How Should We Feel About the Pew Study of #JewishAmerica?

Image: Kurt Hoffman

A survey of the state of American Jewry conducted by the venerable Pew Research Center dropped like a bomb in October. The numbers seemed to augur a dramatic change in American Jewish life, with intermarriage increasing, religious observance by the non-Orthodox decreasing, and a general sense that Jewish identity was fading. Commentary and analysis proliferated, with most offering dire warnings about the future and what needed to be done to ensure continuity. But there were others who didn’t think things were all bad — in fact, they pointed to increases in Jewish population and the very high figures of Jews’ self-declared pride in being Jewish as signs of health. It was a “portrait,” as the study was called, that was interpreted in myriad ways.

Jay Michaelson
Taking the value of Judaism for granted is not going to work, particularly because many of the iterations of that value just don’t matter to a whole lot of people. They don’t want a particularist identity in a multicultural age. They don’t agree that there’s merit in ghettoization, endogamy, or us versus them thinking. They may be inspired by Jewish history, but not enough to change their lives. And they certainly don’t want a religion that sets down rules.

For better or for worse, those are the clean slates from which we must begin. Square one. Why do you do what you do? What product or service — to use the language of the marketplace — does Judaism deliver for you? And how might Jewish institutions focus on it in a way that makes it appealing to the unconverted, trimming away the extraneous parts, while not diluting the authenticity of the core?

—“Answer This Question: Why Be Jewish?,” November 15

J.J. Goldberg
What makes people so upset when they hear we’re not dying? For one thing, there are those, mostly Israelis and Orthodox leaders, who feel threatened by the notion that Jewish integration in the open society might have a happy ending.

And some folks just can’t abide good news. For them, anything that says Jews aren’t dying must be a lie. Look at the pattern. In 1990, the National Jewish Population Survey reported 5.5 million Jews, but 52% intermarriage. Hysteria: We’re vanishing. In 2000, NJPS admitted intermarriage isn’t 52%, but gave the impression of falling numbers. Hysteria: We’re vanishing. In 2013 Pew reported more Jews than ever, but growing numbers disavowing religion. Hysteria: We’re vanishing.

Maybe. But here’s the thing: We don’t know what’s ahead. In 1964, when Jews numbered 5.2 million, Look magazine published a cover story, “The Vanishing American Jew.” Fifty years later, Look has vanished and the Jews are still here.

—“A Reading of Pew That Will Make You Smile,” October 18

Written by

Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson

Your Comments

The 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 Forward requires 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 and will be deleted. Egregious commenters will be banned from commenting. 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 Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Recommend this article

How Should We Feel About the Pew Study of #JewishAmerica?

Thank you!

This article has been sent!