Who are the Jews in our neighborhood?
This is the question the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey wants to answer with its just-launched community survey, available now through the end of the month at theconversation2022.org.
The survey is designed for “adults over the age of 18 who live full-time or part-time in northern New Jersey and consider themselves Jewish or live in a Jewish home.” (Sorry, kids.)
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Of course, the federation is concerned not only with the corner of your city that you consider your district, but also with the three-and-a-half district county which it calls the “watershed area”.
It is an area that has expanded since 2014, when the Federation conducted its last community survey; Hudson County was not part of the Union domain at the time.
And it’s an area where, like anywhere else, what was true in 2014 may not be true.
“A lot has changed in a few short years,” said Jason Shams, CEO of the association. “We have big impacts that we have to try to relate to what we knew in 2014. One is Covid, one is the economy. And the third thing is the whole social justice and racial justice issues that our country focused on.”
“We’re hoping to get to a much more diverse group than we have right now,” said Dr. Idana Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg is CEO of the Russell Berry Foundation, which funded the survey and played a key role in helping shape it.
The survey is just one part of a multi-year project to develop a new strategic plan for the Federation. The question of how federalism can best support its Jewish community is at the forefront of the survey.
Dr. Goldberg explained, “We looked at every question and said, ‘How do the answers to that question help us know what kind of services to provide?'” “
In preparing the survey, the union created focus groups that included representatives of long-time beneficiaries, such as the Jewish Family, Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey and the Jewish Home family; representatives of other Jewish institutions, including synagogues and day schools; and representatives of groups not ordinarily seen as an integral part of Jewish society, including Jews of color and Jews of natural color and gender.
When you take the anonymous survey, you can see the impact of these groups. There are questions about racial and gender identity, as well as more traditional demographic questions about age, family composition, and income. And there are questions about the extent to which respondents value the type of services the agencies provide, such as mental health and aged care, in a Jewish setting.
Is there a risk that the survey will show that the Jewish community no longer shares the priorities of the people who founded these Jewish community institutions decades ago?
“Not asking isn’t helpful,” said Roberta Abrams of Montville. Ms. Abrams, a former president of the union, chairs the committee overseeing the survey. “You have to ask hard questions because more information is always better.”
Union officials assert that they want all Jews – or, more precisely, every adult living in a household with a Jew – in the area they gather to answer the questionnaire, regardless of how closely they are now associated with the union or with any other Jewish institutions.
“There’s a whole other community that we don’t know about,” said Laura Freeman, the union’s managing director of marketing and communications. They consider themselves Jews, but they have no affiliation. Their voice matters.”
The union hired a digital marketing company to spread the news. Insiders like Ms. Abrams are determined to spread the word as widely as possible.
“We are asking the task force to access their Rolodex,” Ms. Abrams said. As a “former head of the temple”—for Beth Orr Temple in Washington Township, which is now Cole Dorot in Oradell after the merger—“I would reach out to a synagogue and ask them to pay the survey. If you can make it persuasive enough, you can reach out to their children’s soccer team for people who They don’t even share with the Jews.”
Ms. Abrams and Mr. Shams point to the implications of the 2014 survey as evidence that participants will make a difference if they take the time to answer the questions.
“We learned that donors want to keep track of their dollars,” Ms. Abrams said. “That’s when we went from giving 100 percent unrestricted grants” — sending money to agencies to do what they like — “to being 50 percent restricted. When the union takes the money, donors say they want that to go into hunger relief, so We were giving a lot more specifically for hunger relief.”
“The personalization model has moved more to the elderly in nutrition,” said Mr. Shams. “We learned that there wasn’t as much demand for adult education as sending kids to camp and college-age work. We doubled down on investment in Birthright and on campus. Funding for Israel became more people-based and more security-based. We moved further into fighting anti-Semitism. Because it was one of the top three issues for the people who answered the survey.”
Some of the questions reflect a world that has changed a lot since 2014. Nobody asked if someone would have preferred to attend events in person or online eight years ago. Questions that may have been asked but may not have reflected the cultural changes of the Jewish community: Are you personally LGBTQ+? Have you participated in Chabad services or activities? How do you know politically? Do you consider yourself a Zionist?
The survey asks about both perceptions of anti-Semitism and actual experiences of anti-Semitism.
Respondents are asked to rank a variety of funding priorities.
So what do the poll organizers want from the Jews of northern New Jersey?
“We want them to fill out the questionnaire and be honest about what is important to them and who they are,” Dr. Goldberg said. “If you’re in Northern New Jersey and know you’re Jewish, or live with someone who’s Jewish, we want to hear from you about your presence in the Jewish community. Even if you think what you want isn’t what other people think is important.”
“We want to hear from those who have already connected, but it is equally important to hear from those who have just moved to New Jersey during the coronavirus, and from communities that are not currently participating and not attending temples.”
“The more people filling it out, the better our society will be for the next decade or more,” said Mr. Shams. “That’s why we need people to fill it in.”
Oh, and one more thing: There’s a chance to win one of three $1,000 gift cards. Given that the 2014 survey received only 2,815 responses, those are very good odds.