The new Pew Center study on Jewish American life has been the subject of much handwringing since it came out last week, as the results show a weakening of connection to Jewish life among the non-Orthodox, as well as a weakening connection to Israel.
For many years now, the lament of the organized Jewish community has been that it is not retaining the younger generations. Yet Pew’s results seem to show that one reason big institutions are losing their grip is precisely because a small group of older privileged Jews are trying to dictate the range of beliefs acceptable in the Jewish community.
According to Pew, 48% of Jewish Americans don’t think Israel is making a sincere attempt to make peace. A quarter of all Jews ages 18-29 believe the U.S. is too supportive of Israel, while only 5% of those over 50 think the same.
The irony here is that there is a sub-set of Jewish Americans who are in fact strongly connected by every measure to Jewish life, but are being actively pushed out of it. Let’s take my own story as a case study. I was raised in a Conservative synagogue, where I was bat mitzvah-ed and confirmed. I grew up to marry an Israeli, lived in Israel for three years, and visit at least yearly. I belong to a synagogue, the wonderful Kolot Chayenu, and am actively raising my children Jewish-ly.
So far, so good. It would be hard to argue that I am not the very model of Jewish continuity and involvement that the institutional community is desperately trying to figure out how to replicate.
And you certainly don’t have to have these multiple points of Jewish connection to be identified as part of the community, which includes every stream including the entirely secular.
Part of my Jewish identity-both through the Jewish values I was taught and the social history of Jews in America that I cherish—has been political activism that has ranged from economic justice to fighting for an Israel that would value the equality, dignity, freedom, and security of all people in the region, Israeli and Palestinian.
Because of these views, I, and others like me, are being shut out by the self-appointed leaders of the Jewish community — solely because our political perspective on Israel and Palestine falls outside the acceptable parameters they have unilaterally decided upon.
Last month, Jeremy Burton, the head of the Boston Jewish Community Relations Panel (JCRC), said at a panel that, “we all recognize that when we set boundaries, including boundaries around the conversation about Israel, we run the risk of some people being left out who might have been let in. That’s a risk we understand, yet we set those boundaries.”