Thursday, November 3, 2011

Connecting the Affiliated

My friend and colleague Arnie Samlan posted about a conversation he had with Beth Finger, who is working on a project called Jewish Without Walls. They suggest we "Forget about Jewish Affiliation, Think about Jewish Connectedness:"
"During our conversation this morning, we both challenged the relevance of "Jewish affiliation", which has been used in every Jewish demographic study as a measure of community success in modern America. The problem is, and has always been, that the operational definition of "affiliation" is often "pays dues to a synagogue". Even those who expand the definition someone, rarely get beyond handing money to an organization (JCC, Federation, Hillel) as the operational definition."
He explores several problems with using affiliation as a metric, including leaving our serious Jews who are "not religious," those for whom membership is of little if any value, and that it does not include significant numbers of Jews who relate to their Jewishness independently, including growing numbers who use social media to express their Jewishness.

He (with a nod to Beth Finger) suggests changing the metric to  "Jewish Connectedness." He would like Jewish sociologists to take into account the many ways of relating meaningfully to being Jewish. He wants to find a way to include serious Jewish paths that may not lead through a synagogue, federation or JCC. He includes summer camping and independent minyanim as well as those "who are doing Jewish in non-institutional spaces or in secular spaces, Jews connecting online in meaningful ways folks and who participate in Beth's Jewish Without Walls, in havurot and in other groupings that are not (yet) dues-based groups."

I think Arnie has the beginnings of an interesting framing of the conversation that we have all been having for a while. And while those who would overturn existing institutional frameworks might see this as invitation Occupy Organized Judaism, I see it as a refreshing way to begin talk about the apples and oranges in the same conversation. After all, Apple Jews and Orange Jews are still all Jews!

I would press the idea a bit further:

How can we in the synagogue world change the way we operate to increase the CI - Connectedness Index - for each member family and individual? While we in this world often do a lot to attract affiliation, we don't always (or even often) do a good enough job of connecting them to other adults in our congregations. We get them when they feel they need us (religious school, nursery school, Bar/Bat Mitzvah) but we don't always connect the adults in the family. So when the kids are ready to move on, the adults do as well.

Using the CI as a way to measure and improve what we do is as important as using it to find a meaningful category for non-Congregational connecting. I still like the word "affiliate" though. It makes me feel like we can use it to affirm that we obeying Hillel's dictum not to separate ourselves from the community.

Like Arnie, I am not the statistician to figure out how to count these things in the larger picture. I do know that in our synagogue and religious school, we have begun to focus on connecting parents. Our room parents now focus on getting parents together rather than doing the shopping or helping with the seder. (See article on page 6 Torah at the Center). I challenge you to share more ways of connecting the people who ARE affiliated! Because we need to raise the CI of all of our people!

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