32, No. 3
FOCUS ON JEWISH
DIVERSITY DISCUSSION GUIDE
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.
- Ask participants
to read the articles in “Focus on Jewish Diversity” in advance
and to bring their copy of Reform Judaism Spring 2004 with
them to the session
- Display your congregation’s
copy of The Face of Reform Judaism: Outreach at 25 poster where
it can be viewed easily by participants (Posters were sent to all temple
presidents in early December 2003. An additional copy may be obtained
for $10 postage and handling by calling 212.650.4230 or e-mailing email@example.com;
the poster can be viewed and
bios downloaded from the web.
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.
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.
- How is Jewish diversity
reflected in the Reform Judaism Focus on Jewish diversity?
- What picture of
diversity is reflected on “The Face of Reform Judaism: Outreach
at 25” poster?
- How do they differ?
What does diversity mean to you? Who is diverse? Generate a list of
“diverse” groups. What did you learn from this activity?
the sample findings of the 2000-1 National Jewish Population Study.
In what ways is the diversity of North American Jews and Jewish families
represented in your congregation? Who is left out (present in the community,
but not in your membership)? How do you know?
- Consider different
aspects of temple life, such as Board membership, pre-school enrollment,
choir or social action participants, the worshiping congregation, etc.
Where do you see the greatest diversity? The least? Why?
- The Jews of color
who speak in the Reform Judaism Focus on Jewish Diversity express
a variety of feelings about the welcome they received in their congregations.
Carlton Watson says: “Looking back on my ten years at Temple Emanuel,
I am proud to say that not once, not for the briefest moment, have I
experienced overt or covert mistreatment, hostility, rejection, discrimination,
or prejudice. I have been treated, always, with dignity and respect,
judged by the content of my character and my actions.” Others
have had to defend their Jewishness repeatedly. What is the experience
of Jews of color in your congregation? How do you know?
- Most of those writing
in Reform Judaism and those whose faces appear on “The
Face of Reform Judaism” poster are Jewish leaders. All speak powerfully
of the meaning of Judaism in their lives. What venues are available
in your congregation for your members to speak personally about the
meaning of being Jewish? Does your leadership reflect the diversity
of your congregation?
- What are the challenges
a diverse community presents?
- How does diversity
strengthen your congregation?
- What steps can
your congregation take to honor and celebrate its diversity, to hear
the voices of all its members, and to meet the challenges posed by diversity?
Quotes from articles in Reform Judaism Focus
on Jewish Diversity
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
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
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
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
Q: Does every North
American Jew have two cultures? More? What does it mean to have plural
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?
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)
- The Changed Jewish
Family—Diversity in the Jewish Community
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
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
- At the beginning
of the parasha from which the first text is taken, it says:
“And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children
of Israel.” The Rabbis say “all the congregation”
means that the Sanctuary is the concern of every child of Israel.
What does “the Sanctuary” mean?
- Why do you
think the text enumerates the variety of gifts needed to create
the Sanctuary? What could these gifts symbolize?
- What are the
blessings of a diverse Jewish community? What are the special challenges?
- Discuss multiple
forms of diversity present in your Jewish community. (Think outside
the box. For example, consider lifestyle and lifestage differences,
physical differences, differing levels of and interest in spirituality,
Jewish knowledge, etc.) In what ways and/or with what groups is
your congregation good at bringing together a diverse group into
community with each other and with God? Where could you improve?
what is a form of “strangeness” you experience in your
synagogue community? Where do you feel different at times? What
aspects of feeling like “the stranger” are common experiences?
How can your temple support keruv—drawing us “nearer”
from wherever and however we feel “far”?
- The Changed Jewish
Family—Outreach and Inreach
God loves the stranger, providing food and clothing for each one. You
too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
observes that the Torah specifies not less than thirty-six times that
Jews should “love the stranger.”
- Who is the
“stranger” outside of your temple? Who is missing? Why?
- Discuss the
mission of a synagogue community regarding reaching out beyond the
temple walls. What is your philosophy? Your congregation’s
philosophy? How does your budget and allocation of resources reflect
- Who is the
“stranger” inside your congregation? How were you integrated
into the community? How are new or prospective members welcomed
and integrated into the community today?
- How could
the changed demographics of the Jewish people reflected
in data from the NJPS
affect outreach within and outside synagogue walls?
- Where are
your temple’s strengths in reaching out? In what areas can
you improve your commitment to keruv—drawing near
those who are far?
Findings from the 2000-1 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS 2000)
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
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.
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
Affiliation (reported by Leonard Saxe)
55% of inmarried couples who identify as Reform report membership in a
31% of intermarried couples who identify as Reform affiliate with a synagogue
75% of conversionary households who identify as Reform affiliate with
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)
of Jews by Religion
- Are you surprised
by any of the findings listed above?
- NJPS indicates
that 19% of Jewish households are a married couple with children in
the home. What percentage of your congregation falls into this demographic
group? According to the figures listed above, 43% of Jewish adults are
single. What percentage of the households in your congregation include
a single adult? Do your budget and resource allocations (time, space)
reflect the needs of households of each type that make up your membership?
Do they reflect the needs of households in your community? Why? Why
- How reflective
is the membership of your congregation of the national data on racial
diversity and on intermarriage? Do your programming and your materials
reflect a priority of inclusion? Should they?
Further Resources from the Union for Reform Judaism
On the web:
Suggestions for using
the “Outreach at 25: The Face of Reform Judaism” poster in
From the URJ
Generation Aleph provides program and organizational guidance
for congregations wishing to include 20s and 30s.
(All of Us) helps congregations welcome and gay and lesbian Jews.
Life-Cycle of Synagogue Membership is a user-friendly guide for
congregational leaders to improve recruitment, integration and retention
of all members.
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.
Place Award Winner for Excellence in Jewish Journalism
and a Benefit of Membership in a Union Congregation
Reform Judaism Magazine
© 2004, Union for Reform Judaism