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Boston Study Shows 60% of Interfaith Children Are Being Raised Jewish

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2007

A new study has found that a significant majority of the children from intermarried couples in the  
Boston area are being raised Jewish — one reason for a surprising overall increase in the region’s Jewish  
The Forward (Nov. 17, 2006) reports that, “The findings from Boston could fuel and shift the  
longstanding national debates over Jewish demographic trends ... Previous surveys of the national  
Jewish population have suggested that the community’s population is shrinking — particularly in the  
northeastern U.S. The surveys also have set off much hand wringing over the increasing number of Jews  
marrying outside the faith, a trend that is generally believed to produce non-Jewish children and thus  
lead to a decline in the size of the community. The new survey, however, indicates that in the Boston  
area 60 percent of the children of intermarried couples are being raised as Jews, and that the number of  
people living in Jewish households appears to have increased by 50,000 since 1995.”  
“The arithmetic of intermarriage is that it takes only one Jew to make a family, where it takes two with  
in-marriage,” said Leonard Saxe, the Brandeis professor who led the study. “If a majority of the kids are  
being raised Jewishly, that increases the population.”  
The growth of Boston’s Jewish community and its success in attracting the children of intermarried  
couples is attributed largely to the city’s Jewish charitable federation, the Combined Jewish  
Philanthropies. The Boston federation has in recent years emphasized programs that welcome interfaith  
families, but this has been only part of a larger drive to create more welcoming synagogues and  
communal centers.  
“When we compare Boston to other communities, it seems to me that one is seeing one of the healthier  
Jewish communities in the U.S.” said Jonathan Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis  
University. “The question to ask is, why is this so? It obviously has something to do with leadership and  
culture of Boston itself.”  
The Forward notes that, “Boston’s Jewish federation has been a national leader in reaching out to  
intermarried couples. The federation spent $321,000 on interfaith programs last year (2005) and has  
added a line to every mailing that says ‘Interfaith couples are welcome.’”  
The president of the Boston Jewish federation, Barry Shrage, said he believes that the programs  
explicitly aimed at intermarried couples are one part of the puzzle. The federation has formed  
partnerships with synagogues to help them understand that inveighing against intermarriage can push  
interested couples out of the Jewish community. But he hopes that an even larger cause for the  
community’s success has been its conscious effort to beef up the intensity and Jewish educational  
opportunities in Boston.  
“You can pursue people by lowering the barriers and watering down the content,” Shrage said, “or you  
can lower the barriers to entry and intensify the product. We want to talk about creating a community  
without barriers, but with a vision for Jewish life as high as Sinai.”  
In an article entitled “Engaging The Intermarried” (The Forward, Nov. 17, 2006), Edmund Case,  
president of Interfaith Family.com, and Kathy Kahn, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s  
Department of Outreach and Synagogue Community, write: “Ever since the 1990 National Jewish  
Population Survey revealed that roughly half of Jews were marrying non-Jews, leading voices in the  
Jewish community have decried the threat of intermarriage. The real threat though was never from Jews  
marrying non-Jews; it was from those couples remaining distant from the Jewish communIty, failing to  
make Jewish choices in their lives and not raising their children as Jews ... If ... more than half of  
interfaith families raise their children as Jews, our community will grow in size, to say nothing of being  
qualitatively enriched by enthusiastic new members. Indeed, Boston’s Jewish community ... has seen  
dramatic growth not in spite of intermarriage but because of the high proportion of children from such  
marriages being raised as Jews. What was once a threat has now become an opportunity.”  
Pointing to success in San Francisco as well as Boston, Case and Kahn conclude: “Every community  
could emulate these outreach efforts ... If the Jewish community on national and local levels allocated  
1% of its funding toward outreach to interfaith families, we now know that we could see 60% of them —  
or even more — making Jewish choices, enlarging and enriching our community.”

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