WE ARE HIRING

Hiring: Lead Analyst (Quantitative)

OU CENTER FOR COMMUNAL RESEARCH

About: The OU Center for Communal Research
The Center for Communal Research advances the OU’s obligation to better understand and better serve the Jewish community by developing a high-quality base of knowledge and insights from a sophisticated, ethical, and responsive research and evaluation agenda.
The Center for Communal Research is committed to meeting the Jewish community where it is and understanding it on its own terms. The Center’s priority is studying how people learn how to live Jewish lives, the varieties of journeys they take, and the ways in which institutions have made an impression on their identities.
The Center for Communal Research holds itself to the highest possible ethical standards when it comes to internal evaluation and broader communal research.
The Center for Communal Research is built atop three pillars that address significant needs for the Orthodox community. It conducts research on American Jewry generally with an emphasis on Orthodox Jews’ lives and institutions. It performs internal evaluations that assists in the strategic development and enhancement of OU departmental programs, our partner organizations, and the larger Jewish ecosystem in which we operate. It facilitates structured conversations and convenings that use our research and evaluation findings to generate and enhance our programs and institutions.
Position Summary:
The Lead Analyst will be a senior member of the OU’s Center for Communal Research. They will work closely with each of the departments in the OU to design evaluation and assessment models and conduct data analysis. They will also help conduct and direct larger research projects on the American Jewish community with equally high standards of sophistication and sensitivity. This position is a good fit for someone who has educational and employment background in quantitative data analysis and experience undertaking projects involving collaboration with multiple partners. This is a new position that will increase the capacity of the department.
Major Responsibilities:
The Research Analyst will report to the Director of the Center for Communal Research.
The specific responsibilities include:
  • Assists in assessment design and modeling processes
  • Leads data analysis efforts on both quantitative and, when appropriate, qualitative data
  • Manages datasets, processes collected data, and performs data analysis using an array of statistical software packages
  • Synthesizes the analysis to include institutional and practical knowledge to produce a comprehensive set of specific, tangible, and productive recommendations for each department within the OU and for communal partnering institutions
  • Plays an ambassadorial role, providing data-driven thought leadership to the larger Jewish community and an expertise to specific stakeholders
Competencies and Skills:
  • Master’s (Doctorate preferred) degree in psychology, sociology, economics, applied statistics or other related social science field
  • Strong quantitative skills and familiarity with at least one major statistical software package (e.g. Stata, SPSS, SAS, R)
  • Expertise with survey design and impact analysis in multiple fields
  • A clear and effective writing and communication style
  • Thrives on creative ambiguity and enjoys managing multiple ongoing projects – both short- and long-term
  • Ability to work as part of a team and independently
  • A commitment to ongoing learning, their own professional development as well as that of their colleagues
  • Sensitive to and curious about a wide range of people and phenomena
Compensation Package:
  • Competitive Salary
  • 20% time to work on one’s own project related to the broad mission of the Center
  • Generous professional development stipend
  • Live anywhere in North America (within 40 miles of an international airport)
Position may require up to 10% Travel
This is a senior level position with the ability to help build the agenda and capacity of the Center as it grows over the next two years.

 

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JNS: Orthodox Union launches data collection and analysis center

Orthodox Union launches data collection and analysis center

It will focus its research on how Jews learn to live Jewish lives, the diverse journeys they take in that process and the ways in which Jewish communal institutions influence behavior and sentiment.
Matt Williams, director of the OU Center for Communal Research. Credit: Courtesy.

Matt Williams, director of the OU Center for Communal Research. Credit: Courtesy.

 The Orthodox Union created a new internal and external research arm, the OU Center for Communal Research, which will put forward an effort to collect and analyze data from the Jewish community. The founding director of the center will be Matt Williams, a researcher who has been studying the field of Jewish communal outreach in America at the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, part of Stanford University.

Mixed methods will be employed in OU studies, meaning that both quantitative and qualitative research will be used for everything from surveys to deep ethnographic work. “The idea here is that every phenomenon requires multiple means, lenses, to explore and triangulate, to the best of our ability, what actually goes on,” said Williams.

The recent use of web-based, opt-in surveys have been quick to identify general trends, but are more difficult to understand statistically. In such cases, “we don’t really know and can’t theorize the relationship between the respondents and the larger population with that particular instrument of data collection. In those cases, we might get passion responses, the loudest voices or perhaps those with the best access to social media. In Orthodox communities, the last one should be taken seriously,” said Williams.

