2025 Jewish Community Study Brings Bold and Inspiring Vision

May 22, 2024 | News

By Shani Wilkes & Daniel Parmer for Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP)

The next Greater Boston community survey will help CJP envision our future and the community we aspire to create.

On a cool morning in March 1965, a group of more than 50 interviewers set out across the Boston metropolitan area, pounding the pavement and knocking on doors to brave “the same sleet and snow which beset the mailmen on their appointed rounds” to complete 1,567 in-person interviews. Those interviews, part of the first scientific study of the Jewish population of Greater Boston—and, indeed, the first Jewish community study of its kind in the United States—provided leaders of Boston’s Jewish community with data that would support its long-range planning. 

The success of this first Jewish population survey was evidenced by its replication in communities across the country as well as its repetition in Boston in 1975. In fact, the survey has been conducted every 10 years, making Boston’s Jewish community study the longest, continuously run effort of its kind. It’s the kind of distinction that makes for a terrific footnote, but rarely makes headlines. Still, as we prepare for the 2025 Jewish community survey of Greater Boston, it’s a legacy that connects us to our past and offers lessons for our future.

“This study will be an important opportunity to deepen our understanding of our whole community, who we are and what matters most to us,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, president and CEO of CJP. “It will also help us imagine and envision our future and the community we aspire to create, because better knowing our community will enable us to better serve our community.” 

Planning for 2025 (and beyond)

Planning for the 2025 Jewish community study of Greater Boston has officially kicked off and, with it, several notable changes. It is the first study in nearly 60 years for which CJP has a team of professional research staff who are responsible for managing it. It is also the first Jewish community study of Greater Boston that will be conducted by Rosov Consulting through a new partnership that brings Rosov’s breadth of experience, knowledge and innovation to Boston. For more than 15 years, Rosov has served Jewish organizations across the country through its strong blend of methodological rigor, expertise and dynamic partnership.

“We are very honored that CJP has selected us to carry the long tradition of Jewish community studies in Boston forward to the next stage,” said Wendy Rosov, founder and principal of Rosov Consulting. “And we could not be more delighted to be working with SSRS, a leader in survey research, on this study. Together, we are excited to support CJP’s mission to strengthen Jewish life in the Boston area.” 

New directions for research

The 2025 community study brings a bold and inspiring vision that extends beyond traditional community studies. This will be accomplished through a dramatic redesign of the study that shifts data collection from a once-a-decade enterprise to a program of research and follow-up studies over the next 10 years. Although demographic data remains core to the work, the 2025 community study is, at its heart, a needs assessment that will help CJP understand the gap between where we are today and our vision of the community we want to see in the future. 

Our work is guided by the following principles:  

  • All members of the community should see themselves in the data 
  • Data should be timely and actionable to support our community’s priorities and investments  
  • We must know our community in order to better serve our community 

See yourself in the data:  

Since 1965, each study has strived to innovate. In-person surveys carried out by a team of interviewers were replaced by telephone surveys and later emails with online submissions. The studies have introduced new questions over the years, responding to the changing needs of the community or to better reflect the growing diversity of the Jewish population.  

The 2025 study aims to collect information from more than 4,500 individuals, but even if you do not participate in the survey, our goal is to ensure that everyone can see themselves in the data. This means that we’re speaking to a broad, diverse group of individuals, that we’re asking questions that capture the myriad identities and ways that individuals and families engage in Jewish life, and that we are giving voice to the most vulnerable groups in our community. 

Data are timely and actionable: 

Community studies require substantial time and resources to plan, implement and analyze, averaging more than three years from start to finish. Though the results of the study are valuable, it is often likened to building the plane while flying it—an inefficient and disruptive process. At the end of the process, the primary deliverable is a report that, more often than not, sits on a shelf (or in a computer folder).  

Our solution is to extend the “shelf life” beyond the once-a-decade study. The 2025 study aims to collect data annually, with the large community study serving as an anchor from which new research can be generated. This approach also allows us to be responsive and adaptive to current events and changes in the community. We plan to make the data more accessible and relevant to our community and communal organizations so it helps inform the work of our partners who engage and interact with our Jewish community every day. 

Know me to serve me:

To serve our community effectively, organizations that serve the Jewish community need timely, relevant and comprehensive data. Shifting to a model that prioritizes a continuous stream of data collection is one approach we’re taking. The 2025 study will also emphasize understanding how individuals and families make decisions to engage—or not—in Jewish life. 

What’s next

Individuals that participate in the 2025 Jewish community study of Greater Boston won’t get a knock at the door, but may want to keep an eye on their physical and virtual mailbox come November 2024.

originally posted in JewishBoston (Photo: Library of Congress)