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A Proposal for the Jewish Federation to Conduct a Comprehensive Study and Strategic Plan for Future Re: Inter-Marriage, Revival of Synagogue Life, Survey of Non-Synagogue Members, etc.

by Rhonda Spivak, December 28, 2013

I am going to set forth a proposal for a comprehensive study to be done by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg with the financial support of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba for a strategic plan for the future long term survival of our community and its synagogues. This study needs to be conducted especially in light of the Pew Study recently done in the United States. 

  

We have come to that point where we are at a crossroads as a community, where none of our synagogues with paid membership are increasing in membership, and in fact membership in most is declining.  The Pew Study shows that it is the orthodox Jewish community that accounts for growth, but in Winnipeg we have a very small orthodox community. We also have two Rabbis on record in this publication, Rabbi Green and Rabbi Ellis saying that in their view the curriculum at the Gray Academy needs to be integrated with synagogue life as a pre-requisite for reviving synagogue life in our city. This should be seen as a wake-up call, and a sign we need to assess the Judaics program at Gray Academy.  An overall comprehensive study to take the pulse of our community and map out a plan for the future has not been done here in many years. The study I am proposing ought to consider what our community portrait will look like in 20 years, and specifically which synagogues will still be standing.

 

Prior to the campus being built, there was a significant planning process and those who envisioned it, went and looked at other models in other communities before deciding on what to propose here.

 

Here are a number of items that I think ought to be examined in such a comprehensive study (I put this out as food for thought; certainly if our community deems this proposal worthy, others in communal leadership positions may no doubt wish to build on or refine this proposal--and may well have their own thoughts/initiatives in this regard):

 

1. STUDY TO DETERMINE OUR COMMUNAL INTERMARRIAGE RATE:

 

The intermarriage rate in our Jewish community needs to be assessed. The intermarriage rate in the U.S. in the Pew Study is 71%. Are we at that here? It's hard to know. It is possible that we are there, especially since the statistics show that it is the Orthodox who are marrying in, and we have a very small orthodox community. Of those who intermarry, how many spouses are converting in Winnipeg? The Pew Study shows most are not in the United States. Note that a large U.S. study has shown that only 16% of adult children of intermarried couples identified themselves as Jews by religion, with another 26 percent self-identifying as secular Jews. Almost half named their religion as Christianity.  [There are obviously a lot of variables here so it’s worth having a look at the full study  http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2013/09/intermarriage/ ]

 

2. STUDY TO DETERMINE INTERMARRIAGE RATE OF GRAY ACADEMY GRADUATES

 

What is the intermarriage rate of those who graduate Gray Academy compared with those who graduate from public school in our community? This has never been checked and it is a survey that realistically could be done. If the in-marriage rate is not higher for Gray Academy graduates than public school, then, in my view, it arguably would be an indicator that the Judaic program in the school ought to be beefed up substantially. The study could also consider what is the definition of Jewish literacy the school is striving for.

 

3. STUDY TO DETERMINE THE DELIVERY OF JEWISH EDUCATION NEEDED TO SUSTAIN OUR COMMUNITY

 

The study also ought to consider  what other  educational programs in  the community (i.e. Sunday  school, camping, night school, scouts, etc.) could be used to deliver affordable Jewish education to our children-both those attending Jewish day school and those who are not. In addition, it ought to determine a plan for the overall delivery of affordable adult Jewish education, in a co-ordinated systematic way.  Could the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba be raising an endowment for Jewish education to be delivered through the synagogues to help revive synagogue life?

 

4. SURVEY OF FAMILIES WHO ARE NOT MEMBERS OF A SYNAGOGUE TO DETERMINE WHAT THEY ARE LOOKING FOR IN A SYNAGOUGUE/WHAT WOULD MAKE THEM CONSIDER JOINING

 

A survey of those families in Winnipeg who are not members of synagogues to see what if anything would make them want to join a congregation would be helpful and essential information in planning for the future. What are young families looking for in a synagogue? What types of programs may hook them into joining? Do they want to be part of a smaller more intimate congregation or a larger one, if at all? What are post bar/bat mitzvah families looking for? Do they want adult Jewish education? Are they interested in scholar in residence programming? Are they interested in social programming? Are they looking for a sense of community?