“If your goal is to theorize whether a phenomenon exists, you might be able to use a web-based opt-in survey. What is tough to claim is what you are noticing is representative of an entire population,” he added.

The OU will focus its research on how Jews learn to live Jewish lives, the diverse journeys they take in that process and the ways in which Jewish communal institutions influence behavior and sentiment. Williams’s past research, which will most certainly influence his work at the OU, was on the history of Orthodox outreach in post-war America, during four specific time periods he referred to as “keyholes” that one gains significant information by “peeking through.”

The first was Yeshiva University in the 1950s and on; the second was Chabad of California. The third was Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis and the Hineni organization, “which is more about the ascension of female spiritual leaders in outreach and in American religion generally in the 70s.” The fourth was “Aish HaTorah in the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s, specifically looking at the development and impact of its Discovery Seminar,” explained Williams.

‘Spotlight women’s voices’

Turning to questions that will most likely be posed on behalf of the OU, the first survey undertaken by Williams will focus on “the economics” of Jewish life. In order to explain why the topic is central to the OU, he asked the following questions: “Why do Jews choose to live where they do? What sorts of considerations go into that decision-making process? How might items like proximity to child care, property tax, one’s mortgage, the affordability of [day-school] tuition relative to cost of living or compensations available in the area—inform such decisions?

“We’re in the early stages of more clearly defining our research questions, but America’s socio-economic conditions are essential to the lexicon of Orthodox Judaism—how it’s lived, where it’s lived and who gets to live it,” said Williams.

A second planned study is a survey of Orthodox single women, specifically those over the age of 30. Why this group? “There’s a popular sense that there is a disproportionate number of Orthodox single women who may or may not want to marry, might not be able to find a spouse (which may not be their ‘problem’), that there’s this demographic pyramid produced by birthrate and earlier age for marriage that disadvantages women, and that some Jewish communal institutions stigmatize women for being single in ways they don’t stigmatize men.

“All of these claims—for me—deserve investigation because they make up a kind of consensus that community rhetoric often pools around. Further, I’d like to spotlight women’s voices as they deal with Jewish communal expectations—for good and/or ill—as that all relates to their own Jewish lives and experiences.”

In addition to these larger studies, the new center will conduct ongoing internal evaluation of OU programs; collect and make available existing research from external sources; produce publications; and convene symposia and other events on pressing communal issues.

“In a constantly evolving world,” said OU president Moishe Bane, “it is imperative that we consistently re-evaluate the realities and challenges of the community, so that our programs and efforts will be most relevant and effective.”

Data-Driven Decision Making: A Communal Imperative

Data-Driven Decision Making: A Communal Imperative

As our society—and our community—becomes ever more complex, the need for objective, fact-based decision making is increasingly becoming a communal imperative. No longer can we rely on instinct or assumption. Like any well-managed company or institution, our decisions require data and sophisticated analysis. The OU has taken some major steps in this direction. Various of our major program arms—including NCSY, Yachad, OU-JLIC and Israel Free Spirit, the OU’s Birthright Israel program—maintain well-developed databases that assist with program development and program review. Each of our programs has, for the past four years, developed objective metrics to measure its success or failure; each is evaluated twice annually against these metrics. In short, we have moved from “management by anecdote” to a far greater reliance on obtaining and utilizing sophisticated data gathering techniques and analysis to determine how, and where, to best deploy our limited resources. But it is still not sufficient—not for us, and not for our complicated and ever-evolving community. We need to better utilize the most rigorous research and data analytics available to inform our judgements about how our community thinks and acts so that we can guide our program and policy choices.

We are, therefore, enormously excited to announce the creation of the OU Center for Communal Research, and welcome its new director, Matt Williams.

The Center for Communal Research will advance the OU’s mission to better understand and serve the Jewish community by developing a high-quality base of data, knowledge and insights about our community through a carefully conceived and executed research agenda. The Center will be the central address for all OU research and evaluation projects. It will study how people learn how to live Jewish lives; how day school graduates and college students relate to God and Orthodoxy; how our community members feel about a multitude of issues facing them, and the ways in which institutions have made—and can make—an impression on their identities; as well as the opportunities and challenges facing our community.

We anticipate that the Center’s research will form the basis for published research and symposia on selected issues of communal concern. In addition to its external research agenda that will study the larger American Jewish community, with an emphasis on Orthodoxy, the Center will also focus on internal program evaluation, which will assist in the strategic development and enhancement of OU departments and programs.

