The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Prepared by the William and Lottie Daniel Department
of Outreach and Synagogue Community
To the discussion leader: The following materials have been prepared for use in a variety of settings: Board meetings, WRJ or Brotherhood study sessions, Membership/Outreach Committee meetings, oneg Shabbat program, adult education classes or Shabbatonim. Begin with an introduction similar to that outlined below and then choose from among the activities according to your goals and the amount of time available.
Brief Introduction (5 minutes)
The face of Judaism in North America isn’t “changing;” it has changed. The introductory paragraph of the recently released 2000-1 National Jewish Population Survey of the Jewish population in the United States makes this point:
American Jews possess many strengths, face important challenges, and exhibit notable diversity. They maintain frequent points of involvement in Jewish religious and ethnic group life, but many are disengaged from the Jewish community. As a group, American Jews have relatively high educational levels and socioeconomic status, but significant pockets of poverty and social service needs also exist within the population. Intermarriage, delayed marriage and low fertility rates constitute challenges to Jewish continuity. The diversity across these areas -- religious, cultural, social, communal and demographic -- is truly striking, making simple, global characterizations difficult to reach. The American Jewish landscape, while full of common themes, is also marked by systematic variation. (www.ujc.org/njps)
The Reform Movement’s commitment to include Jews and Jewish families from diverse backgrounds with diverse perspectives significantly strengthens our congregations and is a value to celebrate.
General Discussion Questions (50 minutes)
Use the Reform Judaism focus articles and “The Face of Reform Judaism” poster as texts. Begin with questions 1 – 3 and then choose two from questions 4-10.
Brenner: “The more I’ve seen of Judaism, both in the Diaspora and in Israel, the less I understand what being Jewish actually means. If I looked for continuity, I’ve found only discontinuity.”
Q: What does being Jewish mean to you? Are there Jews who would not be included in your definition? What does Brenner mean by “discontinuity”? Is “continuity” a value?
Magda Elias: It is not easy to be a Latino Jew. Although we have been members of our congregation for seven years, other congregants sometimes say hurtful things, making us feel like outsiders. We sometimes are asked, in our own synagogue, “Are you Jewish?”
Q: Is it appropriate to ask someone if he/she is Jewish? How can a congregation establish a context of acceptance?
Patricia Lin: “I’ve learned that while many [Asian American Jews] have experienced difficulties reconciling their dual-minority identities in their early years, as adults most have come to appreciate their uniqueness as Jews of Asian descent. At the same time, many tell me of their isolation, even in cosmopolitan Jewish areas. They do not like having to prove they are Jewish and wonder if Ashkenazi Jews may reject them as potential romantic partners because they are Asian. They rarely see their faces reflected in Jewish periodicals….”
Q: What are the challenges and the advantages of having a “dual-minority identity”? What experiences help a person to appreciate his/her uniqueness? Can congregations help?
Carlton Watson: “In the beginning I felt somewhat odd in temple. As a person of color who had focused on issues of racial equality throughout my life, was this really my path? As the only Black worshiper in the sanctuary, did I really belong? How could Judaism speak to me as a Black? How would continuing on this Jewish journey alter my role in the Black community? How would I feel about being defined as a Jew by others—predominantly White others?”
Q: “Odd man out” means being an outsider. Are there times you’ve felt “odd” in your community? How do you reconcile various roles in your life with your Jewishness? In what ways do others define your Jewishness?
Alyssa Stanton: “I am a Jew and I am an African American. These identities are not mutually exclusive in my life. My daughter Shana and I are both Jewish and Black. We do not have to choose. We will not choose. We proudly embrace both cultures.”
Q: Does every North American Jew have two cultures? More? What does it mean to have plural identities?
Rabbi/Cantor Angela Warnick Buchdahl: “Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I struggled to integrate my Jewish, Korean, and secular American identities. I did not look Jewish and did not want this heavy burden of having to explain and prove myself every time I entered a new Jewish community.”
Q: What was it like for you to enter a new Jewish community? Did you feel you had to “explain and prove” yourself? Is there a way for your community to ease this burden for newcomers?
Text Study (35 minutes)
Begin with blessing for Torah study (in Hebrew, transliteration and English.) Divide participants into small groups for self-directed study. (20 minutes) Debrief by asking each group for suggested next steps. (15 minutes)
Texts: Take from among you gifts to the Lord, everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them—gifts for the Lord: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yearns, fine linen, and goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting; spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and the breastpiece. And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded: the Tabernacle, its tent and its covering, its clasps and its planks, its bars, its posts, and its sockets. Exodus 35:5-11
You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:9
Rabbi Eliezer observes that the Torah specifies not less than thirty-six times that Jews should “love the stranger.”
Questions for Discussion:
American Jewish population
NJPS 2000: 5.2 million people, 4.1 million adults and 1 million children in 2.9 million households with a total of 6.7 million people, both Jews and non-Jews. 100,000 Jews are institutionalized.
“A Jew is defined as a person whose religion is Jewish, or whose religion is Jewish and something else, or who has no religion and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing, or who has a non-monotheistic religion, and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing.”
The population with stronger Jewish connections who answered the long-form questionnaire consists of 4.3 million people, including over 3.3 million adults and more than 900,000 children.
57% of Jewish adults are currently married; 9% are divorced, 8% are widowed, and 1% are separated. 25% are single and have never been married.
Mobility (NJPS, Fall 2003)
35% of adult Jews moved during the past 5 years.
12% moved within the same city
10% moved to another location in the same state
10% moved to a different state
2% moved from a different country
43% live in the Northeast (57% born in Northeast)
13% live in the Midwest (18% born in Midwest)
23% live in the South (14% born in South)
22% live in the West (11% born in West)
These figures refer to the population (4.3 million Jewish adults and children) who answered the long form questionnaire.
46% belong to a synagogue
Reform Synagogue Affiliation (reported by Leonard Saxe)
55% of inmarried couples who identify as Reform report membership in a synagogue.
31% of intermarried couples who identify as Reform affiliate with a synagogue
75% of conversionary households who identify as Reform affiliate with a synagogue
NJPS 2000 reports that between 1996-2001, 47% of Jews who married, married someone who was not Jewish. The 1990 NJPS reported a comparable intermarriage rate of 43%.
NJPS 2000 gives the following stats over time:
Before 1970, 13% of Jews who married married someone who was not Jewish.
“Among all married Jews today—including those recently married and those married long ago whose marriages are still intact—31% are intermarried.”
From the American Religious Identification Survey (2001, Egon Mayer, et al)
|Race/Ethnic Make-up of Jews by Religion|
Questions for discussion:
Further Resources from the Union for Reform Judaism
Kulanu (All of Us) helps congregations welcome and gay and lesbian Jews.
The Life-Cycle of Synagogue Membership is a user-friendly guide for congregational leaders to improve recruitment, integration and retention of all members.
Reform Jewish Outreach: The Idea Book Series presents award-winning programs to welcome and integrate interfaith couples and families, Jews-by-choice, young adults, and the full diversity of Jewish families.
From the William and Lottie Daniel Department of Outreach and Synagogue Community (212-650-4230):
The Shalom! Guide aids synagogue administrators and support staff in responding warmly and informatively to questions from non-synagogue members on a range of issues from interfaith wedding officiation to funeral practices.
Search URJ.org and the other Reform websites: