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JCF Blog

Who am I? Who are We?

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 5/19/2016

The Pew Research Center’s study of the American Jewish community “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” struck a chord when it was released in the fall of 2013.  Whatever its methodological faults, it highlighted a Jewish community that has undergone(and is undergoing) significant change. 

The reaction to the study, which was intense and dramatic from all corners of the Jewish world, underscored both the power of data to influence discussion and the need for us to understand the communities that we are tasked with serving. 

At the heart of the controversy were questions of Jewish identity and the changing nature of what it means to be Jewish in present day America.It seems clear that the conception of what it means to be Jewish has changed significantly. The question is, what does that mean for the work we do serving Jewish people across Greater Hartford?

While the Pew Study was receiving such attention, the philanthropic world was in the midst of a revolution in thinking, sparked by questions about social impact. Institutions – nonprofits and funders alike – started to examine the need to “turn outward” and engage authentically with the constituencies they serve in order to create more collaborative, vibrant and effective communities. At its root, the question is: “how can we serve our communities if we don’t ask them what they need or want?”

Like many Jewish communities, we in the Jewish community of Greater Hartford lack detailed information about the nature, opinions,demographic characteristics and priorities of the people we are tasked with serving. The last time the community conducted a formal study was nearly 20 years ago.The combined need for data,and a need to learn more directly from the broad spectrum of community members,presents an imperative to act.

JMAP, a major community study sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, is our answer to this imperative.

JMAP’s goal is to understand “us” better; our views and beliefs, Jewish identities, our needs, values and priorities, our connection points, characteristics and priorities.Put simply, it’s about listening, learning who we are and using that knowledge to help us be the most vibrant community we can be. 

JMAP will be designed so that the data will be dynamic in nature. If the Jewish world has changed so dramatically in 20 years that Pew Study results stunned the country, then how much more could it change in the next 20 years? Without live, current data we won’t have the tools to understand and respond to the new world that awaits us.

Every person at some point in their lives will ask the question “who am I?” The answer (or the steps to finding the answer) often determines the pathway that we tread in life.So too with communities; shouldn’t we ask “who are we” as a tool to find the right path for our own future? This study is our framework for asking who we are.

JMAP’s anonymous online survey begins June 6. Everyone is encouraged to take it – whether you consider yourself Jewish, are a member of a Jewish household or work for a Jewish organization in a professional or volunteer capacity.

Please take the survey and encourage your friends. Your voices matter, and they will shape the future. 

   Michael Johnston is the President and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.

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