The report demonstrates the sense of the community that The Well has developed over the past five years.
The Well, Metro Detroit’s nationally recognized organization for Jewish young professionals, has helped encourage many of its members to pursue additional Jewish involvement and has enriched their Jewish lives in a variety of ways, according to the findings of qualitative research coupled with two recent studies sponsored by Jewish groups.
The report pairs research funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation with two studies that were conducted by American Jewish sociologist Dr. Tobin Belzer and were sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the Open Dor Project, which helps further develop sustainable spiritual communities that inspire the local Jewish populations.
The Well was started in 2015 by Rabbi Daniel Horwitz, who finished his term as founding director on June 1. This May, the organization marked five years of programming; it will soon welcome Rabbi Jeff Stombaugh from Mishkan Chicago as the incoming executive director.
The report found that opportunities for involvement center around community building, gathering, empowering and inspiring. It also discovered that 79% of participants feel connected to other participants in the organization, and 80% of participants feel connected to Rabbi Horwitz.
“The Well has shown many respondents a way to experience Jewish life that is entirely new to them: 43% agreed that before participating, they never imagined that Judaism could look or feel like it does with The Well,” the report stated.
Respondents also noted that The Well’s programming is “creative” and “relevant,” and they appreciate “The Well’s nonjudgmental approach.” The study also noted that under the leadership of Horwitz, respondents felt empowered and were encouraged to “practice their Judaism in whatever way is meaningful to them.”
Throughout the course of the studies, Belzer’s findings were unique to The Well’s mission and the impact it has on the Metro Detroit Jewish young adult community.
“One of the things that I believe has been so successful for The Well is how relationship-oriented they are,” Belzer said. “It is based on the user-centered model, where they have deep conversations with people about who they are and how to best plug them in based on their needs and wants, and they help people form tight connections between one another. It is both incredibly beneficial and incredibly challenging.”
Belzer also noticed that The Well provides young Jewish adults in Metro Detroit an opportunity to explore their own sense of self, developing their own ideas of who they want to be and how they want Judaism to play a role in their adulthood. Some respondents (30%) said they could not imagine their Jewish life without The Well.
The qualitative research for the report was funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation which is devoted to supporting Jewish education of youth and young adults throughout the United States.
The first study, “Seven Communities Engaging Young Adults,” was commissioned by the URJ in August 2019. The second study, “Jewish Spiritual Startups and Participants,” was commissioned by the Open Dor Project and took place in May 2020.
The URJ study was focused on gathering data about qualities and characteristics of Reform-affiliated communities that are engaging the young adult community successfully. The Open Dor Project study took seven different organizations and tried to learn more about the people involved within them. The Well was the only organization from the URJ study that was included in The Open Dor Project’s study.
Belzer, along with the URJ, helped select the sample group.
“They wanted to pick seven congregations that had a variety of qualities and characteristics that were in different areas around the country,” Belzer told the JN. “They also chose participants that were using different models and had a successful reputation.”
Due to budgetary restrictions, Belzer was not able to travel to Metro Detroit to conduct the studies, but she was heavily involved with qualitative, open-ended interviews of participants and leaders of The Well. Survey responses from 100 people were also included in the data.
Whether participants were new to the Metro Detroit Jewish community, returning to involvement or continuing their Jewish connections, the report found that The Well has offered participants varying opportunities to grow socially, emotionally and spiritually.
“The Well has developed into an open and accessible Jewish community that is enabling a sense of belonging among people with diverse backgrounds and interests,” the study read. “With the strong foundation Rabbi Horwitz has developed, The Well is poised to continue to be a unique and vital asset to the Jewish ecosystem in Detroit.”
This article has been updated to reflect the additive information regarding the qualitative research funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and that The Well was the only organization used from the URJ study in The Open Dor Project’s study.