A Victim of the Oy Vey Brigade

Jews Aren’t Dying? You Must Be Lying

Vanishing: Is this family really an endangered species?
Thinkstock
Vanishing: Is this family really an endangered species?

By J.J. Goldberg

Published October 18, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Some years back I wrote about my Uncle Morty, who left Long Island for Manhattan one day in 1959 and never returned. They found his Chevy alongside Grand Central Parkway, but no Morty. The loss was devastating.

I was recalling the incident, I wrote, not for sympathy but to note that Uncle Morty was the only Jew I’d ever known who actually vanished.

At the time, Jews everywhere were abuzz over the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, which famously reported that America’s 5.5 million Jews were intermarrying at a rate of 52% per year. Given that only 28% of intermarried couples reported raising their children as Jews, you didn’t need higher math to see that American Jewry was headed for oblivion.

Mass hysteria ensued. Many readers thought half the Jews had already married non-Jews and left Judaism. An official of the World Jewish Congress testified in the Knesset that 52% of American Jews were assimilating each year, whatever that means.

Several social scientist friends told me the intermarriage number sounded fishy. Over the next few years I wrote a number of articles questioning it. Soon the survey’s sponsor, the Council of Jewish Federations, got very angry with me. It reached the point where I’d attend CJF’s annual General Assembly and find staffers comically fleeing when I approached, afraid to be seen with me.

In the spring of 1991, worse news: The City University of New York released a study of American religions showing just 4.3 million Jews. It turned out to be the previous year’s survey recycled. CJF’s researchers had made 125,000 phone calls, looking for Jews to interview. CUNY took the notes from those calls and published a breakdown of Americans’ religious identities. In all, 4.3 million Americans claimed their religion was Jewish. No mention of 1.2 million others who identified as Jews by “culture” or “ethnicity.”

Soon enough, 4.3 million began appearing in speeches, articles and books bemoaning Jewish disappearance. Nobody clarified that this wasn’t actually the number of Jews in America. When I called the researchers to ask why not, they said it wasn’t their problem.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.