Shep Englander — Federation Journal
Cincinnati 2020 in 2019: Dr. Janet Krasner Aronson
Each installment in this series features a different perspective on Cincinnati 2020, the Jewish community’s collaboration to build an engaged and empowered Jewish community by the year 2020.
This week, we hear from Dr. Janet Krasner Aronson, who is leading the 2019 Cincinnati Jewish community study.
What is your role, as it relates to the Jewish community in Cincinnati?
I am the Associate Director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University. CMJS/SSRI at Brandeis University is the pre-eminent academic research center for the social scientific study of Jewry in the US. We focus on quantitative studies of the contemporary Jewish experience. I am the principal investigator of the 2019 Cincinnati Jewish Community Study and lead the team of researchers who will be designing and conducting the survey, and reporting and presenting the results.
How did you first get involved with (or hear about) this community, its Cincinnati 2020 vision, and The Jewish Foundation’s and the Jewish Federation’s collective commitment to conducting a thoughtful, well-intentioned study?
We have been in conversation with the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati since last spring as we began to plan a study that would provide useful, actionable data to inform the Cincinnati 2020 vision. The community study will give us insights into our 2020 progress and will provide the groundwork for the community’s 2030 visioning process, indicating where we were in 2008, where we are now, and how we can plan for 2030.
What are your initial impressions of Jewish Cincinnati, given that you spent two days here recently meeting with our community’s agency leaders and congregational rabbis?
I was delighted to meet with members of the community who were engaged in the conversation, asked thoughtful questions, and are looking for ways to participate. The fact that so many community leaders showed up for these meetings speaks to the strong connections within the community.
What other Jewish communities have you worked with in the past?
Just as each community is unique, we tailor each study to the specific needs of the individual community. With each study we conduct, we refine our methods to make the results more useful to the communities we partner with. I am currently wrapping up a study in Palm Beach County, FL, and most recently completed studies in Washington, DC and in Boston. Our team has done a dozen studies, with other recent ones in Pittsburgh, South Palm Beach, and Naples, FL.
How has the way you conduct community studies changed since our last community study in 2008?
There has been a sea change in the way survey research has been conducted in the past decade. The most common survey method used in the past was random digit dialing (RDD), which entails researchers dialing randomly selected phone numbers in a geographical area, screening the household, and, if a Jewish household is identified, interviewing them for the study. This has always been a challenge because Jews make up only a small percent of Cincinnati households.
In recent years this challenge has been compounded by technological and societal changes in the phone environment. Proliferation of cell phones, reduction in landline phones, and phone number portability means that phone numbers are no longer associated with a specific geographic area. Telemarketing and spam phone calls have increased dramatically, caller ID and phone number blocking are common, and consequently, people are far less likely to answer their phones than in the past.
To overcome this challenge, CMJS primarily uses information generously provided by local Jewish community organizations as well as publicly available market research data to identify households to invite to do the survey.
A problem remains, however, in statistically adjusting the completed interviews to represent the views of the whole population. Other surveys—for example, political surveys—address these problems by using US census and other data as benchmarks. For example, if an election survey, by random chance, interviews more women than men, it can use the actual proportion of women and men from the census as a correction target.
For studies of the Jewish community, no census data are available. At CMJS/SSRI, through our American Jewish Population Project, we have developed an innovative method for estimating the size and characteristics of the Jewish population of Cincinnati and we use these estimates as “census-like” data. If you want to find out more, see our interactive map at ajpp.brandeis.edu.
How can our community members help your team as you conduct the study?
Please be on the lookout for an invitation to participate in the survey sometime in February. If you get an invitation—by mail, phone, or email—we hope you will respond and share your views with us.
What information can our community gain from doing a community study?
The 2019 Cincinnati Jewish community study will provide a comprehensive snapshot of the Cincinnati Jewish community that answers a range of critical questions: how many adults and children are here and where do you live; where have you come from and do you intend to stay; how is your physical, mental, and economic well-being; and what are the unmet needs. In terms of Jewish life, the study considers how you engage in Jewish life, both within and outside of institutions; what does being Jewish mean to you; and what are your pressing concerns. In short, the study aims to provide a voice to all of the members of the community—not only the most engaged, but everyone—about how they participate in all dimensions of Jewish life.
How can a community study like this assist in the development of a vision for Cincinnati 2030?
If you know where you are today, you can more effectively plan for where you want to go. The study will serve as a baseline for measuring future growth and change. It should suggest opportunities for developing programs and initiatives that will enhance Jewish engagement in the next decade.
How do you work with communities to develop a survey and process that is reflective of their priorities? What is your plan for Cincinnati?
The community study is customized for Cincinnati and incorporates community input at many points in the process. Our initial kickoff meeting with the advisory committee and community leaders was the first chance to talk about priorities for the study. Organizations and agencies were asked to follow up with their top priorities.
All of these recommendations are taken into consideration as we develop the survey instrument in close consultation with the advisory committee. While adhering to the best practices in survey design, we use our standard questions and create new ones to ensure that the final results answer the community’s most important questions.
A similar process takes place when it’s time to develop the study report and presentation. We will work with the advisory committee to ensure that the high priority questions are addressed, that the information is clear, and that it provides needed information for strategic planning.
Are there some recent trends that you have seen in other communities?
One focus area in all our studies has been changing expressions of Jewish life. Instead of considering just the traditional measures of Jewish life—for example, synagogue membership and Shabbat observance—we look at emerging forms, such as participating in informal and online Jewish communities. We have found that, when considering all of these measures, Jewish engagement does not fall into a simple high-to-low continuum, but rather takes on different forms, from the more synagogue-oriented Jews to those who are culturally oriented. We have also found that, in most communities, people of all ages, including young adults, are actively engaging in Jewish life.
Another trend that we are interested in is community members’ concern about antisemitism. Prior to the events in Pittsburgh, concern about antisemitism was relatively low in most communities, as were reports of personal experiences of antisemitism. It will be important to see how this changes in 2019.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We appreciate and are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, area rabbis, educators, professionals, and lay leaders, as we create the best study that we can. We are proud to provide data that will directly impact the lives of the members of the Cincinnati Jewish community for many years to come.
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