Marc Baker, who became the president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies over the summer, is in the process of a listening tour, and last week he came to Salem to hear about the Jewish community’s priorities.
At the meeting, North Shore Jews praised local institutions – ranging from the JCC, Epstein Hillel School, the Jewish Journal, Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel and PJ Library programs, and others. Some wondered about the area’s Jewish demographic changes; others expressed concern about rising anti-Semitism.
As it further matures, the Jewish community in Greater Boston faces numerous issues. At the top of the list are three related subjects that will help define Boston Jewry in the coming decades: intermarriage, which is now 72 percent among the non-Orthodox, according to the Pew Research Center; dwindling affiliation with Jewish institutions – less than one-third of American Jews belong to a synagogue according to a Pew Center study; and the same study reported that 22 percent of American Jews say they have “no religion,” with 32 percent of all millennials describing themselves as having no religion, identifying as Jewish “on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.”
While there is no one answer to the questions of intermarriage and declining affiliation, existing programs – that boost Jewish pride and identity – should be expanded across the state. They include Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel program, which fully subsidizes a Jewish teen trip every summer; and Jewish camps, which lead kids to stronger adult Jewish engagement.
In addition, programs that link the Jewish community – such as this 42-year-old publication, the Jewish Journal – need to be expanded, rather than see their subsidy reduced.
Also, across Greater Boston, synagogue officials need to take a sober look at long-term viability. Many area temples are at least 50 years old and will require extensive maintenance and repairs to remain open. Many are facing hard decisions to close or merge. And, in the wake of the Pittsburgh temple shooting and other mass murders, temples are spending some of their last dollars to boost security. A comprehensive plan is needed to assess the future of these temples.
In these days of rapid demographic change, CJP needs to review what programs unite the community and enhance Jewish identity. Let your voice be heard and contact CJP. If we are to emerge as a stronger community, new ideas and additional dialogue is required.