Matt Williams, the founding director of the OU Center for Communal Research, joins the OU after serving as the managing director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, where he conducted an array of research projects, developed strategic plans, and guided the design, execution, and evaluation of programs for a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish institutions. Matt holds degrees in art history, English, and Jewish studies from Yeshiva University, a master’s degree in history and public policy, and is currently completing doctorates in education and history, all from Stanford University. He is an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship and a former Jim Joseph fellow in Jewish education. He was a summer fellow at the Katz Institute for Advanced Judaic Study, a Mellon Initiative Scholar of Art History at Yale University, and a visiting researcher at New York University where he taught in the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

One of the tasks of the OU Center for Communal Research will be to explore the likelihood that Orthodox Jews will constitute the majority of American Jewry before the end of the century—and the potential consequences of this probability.

According to leading demographers, the American Jewish landscape will undergo a seismic shift over the next fifty to seventy years. Orthodox Jews, who currently represent approximately 10 to 12 percent of the American Jewish population will—if current projections hold—become the majority of American Jewry. “There will be more Orthodox than Reform and Conservative [Jews] combined within about 40 years. And before the end of this century the Orthodox will outnumber all other American Jews combined, including those who belong to no denomination.” (See the Forward’s “Orthodox to Dominate American Jewry in Coming Decades As Population Booms,” by Ari Feldman and Laura E. Adkins, June 12, 2018, http://forward.com/news/402663/orthodox-will-dominate-american-jewry-in-coming-decades-as-population/.)

Reproduced with permission from Forward.com/Laura E. Adkins

The data, say the experts, is compelling and inexorable. The non-Orthodox population marries later and has fewer children—less than two per couple, or a negative rate of replacement. In contrast, the birthrate among Orthodox Jews is over four children per household. Add to this demographic reality the well-documented, dual effects of assimilation and intermarriage on population trends; and project out several decades . . . the projections are hardly far-fetched. If anything, their effects may become manifest far sooner than predicted. To be sure, the demographic predictions are just that, predictions . . .  based on a myriad of assumptions regarding the continuation of current observable trends. They require careful analysis and reflection, including consideration of the impact of aliyah; inward and outward movement from and into Orthodoxy; the effect of economic trends on family size; patterns of marriage and divorce; and a myriad of other factors. But the demographic trends within the Jewish community seem clear: our community is growing—rapidly; and the non-Orthodox population is shrinking.

Reproduced with permission from Forward.com/Laura E. Adkins

The prospect of demographic ascension raises new and profound questions about the future of Orthodox life in America; the nature and responsibility of our institutions; and the relationship between Orthodoxy and the broader Jewish community and American society generally. Some of these challenges we do not yet have the capacity to imagine, let alone the infrastructure to resolve. The questions abound: how will we serve the needs of a community that may be, at once, among the poorest and the wealthiest, in America? What will the communal dynamics of marriage look like decades hence? Will our communal infrastructure be capable of providing appropriate support and services to an ever-growing population of singles? How many children will be reared in two-income households? How will this affect educational success and lifestyle choices? How will we relate to the broader American Jewish community that is, increasingly, becoming interfaith in composition and straying further and further from religious affiliation? How will changes in our political ideology manifest themselves, and impact upon— perhaps even transform—our sense of communal identity? What are the strategic consequences of further Progressive alienation from support for Israel—on our community and on historical bipartisan support?

In short, must we begin to plan now for a future Jewish America in which the fate of American Jewry will increasingly rest on our shoulders. And, if so, what must that planning process look like?

Here is a random sample of the types of issues that we will face and need to plan for. I have selected but a few of the myriad potential examples to illustrate the magnitude and complexity of the task before us:

1. Our Expanded Obligation for Outreach
As Rabbi Dr. Abraham Unger has written recently: “Save for a small Orthodox minority numbering not much more than 10 percent of US Jewry, American Jews have overwhelmingly decided not to marry each other and commit their children to serious Jewish education or communal commitment. With more than 70 percent of American Jews marrying non-Jews, according to the most current Pew Research Center Survey of US Jews, and the minority of non-Orthodox Jews who do marry Jewish partners not providing substantive and consistent Jewish exposure to their children, it is hard to see how American Judaism will survive in any meaningful way outside of Orthodoxy.”

We are left with two stark choices: We can let history take its brutal course, or we can double—and double again and again—the efforts we make to bring an energized, uplifting, passionate—and informed—Yiddishkeit to hundreds of thousands of our Jewish brethren. The kiruv movement must be embraced, reinvigorated and supported with the funds and talent required. It is a fundamental imperative of a minority on its way to majority status. How will we plan to meet this imperative? Indeed, what does this imperative look like to an increasingly interfaith Jewish community?