 

5. STUDY TO DETERMINE MODELS OF GROWING SYNAGOGUES IN CONSERVATIVE AND/OR REFORM MOVEMENT IN OTHER CITIES

 

A study could consider whether  there are models of growing synagogues in the Conservative and/Reform movement in North America, and if so what are these models--what are the ingredients to their success? Are any of them connected with a private Jewish school, which forms the basis for their growth? This is something we would want to know  as our Conservative synagogues have declining membership--even if Shaarey Zedek and Etz Chayim merged their congregations, since both have declining membership, this will not ultimately revive synagogue life unless we found a model for growth of a congregation.

 

6. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

 

The above information may well enable the Federation's community planners to meet with synagogues and stakeholders and put forth a plan for (where IF anywhere) a new synagogue building ought to be located and if it should be shared space for more than one congregation.  It's worth noting that when the Asper Campus was built the synagogues did not want a synagogue to be built there, (they wanted the Campus to avoid competition with the synagogues, but things have changed since then. Could a New Synagogue or a shared space building for more than one congregation be built on the Campus. Could that location be on the campus or nearby it? Would this be possible physically through the use of parkades and underground parking (i.e. could the parking lot across the campus house shared space for Conservative synagogues with the use of a parkade/underground parking? We know that Herzlia synagogue is staying in its present location (and will be renovating). Moreover, if you are going to build, what is the model that is going to attract people to go in and try it? (Is it the Walmart model where I go in for bananas, and because it carries so many convenient items I am in there buying everything else).

 

7. GROWING ORTHODOX COMMUNITY

 

Given the Pew Study's findings, ought we be trying to grow the modern orthodox and orthodox segment of the community? I would like to see the Jewish Federation engaging with Herzlia's leadership to put forth a plan for outreach and growth of that congregation. Could this involve the Federation (with the support of the Foundation?) bringing in a modern orthodox Jewish orthodox teaching couple to do outreach?  Remember that we did have Aish Hatorah here (we had two teaching couples the Lessersons and the Klatsgows) who delivered adult Jewish education, as well as, education for children and young families. Their shabbaton retreat weekend was always well attended. They sustained themselves by being able to fundraise within this community.

 

8.  GROWTH OF REFORM SYNAGOGUE

 

As WJR's report about Temple Shalom congregation has shown, it has had a little growth but has not seen a decline. Are there ways that the Jewish Federation could partner with it to look at ways to grow its membership? What kinds of support and/or funding could Temple Shalom use to enable it to reach presently unaffiliated?

 

 8. STUDY OF INTEGRATION OF RUSSIAN ISRAEL IMMIGRANTS INTO THE COMMUNITY

 

There are a significant number of new Russian Israeli immigrants to the community. But some get here and then leave for another community--what is the retention rate? Is it expected that they will one day be donors to the Federation and also carry the burden of funding our communal institutions? Is it a reasonable expectation that this will happen? A study could examine this issue.

 

There are many issues that the Board and staff of the Jewish Federation will have to grapple with in taking the pulse of our community and setting out a vision for the future.

 

In the meantime, in my view, it is worth considering what if any aspects of this study could be done in-house by community planning director Faye Rosenberg Cohen and what could not be. It is also worth convening the synagogues and other stakeholders to begin a co-operative community conversation on what this community will look like in 10 to 20 years, and planning for our shared future.  It is also hoped that the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation will begin a process of co-operative consultations in this matter.

 

About the Editor: Rhonda Spivak is the 1982 Gold Medalist of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate. She holds a B.A. with Distinction Major (English), Minor (History) from the University of Manitoba. She received her L.L.B. from the University of Manitoba Law School in 1989, after receiving prizes in constitutional, criminal, tort, insurance, wills and estates, copyright law and others. She practiced constitutional law at the Department of Justice of Manitoba from 1991-1998 and received her call to the Israeli Bar in 1996 after articling at the Association for Civil Rights in Jerusalem.

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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