MA News

Hitting the Ground Running

Brandeis Center already at work on Western Mass. Jewish demographic study 

By Stacey Dresner

WESTERN MASS. – Agencies of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass. should be getting letters in their mailboxes within the next week requesting information that will get the ball rolling on the long-awaited demographic study of the Western Mass. Jewish community.

“We are now in the process of requesting data from each of the member organizations of the Federation,” said Dr. Benjamin Falk, co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.’s Community Demographic Study Task Force along with Seth Goodman. “We are in the process of putting a letter together that should be sent out any day introducing this new formal study that’s underway to each of the member organizations, and then requesting specific information regarding their membership lists and how that information will be collected and also protected.”

This will be the first demographic study done of the Western Mass. Jewish population in 52 years. 

“This will be the first time in 52 years we have accurate information on who makes up our community, where they are, what they like to do, who they like to do it with and where they like to do it…We are also hoping to find our about their current affiliations with any Jewish organizations in the community,” said Stewart Bromberg, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass.

Several firms had made proposals to the Federation, but Brandeis was the only center that came to Springfield and presented their case in person.

“We chose Brandeis for their willingness and availability,” said Falk. “They were willing to come and do the study based on our perimeters, both financially and for the type of study we are looking for. [And they were chosen] for their readiness, in that they were ready to go hit the ground running with us as soon as our formal vote was made by the executive and general board of the Federation on May 29.”

The plan is for Brandeis to begin collecting information from the community immediately. The end results will determine the makeup of the local Jewish population and help the community plan for its future through a strategic plan.

The Jewish Federation of Western Mass. had begun working on a pre-strategic plan demographic study five years ago under former Executive Director Meredith Dragon. A task force was formed and a research firm was chosen — although no contract was signed. The plan to do the study fizzled once Dragon left for the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

Falk, who was a member of the task force five years ago, says that once Bromberg and Federation Marketing Director Josh Vogel came on board, the study could finally get off the ground.

This March, more than 30 people from Federation constituent agencies – and from some organizations that are not Federation agencies – gathered to hear from the Brandeis Cohen Center representative.

Bromberg invited those who attended that meeting to serve on the task force.

Bromberg has experience in this kind of project – he had worked on a demographic study in conjunction with Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston in 1995 when he was strategic marketing director of the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton. 

Once Federation agencies receive the letter concerning the study, their first step will be to share their organization contact list with Brandeis so they can collate it, remove duplicates “and really put together what we would consider a master data-base of individuals,” Falk said. “The size we are looking to do is 500 individuals to participate in the survey.”

The survey will ask certain standard questions so that the Western Mass. Jewish community can be compared to other Jewish communities.

“And then we will also personalize and customize the survey to target specific issues and questions within our community,” Falk said. “For example, one of the major themes is ‘right-sizing’ the community. Do we have the right number of day schools in the community? Do we have the right number of synagogues in the community? — Particularly because we are seemingly in a time of consolidation with organizations.

“The other part will be attitudinal questions – what is our community looking for? Like a business wants to understand what clients want, the Jewish Federation of Western Mass. also wants to understand what our community is looking for.”

The letter going out to agencies is requesting that their lists be uploaded to Brandeis by July 1.

“We are really pushing hard to get going,” Falk explained. “We believe the study will take about 10 months and we are hoping to have a formal study completed and presentation starting by next May, 2020.”

The 500 members of the Jewish community who will be a part of the demographic survey will be contacted this fall.

The sooner the demographic study begins, the sooner the Federation will be able to begin its strategic plan.

“First we are collecting the data and then the goal would be to take that data and start to act upon it and implement it,” Falk said. “So that [will include] right-sizing the community and also developing programming. Do we want to have programming that addresses issues related to Israel? Do we want more programming related to issues related to what’s going on on college campuses? Do we want to have more programming for young families? 

“The Federation wants understand the best way to move the community forward over the next decade,” Falk added, “so that the programming that we have is successful and continues to grow.”

It’s a wonderful time for the community to move forward with the community demographic study,” Bromberg agreed. “This will allow us to make educated plans and decisions for moving forward rather than relying on anecdotal information. Once the study is completed we can start working on a new strategic plan for our community.”

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