Forget about Jewish Affiliation, Think about Jewish Connectedness

My colleague, Beth Finger, is working tirelessly on a project called Jewish Without Walls. Be sure to check it out on Facebook.

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.

The problem with the definitions:

  1. Synagogue affiliation doesn’t include serious Jews who are “not religious”.
  2. Those for whom membership is of little if any value are “not affiliated”, although they may be “very Jewish”: large numbers of elderly and many Gen Y’ers, for example
  3. These definitions don’t include significant numbers of Jews who relate to their Jewishness independently, including growing numbers who use social media to express their Jewishness
I’d like to suggest a more important measure of success than “affiliation”. It’s about Jewish Connectedness. This idea (with gratitude to Beth for helping to shape this over breakfast) takes note of all sorts of ways of relating meaningfully to one’s Jewishness and, if desired, one’s Judaism:
  • “seasonal” connections of families of summer campers
  • participants in independent minyanim and Chabad
  • younger adults, in particular, who are doing Jewish in non-institutional spaces or in secular spaces
  • Jews connecting online in meaningful ways
  • folks who participate in Beth’s Jewish Without Walls, in havurot and in other groupings that are not (yet) dues-based groups
Someone with far more of a mathematical intelligence than me will figure out how to measure Jewish Connectedness. For now, I simply propose that we begin using Jewish Connectedness as an operational definition of success and as THE goal of our work in building Jewish communities and in the work of Jewish education at all ages.
Looking forward to comments…

12 responses

  1. We need Connectedness to link the various Jewish institutional silos to facilitate communication, avoid duplication, and create an online kehillah of Jewish learners.


  2. Affiliation means so much on so many levels. Paid affiliation and shared interest and gatherings are ways for the connections to manifest themselves.But the establishment want definable numbers based on what they understand to be Jewish affiliations.I am also involved in many different types of Jewish communities from my work, to play, from environmental, to philosophical, from social, to spiritual, etc. Many of those connections would be 'challenged' by the establishment. In fact, one of my favorite Orthodox rabbis laughed at me when I said that I perceive myself as post denominational and connected Jewishly in so many ways. He questioned how could anyone be post denominational. Recently, I have loved watching how the Occupy movement touched different groups of Jews, some involved, some involved differently.Everything counts, everything matters in terms of connections.Thanks for making me think and for doing what you do best. . .for making us realize that there are so many ways Jewish Connectivity to occur. Thanks for making the connection.


  3. "Jews connecting online in meaningful ways?" That would NEVER happen. 🙂


  4. I think you're on to something big with using the word connectedness to replace affiliation. Connected can be asses by different variables and in different ways and allows an individual or family to decide where their entry point of connection, how they act upon that connection or even connection allows for other connections. Connections also go back to the core of our birth as a Jewish people. Do we not date our first day of shared Jewish history where we stood as people, and according to some schools of thought even as souls yet unborn, as "one"? That oneness which defined our collective moment at the foot of Mt. Sinai is where our connectedness stems from. As one we became g-d's chosen nation enabling each of us to share, strengthen, cherish, acknowledge etc. etc. etc. our connections.


    1. Adam-Although I can agree with you on the first part, I am not sure what you mean by “radical equality for Jews and non-Jews.” Although I would agree the issue of non-Jews is a sjubect the Messianic Jewish Movement has not maturly nor fully adequately addressed yet, if you are advocating “spiritual equality” with “sameness” I would have to respectively disagree.


  5. Connectedness may indeed be a more accurate measurement, but demographic studies are done by those "affiliated" the institutions whom we measure "affiliate with or not." An independent study would be needed outside the affiliated institutions. Kol HaKavod–maybe from this seed something could grow.


  6. Very thought provoking Arnie…It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with several rabbis around redefining belonging/membership to a community versus an institution. The challenge for us is creating a vision and financially sustainable model for this community. Any takers?


  7. This is a great conversation seed. The entire paradigm for evaluating and measuring the Jewish community came down to "where do you belong?" or "where do you send your checks?" That paradigm is falling apart, and I think the institutions and organizations, especially synagogues, haven't developed a new model yet. It's all very well fine and good, but Adina's question is crucial – how to make the Jewish community as it is evolving, financially sustainable, because serving the community still takes money. Who's giving? To whom? On a very real level, "connectedness" is good image. How often we activate the connection, in what contexts and settings, and getting to where people are touching that connection more often in meaningful, relevant, intentional ways – that's the goal.


  8. I just read a piece by Jonathan Dickens in eJewishPhilanthropy called "What does it Mean to be Affiliated?". I think this is the question all of us in the work of Jewish education and engagement are struggling with. The old affiliation paradigm is quickly becoming outmoded, and unless we redefine what it means to be a community, we are liable to quicken its demise. Nice piece.


  9. Interesting framing of the conversation. I would press you to go one 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.More on my blog:


  10. Having gone on Taglit-Birthright myself (and knowing a lot of older and younger peers who have too!), maybe "affiliation" should include those who actively take advantage of Jewish services offered to them. More than once, we've gotten a gift card and a "Make Shabbat Yourself!" gift kit for Birthright, or been given a check for hosting "Sushi Shabbat." So while we're not exactly "paying members" of Birthright, we're still actively taking advantage of its services months and years after participating.Maybe an inclusive definition of 'affiliation' would be those who take advantage of Jewish services, rather than just paying for them?


  11. Sharing our individual and communal experiences and expressions of Shabbat is always a good place to start, don’t you think? It is the definitive, absolute, rock-solid connection each week, if we choose to welcome it into our homes and our hearts. Shabbat is the gift of connection that cannot fail, whether I am alone at home or in congregation with others at shul. We are all connected with everyone all over the world for a whole day!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: