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Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention

Jewish populations are divided into two groups. One group has  “high Jewish social capital,” i.e., Jewish social connections, friends and networks, educational and communal activities. This group is involved in a virtuous circle: a mutually revitalizing synergy that reinforces Jewish identity. The second group has “low Jewish social capital.” For example, Jews who are geographically isolated from other Jews in childhood or do not get sent to Jewish camps, have few Jewish friendship circles. Others within this group are the children of weakly identified Jewish parents. Some are children of intermarried families, especially of families where the mother does not identify as a Jew. Weak Jewish identification often gets worse with each generation that is remote from Jewish social networks and Jewish education, creating a cycle of “poor Jewish social capital.” As Steven Cohen put it in his A Tale of Two Jewries: The “Inconvenient Truth” for American Jews, “The intermarried homes with school-age children stand in sharp contrast. As compared with the in-married, only half as many of the intermarried observe Passover, Chanukah or Yom Kippur, or belong to a synagogue. Just 7% have mostly Jewish close friends (as compared with 53% of the in-married). Only handfuls (from 9-14%) attend services at least monthly, have been to Israel, light Sabbath candles, keep kosher at home, or volunteer in Jewish contexts as compared with about four times as many among their in-married counterparts.” One of the largest challenges facing Jewish educational policy is to formulate programs that can appeal to these low Jewish social capital groups.

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