In 2013, when the Pew Research Center published A Portrait of Jewish Americans, they reported that “among Jews married to non-Jews, just 20% say they are raising their children Jewish by religion.”
The Pew Report elaborated that 37% of all interfaith families (with minor children) were NOT raising their children Jewish.
So when the 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study was released, we were surprised to learn the numbers didn’t exactly mirror national trends.
Among children of intermarriage in Pittsburgh, just 10% are being raised Jewish by religion, half of the national average. Another 43% were being raised of no religion. And 8% were not yet decided.
Half of all children of interfaith parents in Jewish Pittsburgh are being raised with no religion or with no decision yet made. Clearly, we, as a community have work to do in this arena.
The Pew study (and other research as well) shows that children of intermarried parents are much more likely to grow up identifying as Jewish if they are exposed to high-quality Jewish educational experiences as children.
Indeed, children in interfaith households are less likely to enroll in a part-time school, day school, or Jewish tutoring. They are less likely to attend a Jewish day camp, overnight camp, youth group, or Israel trip.
Household participation in Jewish educational opportunities
(% of households with age-eligible children who have at least one child enrolled)
| ||Inmarried||Intermarried||Percent Difference between inmarried and intermarried
|Early childhood center||40||38||2
|Part-time school, K-12||29||19||10
|Day school, K-12||14||3||11
|Jewish touring, K-12||17||11||6
|Day camp, K-12||29||13||16
|Overnight camp, K-12||23||5||18
|Youth group, 6-12||31||11||20
|Israel trip, 9-12||25||10||15
But what is interesting to look at is the gap in percentages among different programs. There is almost no difference (just 2%) in percentages as it relates to early-childhood programs.
But for youth groups, overnight camps, and day camps, there is a 16%+ higher likelihood that a child of inmarried parents will attend than a child of an intermarried parents.
These three program types all represent informal Jewish educational opportunities, generally considered the lowest barrier of entry for families. Parents have a plethora of options of service providers and can find the programs that best fit their family structures.
These programs should serve as the first steps – the introduction – for interfaith families into Jewish life.
One thing, however, is certain. Now, when these children of interfaith families are young, is the most opportune time to expose them to Jewish programming. If we are able to attract them to Jewish educational opportunities and make them feel comfortable, then they will have a significantly higher likelihood of identifying as Jews as adults.
The stakes are too high to ignore.