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2019 Annual Assessment

It is difficult to estimate how many people engage in such communities, and in the broader innovative Jewish world that has been building for the past two decades. The seven JEN communities, for example, report hundreds of family member units each. Many more non-members attend each week, hundreds attend Shabbat services each week, and 2000 or more attend High Holiday services each year. Sixth and I, which does not have membership, reported that close to 30,000 individuals have registered for various Jewish services, classes or events, 10,000 of whom came for the High Holidays (they rent churches near the synagogue).

The various established synagogues that employ such models similarly report that a few hundred young adults attend regularly and a few thousand attend throughout the year. There are, of course, more independent communities being established each year, as well as dozens of non-religious initiatives. One can assume that there is significant overlap within this innovative ecosystem and even with established institutions. If taken together with about 60 or so independent minyanim around the US, it would be safe to estimate that such activities attract tens of thousands of young Jews each year. Were other non-establishment frameworks to be included, such as Chabad and Aish Ha Torah (Orthodox outreach programs), these numbers easily reach into the hundreds of thousands.

On a local level, we can see that over half (53 percent) of young adult Jews in the DC area (one of the largest in the US) participated in some kind of young adult Jewish program in the previous six months, organized by the likes of Sixth and I, Gather DC, One Table, Moishe House or the young adult wings of established denominational synagogues.12 However, the current scope is not necessarily a reflection of the larger impact of this ecosystem, which will only be discernable down the road.

Who participates? Such initiatives are generally geared to young adults. However, since the minyanim and places like Ikar and Romemu have been around for nearly two decades, many of the original young adults are now in their 40s and parents of young children. Additional young adults continue to join, many of whom bring their parents, creating a more multi-generational platform than perhaps originally envisioned.

By virtue of their “start-up” appeal, and their ethos of “radical inclusivity, they seem to attract a considerably larger number of “borderland” or “engagement” Jews than do traditional synagogues and federations, including those who were never a part of or moved away from the institutionalized Jewish world, younger Jews, Jews by choice, intermarried Jews, Jews of color, and LGBTQ Jews. These communities often also draw a relatively large number of non-Jewish “seekers.” Of course, is not that Reform and many Conservative synagogues are not welcoming and inclusive of, but rather that in such emergent communities, this crowd “tends to be the norm” and not the exception.

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