JULY 19, 2018 – What’s the future for Jewish Boston and the diaspora? That’s one of the major questions Rabbi Marc Baker will likely focus on as he begins his post as president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, New England’s largest Jewish charity.
Baker, a Lynnfield native, has strong Jewish roots in the Boston area. His father, Steve, was a former president of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore. Baker attended Phillips Academy and received his B.A. in Religious Studies from Yale University. In 2004, he was ordained as a rabbi by the Director and Rosh Yeshiva of the Pardes Institute, and until recently he served as the head of school at Gann Academy.
In his first public address since beginning his new job this week, he chose to speak at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott where he offered a broad outline for Jewish continuity: supporting Jewish days schools, camps, synagogues – and also sending Jewish kids to Israel.
CJP grew and expanded its mission during Shrage’s 31-year tenure. It raised $1.1 billion during that time, and also doubled its budget to $64.4 million.
But money alone will not ensure Jewish continuity. In recent decades, Greater Boston Jewry has grown more affluent – and assimilated. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center report, 72 percent of non-Orthodox intermarry and just one in five of those couples raise their children Jewish. Younger Jews have moved away in large numbers from their religion: 32 percent of Jewish-born millennials described themselves as having no religion. Across the Boston area, synagogue membership has declined and Jewish Community Centers have struggled to remain open.
To date, no American Jewish institution or leader has stepped forward with a viable proposal to reverse these trends. While CJP’s vision is vast and multi-focused, Baker should be commended for his focus on supporting youth-oriented Jewish programs such as day schools, camps, and trips to Israel. These programs strengthen Jewish identity, and provide a foundation for lifelong Jewish involvement. As American Jewry becomes more assimilated, these programs – and others focusing on Jewish youth – are needed more than ever.