed policy planning, needlessly cumbersome and difficult.
Greater Integration of Women into Leadership Positions
In order to promote the greater integration of women into the leadership positions in Federations and other Jewish organizations, JPPI recommends that each current leader identify, together with male candidates, at least two women as potential successors and begin the process of preparing them for possible succession.
In the medium term, the American Jewish community should commit to creating specific leadership programs for mid-career women to help them deal with present obstacles to their advancement and direct them to the leadership positions that will become available in the upcoming years. Programs such as Harvard Business School’s Women’s Leadership Forum, whose goal is to prepare women to sustain strategic advantage inside their organizations, could be used as models to be adapted to the Jewish community context.
Women are seriously under-represented in the top leadership echelons of Jewish nonprofit organizations. This under-representation is connected to and exacerbates the alienation of Jewish youth from Jewish organizations and the organized Jewish community, leadership succession, and a lack of sufficient innovation among Jewish organizations. From the point of view of Jewish youth, lack of adequate representation of women in the Jewish leadership contributes to the image of Jewish organizations as anachronistic and hidebound. In regard to the issue of leadership succession, women make up the vast majority of the employees of Jewish organizations and constitute an important, yet underutilized, talent pool, which can contribute to leadership. With respect to innovation, it is well documented that leadership diversity contributes to organizational innovation.
Jewish Identity and Direct-to-Consumer DNA testing
Jewish communities and major Jewish organizations should set up bodies to provide information and programing for individuals who, through direct consumer DNA testing, believe they have discovered that they have Jewish roots and wish to connect to the Jewish people. Part of the task of such agencies must also be to prevent DNA tests from becoming a device of alienation from the Jewish people.
The last few years have witnessed a dramatic increase in the amount of interest in genealogical mapping. Dozens of new businesses now exist that enable consumers to trace their family history online by searching electronic documents; harnessing the power of virtual social networks and crowd sourcing, these businesses connect individuals with close and distant relatives to collaborate on building interconnected family trees.
Concurrently, advances in genetic research and computing technology have enabled direct-to-consumer (DTC) genealogical mapping through DNA analysis at affordable prices. These two methods of ancestry tracing have become interwoven.
Of the many discoveries made by individuals taking advantage of these advances in genealogical mapping is the possible existence of Jewish ancestry.
These developments offer new opportunities for connecting, engaging, and strengthening the bonds of the Jewish people.