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September 19, 2012 2:37 pm

Shrinking Jewish Communities Seek Boost Through Offering Incentives

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Jewish Agency for Israel Jewish youth ride up Fifth Ave. in New York during the annual Celebrate Israel Parade on Sunday, May, 05, 2011. The Jewish Agency participates in the parade with a float that celebrates the connection of Jewish youth to the global Jewish community and Israel through music and song. Photo: David Karp.

In the face of aging and shrinking ranks, many Jewish communities throughout the country have begun to offer financial incentives to attract new members, the New York Times reported.

Advertised in Jewish publications or through word of mouth, synagogue relocation bonuses have included partial down payments on homes, discounted yeshiva tuition, repayment of student loans and even free memberships to the Jewish dating Web site JDate.

Stephen Savitsky, chairman of the board of the Orthodox Union, praised the practice as a “proven model” saying, “Today, if you don’t have a financial program in the greater New York area, then you’re probably at a competitive disadvantage.”

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Dr. Steven M. Cohen, director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University, sees the financial incentives as being rooted in Jewish practice and anxiety over demographics. “Being Jewish is not an individual spiritual practice,” Cohen said. “There’s a free-floating anxiety about the future of Jews and whether there are enough children and grandchildren to continue these Jewish communities.”

Despite the practice becoming more prevalent, some have voiced their skepticism. “Intrinsic motivation will be far more enduring than external incentives,” said David Bryfman, director of a Jewish education program in New York.

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