Early Family Engagement: Measuring Growth in Jewish Identity

Jul. 24, 2013

Source: eJewish Philanthropy


The authors report on the method and results of a quasi-experimental, longitudinal study in which the same individuals are followed over time as they participate in a Jewish early engagement program.


In 2009, in partnership with dozens of local institutions, Rose Community Foundation launched MazelTot.org, Connecting Young Families to Local Jewish Life and to Each Other, a new approach to engaging young families in Greater Denver and Boulder. We believe that if parents of young children could more easily explore all of their Jewish options in one place online, and if we could make trying new Jewish activities more affordable, they would more likely become Jewishly involved. And so, families who sign up for MazelTot.org receive comprehensive, organized and digestible information about local Jewish life for the prenatal through preschool crowd, along with significant discounts and free offers. In addition, the MazelTot.org Coordinator reaches out to welcome families and help them connect to and navigate the local Jewish community.


MazelTot.org provided us with the challenge and the opportunity of evaluating a new concept in Jewish early engagement. How could we go beyond tracking website visits and sign-ups to learn whether MazelTot.org actually made a difference in the Jewish lives of more than 1,700 participating families? And, what does it mean to help a young family build a strong Jewish identity when connecting Jewishly means something so different than it used to? Engagement can no longer be measured by synagogue membership and ritual practice alone. One look at the Slingshot Guide reveals a wide variety of Jewish organizations responding in new, creative ways to the diverse needs and interests of Jewish people today. And so, we needed to determine not only how to measure, but also what to measure.


When families request their first discount on MazelTot.org, they complete the “Engagement in Jewish Life Scale,” a measurement tool developed for MazelTot.org. The scale contains items that relate to families’ cognitions, emotions, actions, and ways of partaking in community. Jewish identity is far more complex than a discrete yes or no on a list of behaviors. Thus, the scale was developed so that the measurement of Jewish identity would focus on the intensity or frequency with which people engage in both Jewish ritual and non-ritual practices (e.g., lighting candles on Shabbat or wearing clothing/jewelry that shows that one is Jewish), and not only whether they do them or not. This provides far richer, and more accurate, information because the frequency or intensity with which families engage in Jewish behaviors is indicative of the place Judaism holds in their lives.


For example, families are asked to indicate how frequently they socialize with and celebrate holidays with other Jewish families and use Jewish, Yiddish or Hebrew words in their every day speech. While they are not asked whether or not they are members of a synagogue or JCC, they are asked to indicate how often they attend Jewish religious services and Jewish cultural or educational events. They are also asked how often they participate in Jewish programs for families, and with what frequency they read Jewish websites, books or magazines, say Jewish blessings, and tell stories about Jewish events or holidays.


Families also complete this exact same scale when they request their third and final MazelTot.org discounts and again as an integral part of our annual follow-up survey. In this way, the changing intensity of a family’s engagement in Jewish life, as well as the changing nuances in a family’s Jewish behaviors and cognitions may be tracked over time.


We have learned a lot from our ongoing evaluation. We have learned that easy access to comprehensive information and cost-lowering discounts encourage parents to participate in Jewish life. We have learned that by embedding surveys into the initiative and asking the same questions repeatedly, at different times in a family’s tenure, we are able to come closer to measuring the extent to which MazelTot.org has had an impact on their Jewish identity. And finally, we have learned that carefully constructed evaluation can reveal valuable information about something as complex as the formation of a young family’s Jewish identity.


Read the entire article at eJewish Philanthropy report

View the full pilot phase evaluation report

Updated: Aug. 30, 2013