2. Numbers Matter—Will American Jews Maintain their Important Place in the Public Square?
How will we adapt to a smaller, albeit a far more religiously committed, population base, particularly one likely to be concentrated in a relatively small number of urban hubs? What will be the impact be on our political clout? And, derivatively, what will the consequences be for the long-held tradition of bi-partisan support for Israel (and its national security and defense) as the Orthodox community tilts further to the right of the political spectrum. A challenge of future majority status that will require provocative analysis.

3. The Relationship Between Diaspora and Israel
How will the Orthodox community—particularly as it reaches, or nears majority status— maintain a broad-based consensus on identification with, and support for, the State of Israel? Will our community, particularly if no longer a minority, feel more confident and secure—and hence more willing to tolerate the expression of heterodox viewpoints, particularly among a younger generation increasingly alienated from the Jewish State and the Zionist agenda? Or will the opposite be the case, with majority status seen as a vindication of the ascendance of Torah values and proof of their eternal message? In short, how will the community of ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim relate to and interact with the remaining community of American Jews who continue to identify with Jewish culture and peoplehood, but not with its religious essence. Is there a place for liberalism within the Orthodox community? How will we maintain civil discourse, and civil disagreement, in an increasingly polarized community?

These questions—and scores like them—animate our thinking as we launch our new OU Center for Communal Research. We urge our readers to react to this essay by writing to me (afagin@ou.org) or to Matt Williams (williamsm@ou.org) with comments and/or suggestions for vital research projects that would benefit our community and enhance our ability to plan for the future. May we see great success in our collective avodat hakodesh as we continue to identify—and help respond to—the needs of Klal Yisrael.

Allen I. Fagin is executive vice president of the OU.

 

Meet Matt Williams

JA: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Georgia. I’m a member of the Choctaw Nation and a Sephardic Jew whose father emigrated from Morocco. I’m probably the first American Indian, Sephardic Jew the OU has hired in its history. In some ways, I think this represents the dynamic demographics of the American Orthodox community, once almost exclusively from Eastern Europe. That “outsider” perspective is probably an asset to a researcher, but as the OU has signaled with my hiring, on some level, there really shouldn’t be “outsiders” among those who want to participate in Jewish life.

JA: Why did you decide to become a social scientist and dedicate yourself to studying the Jewish community?
I’ve always been passionately curious about Judaism. I triple majored at Yeshiva University in art history, English and Jewish studies. I prepared to pursue semichah but instead earned a Mellon Initiative Fellowship at Yale University. Subsequently, I was named a YU Point of Light and granted the Yeshiva College Honors Program Award for Distinguished Student.

I’m driven by questions—how does one learn how to be Jewish? How does that express itself within, alongside, and juxtaposed with institutional Jewish life? And how do we in the Jewish establishment implicitly limit the types of ways individuals can enter and engage with the Jewish community?

JA: Why are you interested in this particular role at the OU? 
I’m thrilled to help the OU’s various departments better understand what they do and gauge their actual impact. But more than that, this position allows me think more broadly, and build a research agenda that can help us address and maybe even solve challenges in the broader community. It speaks so well of the OU that its leaders decided to invest in research and see it as essential to our work.

JA: What areas within the Orthodox Jewish world are you excited about studying? 
One area is the economics of Jewish life—affordability, whether it’s a function of tuition or housing or healthcare—it’s something we need to get a better handle on. A second area is the evolving gender roles of our community. I don’t mean the growth of women’s spiritual leadership per say, but the suspected increase in two-income households, the later-marriage phenomenon and the sheer number of singles affected by the shidduch crisis. And a third is how do we, as Orthodox Jews, relate to the broader American Jewish community? We need to better understand these phenomena before we can thoughtfully approach any of them.

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2018.

On the Counting of Jews: Toward an Orthodox Social Science

I was never comfortable counting Jews. Perhaps, it was the numbers violently drawn into Jews during the Final Solution that so firmly etched themselves in my mind. Perhaps, it was waiting for a minyan on Shabbat afternoon, whispering “Hoshea,” “Et,” “Amecha,” etc. reciting a verse of ten words as opposed to counting off men one by one, circumventing a halachic paradox under the watchful gaze of the synagogue rabbi. Perhaps, it was that paradox itself that, on an intellectual level, troubled me. Counting Jews – taking a census – occurs frequently throughout Tanach and yet each attempt ends in disturbingly different ways. When Moshe solicits a half shekel, it is cause for a new Sefer in the Torah – Bamidbar (known more generally as the Book of Numbers). It leads to the further development of Jewish leadership while simultaneously ensuring the unity of the Jewish people – each one matters the same. In contrast, when King David decides to conduct a census, he calls forth the wrath of Hashem, who unleashes a plague which decimates the young nation.

