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New Rosov Consulting study examines “texture” of diverse Jewish families

– by eJewish Philanthropy

January 3rd, 2024

Crown Family Philanthropies, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation funding the new investigation, which will be based largely on focus groups, qualitative data

With the Jewish family becoming increasingly diverse and Jewish identity increasingly fluid, a leading Jewish researcher is trying to figure out how the rich tapestry of family life is being woven today.

“There are lots of assumptions about, ‘This is what it’s like as a person of color in the Jewish community. This is what it’s like for somebody who is economically challenged in the Jewish community,’” Alex Pomson, principal and managing director of Rosov Consulting, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

Funded by Crown Family Philanthropies, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Jim Joseph Foundation and conducted by Rosov Consulting, the new study of Jewish families is qualitative, looking at the experiences and needs of diverse families within the Jewish community.

“We really want to better understand, [to] hear people’s voices, to hear their own lived realities at this moment,” Pomson said. “Where is the ‘Jewish’ in their lives, and to what extent is it in their lives, and in what ways do they understand what it means to be Jewish?”

The study defines a family as a unit made up of at least one primary caretaker and child who is between the ages of 0 and 8. To participate in the study a family must want to incorporate “any kind of Jewishness” in their lives, Evelyn Dean-Olmsted, senior project associate at Rosov Consulting, told eJP.

Identities that were focused on include members of the LGBTQ+ community, interfaith families, interracial families, interethnic families, single-parent families, families who live in communities that don’t have large Jewish populations and families who are socioeconomically vulnerable.

“We started out with a checklist,” Pomson said, “We thought, ‘We want to do a group with this identity, this identity and that identity,’ but it turned out the people who we were interviewing possess multiple identities inevitably. So you’ve got a person of color who may also be somebody in our socioeconomic group or in our outlying community group. They tick multiple boxes.”

The first part of the study is a literature review, which was released in November, and the second involves gathering information from 40 focus groups made up of 182 individuals from 45 states. Participants were recruited with the help of Jewish federations, Honeymoon Israel, 18Doors, Keshet and PJ Library. Interim findings will be released next month, with the full study being published in early summer 2024.

Researchers aim to answer many questions, including how participants express their Jewishness, how they express other identities, what organizations best support them, what role does extended family play in their Jewish lives and what challenges they face raising Jewish children.

While interfaith marriages have long been a source of concern and consternation in much of the Jewish community, they are “a source of a lot of inspiration and creativity and energy for other people,” Annie Jollymore, senior project associate at Rosov Consulting, told eJP. “We have heard so many cool and interesting stories about cultural mixing, about reimagining of Jewish traditions with influences from other cultures that are present in the family.”

The study being qualitative — as opposed to being based solely on hard data — offers many benefits, Pomson said. “There are things you learn from qualitative research that you don’t learn from quantitative and vice versa… It’s very much about the quality of people’s lives and really getting to the texture of their lives, and it isn’t simply about counting up how many people are there of this kind and how many are there of that kind. We aren’t going to be able to say that. What we are going to be able to say is what’s it like for somebody who is a person of color, what’s it like for someone who is raising a disabled child,or what’s it like for somebody in an interfaith relationship who wants to introduce ‘Jewish’ in their [children’s] lives and their partner wants to introduce another faith into their children’s lives.”

Although it’s early in the study, the researchers have many hypotheses, including that a family’s Jewish practices and identity is heavily influenced by their relationship with their extended family. Because Jews today are often geographically separated from larger family networks, there are additional challenges to raising children with Jewish practices that past generations didn’t face. This gets exacerbated for families who can’t afford to live within Jewish communal hubs.

The experience has been a lot of fun for the researchers, Pomson said. “We’re talking to some really interesting people that we wouldn’t normally be speaking to, and there’s nothing more affirming [then] when people tell you how meaningful that conversation was to them.”

published in eJewish Philanthropy, January 3, 2024, photo credit Getty images