Pew study findings prompt local lay and professional leaders
to strategize for the future.
Special to the Jewish News
ver a decade ago, the National
Jewish Population Study showed
what later surveys confirmed:
American Jews intermarry at a high rate,
they don't practice religion, and they don't
join Jewish institutions.
Since the NJPS study came out in 2000,
Detroit's Jewish lay and professional lead-
ers have worked hard at finding, retaining
and engaging members with programming
intended to show that Judaism is relevant
to modern life — Shabbat services in
the park, lathe and vodka nights, Web-
streamed religious services, portable Torah
learning, among them.
And, to some extent, the efforts have
paid off. Reform temples, including Shir
Shalom and Temple Israel, both in West
Bloomfield, enjoy large crowds in their
sanctuaries; Jewish Federation dona-
tions are up; and a synagogue that was
given up for dead in Downtown Detroit is
enjoying a revival, thanks to younger Jews
who are committed to reinvigorating the
Still, affiliation rates remain low, along
with financial support of Jewish institu-
tions. There is much work to be done.
While the Pew Research Center's "A
Portrait of Jewish Americans:' released in
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"Vgctici, e i ;
October, did not offer any surprises, lead-
ers have seized on a core and compelling
finding of the demographic study: Even if
they aren't religious, don't belong to a syn-
agogue or other Jewish institution, don't
donate to Jewish causes or are married to a
non-Jew, 83 percent agreed they are proud
to be Jewish.
That has prompted a new round of soul-
searching among Jewish professional and
lay leaders who are trying to figure out
how to capitalize on that positivity. How
do they make a compelling case for being
part of the community, for raising children
Jewishly, for supporting Jewish causes?
Generating Local Ideas
After a lively presentation of the Pew
Center's findings last week and TED-like
talks by Rabbi Michael Moskowitz of
Temple Shir Shalom, Miryam Rosenzweig
of the Jewish Federation's NextGen
Detroit Department and Tilly Shames of
University of Michigan Hillel, about 100
professional and lay leaders of the area's
synagogues, temples, social service agen-
cies and the Jewish Federation discussed,
in small groups, strategies for bolstering
Some of the ideas floated include
becoming more inclusive and collabora-
tive, tailoring programs to specific interests
and changing the way institutions market
"One thing that struck me was the chal-
lenge of marketing for multiple popula-
tions, especially Millennials [the genera-
tion born after 1980]:' said Melissa Ser,
director of congregational programming
at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington
Hills. "We have to make sure that both our
programs and our publicity speak to them
first. I will definitely be looking at our pro-
grams through another lens from now on
as a result of the evening's discussion:'
Moskowitz challenged leaders to think
— and speak — differently about the peo-
ple who want to belong to the community
but may not feel welcome. That includes
non-Jewish spouses. Why not subsidize
Jewish preschool education and summer
camp for their children?
"Intermarriage has the potential to
make us stronger; Moskowitz said.
Rosenzweig, who joined the Jewish
Federation as director of its NEXTGen
program two years ago, pointed out that
Millenials consider Jewish institutions
irrelevant. And just going to Israel won't
change their minds.
Her suggestion: Don't lecture. Meet them
where they are. Understand generational
The soft-peddling may be working: The
number of young donors to Federation
climbed by more than 20 percent in the
last five years, Rosenzweig said.
"We're growing because we're address-
ing the needs of young Jews:' she said,
pointing to the rebirth of the Isaac Agree
Downtown Synagogue and the new
Chabad in the D, the Lubavitch outreach
center in the city.
Shames of U-M Hillel said she sees "tre-
mendous pride" in U-M Jewish students,
who "are Jewish in a very public way"
"All of these Jewish students are Jews by
choice; They have to be given an opportu-
nity to make a choice she said. "We have
to be as welcoming as we can:" Shames
talked about "audacious hospitality" as a
Nancy Glen, chairperson of the
Federation's JFamily and the Jewish
Identity Building committee, said it won't
do any longer for Jewish institutions to be
"siloed;" rather, they need to work along-
side each other and lose the fear that mem-
bers will find something better elsewhere.
"I believe that collaboration would lead
to better engagement of people. You bring
together different perspectives of cohorts
and memberships:' she said.
Notes from the conversations at each
table will be compiled and hopefully
will lead to more discussion and, ulti-
mately, action, said Allan Gale, associ-
ate director of the Jewish Community
Relations Council, which co-sponsored the
"Implications of the Pew Survey for the
Metropolitan Detroit Jewish Community"
with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, Ph.D., con-
sultant for the Pew Study and senior direc-
tor of the Berman Jewish Data Bank at
the Jewish Federations of North America,
presented the Pew study findings.
"I think the data can be used to perhaps
focus the conversation that has already
begun:' Gale said. ❑