Many commentaries have offered a variety of explanations to the differences between the approaches of Moshe and David, as well as the others who tried. Some point to the notion of authority as a deciding difference. Moshe followed Hashem’s instructions; David, ostensibly at least, did not. Others dig deeper into the nature of counting. Moshe asked for representational coins, acts of charity on one level and, on a deeper level, a facsimile, a model, instead of a numbered counting that David commissioned. Whatever the differences were, the legacy of David’s indiscretion remains, cautioning us to refrain from directly counting Jews, a custom and law that stays with us to this day. What is a social scientist to do? Or, more precisely, what is the Orthodox Union doing in the social science business?

Let’s winnow the chaff to get to the grain of the matter. Much of my role does not revolve around the simple demography of census taking. Determining the impact of an NCSY program or an Israel Free Spirit Birthright Bus means delving into the lives of the participants, the educators, the structure of the program, its materials, and the pedagogies employed. This is far from the challenge posed above. Further, studying the “shidduch crisis” or day school affordability, larger issues that extend beyond any single program, require a variety of tools that do not easily or readily resemble those of Moshe and David. And yet, there’s a kernel of similarity that remains, resting uncomfortably beside contemporary statistical or ethnographic methods.

This paradox, though, is not solely a source of discomfort for me. It also plays a generative role, maybe even a meaningful one, within one of the central debates in the social scientific study of Jewry today. I often think of this debate simply as the “is/ought” problem.

Briefly put, should social scientists craft or adapt a rubric of normative Jewish beliefs, practices, values, and behaviors to measure the community against? For proponents of such a method, this approach allows us to gain a greater insight into the “health” of the community. How many people perform practice X or belief in Y? How does that compare to ten, twenty, thirty years ago? In which areas do we fall short and in which areas do we succeed? In other words, how OUGHT the Jewish community behave relative to how it currently performs?

For others, social scientists should understand the Jewish community not solely a function of tradition, text, and cultural norms, but rather through the idiosyncratic expressions of Jewishness that Jews define on their own terms. For proponents of this method, social scientists concern themselves with understanding the lives Jews live and the conditions that inform and shape such lives, regardless of how they conform to any specific set of standards or norms. In other words, what IS the nature of Jewish life, in all its varieties, today?

These methods not only lead us to very different places, but they also philosophically reveal two entirely different postures that social scientists can take toward the Jewish community in twenty first century America. Those who advocate for the “OUGHT” approach have adopted what might be called a theological voice – one that speaks for the values of a community and sets standards and goals that define what’s good and what’s bad, what’s Jewish and what’s not, and, of course, who is in and who is out. As scholars of American Jewish history point out, this theological voice has evolved to carry tremendous weight in non-Orthodox communities, helping to set policy, establish values, and define boundaries. It’s not unfair to claim that social science, rather than Jewish law, provides the purposes of Judaism to Jews in some such communities.

Such a model simply cannot work for Orthodoxy. Rabbis, not social scientists, serve as the Torah and moral authorities of the community, a role firmly detailed in our tradition. Their leadership must continue to mediate the Torah and the people, the world above and the world we know. As for me, I can only work in the world that IS. An Orthodox social science cannot project or assert an authority over Jewish life, it must remain an instrument to describe the lives of Jews, regardless of what I think those lives OUGHT to be. I’m not a rabbi; I simply cannot act the part of spiritual leader.

The efforts of Moshe and David loom large here, specters haunting the work I do and the role I play. My only conciliation is that, as a social scientist at the Orthodox Union, I cannot, I must not work with the authority that they had then and that our rabbunim hold today. Moshe and David, both, acted as authorities, representatives, leaders of the Jewish people, the connective tissue between Hashem and His nation. When they counted, they did so, for better or for worse, with an undeniable sense of what OUGHT to be.

The paradox of counting, for me, is a function of how one understands one’s authority. I am not a rabbi, I cannot pretend to live in the world of the OUGHT, I can only live in the world of the IS. My discomfort is lessened by the diminished or different kind of authority I must have in the Orthodox community. I can describe where the paths are, not necessarily the direction they should lead. Counting Jews is a complex thing, but if it is not expected to act as a theological voice, to prescribe the values of the Jewish community, then I can, perhaps, rest a little easier.