Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Jew and the Pew

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz


You may recall that at the High Holy Days I shared with you concerns about the future of the American Jewish community. In one sermon (letter-to-my-children) in particular, I quoted quite a few statistics. The numbers were more than a decade old, but the best I had. Well now we have much more recent and comprehensive findings. You may have heard that in October the highly respected Pew Research Center issued a major new survey of our community. The results are eye-opening indeed. To say they are disturbing is an understatement; they confirm my worst fears and apprehensions.

Here, to my mind, are the key findings:

  • The percentage of US adults who say they are Jewish has declined in half since the 1950’s (meaning we are now less than 2% of the population and getting smaller). 

  • Even among those who call themselves Jews, a fifth say that have no religious connection at all (which rises to a third among those under 30). 

  • Intermarriage now stands at an all-time high of 58% for the Jewish community as a whole, and an astounding 71% for non-orthodox Jews. 

  • More than two-thirds of those families will not raise their children with Jewish education. 

  • Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue (and those who do have, by and large, very low participation rates.) 

Is there any good news to be found in the survey? I would have to honestly say for us non-orthodox Jews that constitute 90% of our community, the answer is… no. Let’s be brave enough to admit that this portrait is devastating. We are in free fall. I know that you can argue that Jewish history is not about the numbers, but when we are a small community to begin with, and our numbers and involvement are plummeting, we do need to worry about whether our vital core will remain large enough to sustain us. As I pointed out at the Holidays, many a great Jewish community has disappeared before in history (although never from the self-inflicted wound of assimilation).

So now you are asking: is there anything we can do about it? I’m still waiting for our community leaders to cease their denials and evasions, to stop spinning their replies to make it look not-so-bad for their particular denominations, and to eschew their head-in-the sands approach for truly creative and radical action. I’m still waiting for that inspiring wisdom. In the meantime I have some thoughts of my own, and I will share them in subsequent columns.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear your reactions to the above. Am I too negative? Am I too judgmental? Am I missing something? After all, is there a more important conversation than the future of our children and our community?

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