The voluminous new Pew poll titled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” is getting a lot of attention and is bound to be picked apart in many ways in weeks to come. Yesterday Jane Eisner of the Forward, who helped create the survey, spoke on public radio about the poll’s central finding, that definitions of their Jewish identity among the young are becoming looser and looser.
Clearly certain religious practices and values are just not feeling very relevant to young Jews, and I think that is something that we older Jews really have to think about.
Eisner mentioned the acceptance of Jews:
There is so much of a greater acceptance of Jewish people and culture in this country. You see this reflected in the intermarriage rate. My goodness, in the last few years you’ve seen the vice president and the secretary of state marry their children off to other Jews.
In that connection, I would like to point out a major oversight in the poll. There are no questions about Jews’ perceptions of anti-Semitism, as such. The poll does ask about discrimination against Jews.
Anti-Semitism used to define the American Jewish relationship to the rest of the country. Just pick up a Philip Roth book. But the Pew survey asked nary a question about it! Here’s the full report, 214 pages, and if you search for anti-Semitism, you get only one reference, in a paragraph about what Jews think are long-term problems facing Israel. (11 percent “mentioned general threats like anti-Semitism.”)
The question is, Why did Pew leave this out? I think it was a mistake, but a revealing one. Gentleman’s Agreement came out nearly 70 years ago; and young readers won’t even know what that phrase means. In an era of staggering Jewish success, anti-Semitism is simply not a factor in our lives.
P.S. And when are the rightwing groups going to seize on this omission?
Updated: Because I searched for anti-Semitism, I missed the part of the survey that treats discrimination against Jews, which commenter Krauss pointed out to me. My original post said that the poll left anti-Semitism out. The discrimination section is not that long, but here are the findings:
More Jews say several non-Jewish groups face a lot of
discrimination in American society than say this about
Jews; 72% of Jews say gays and lesbians face a lot of
discrimination, 72% say this about Muslims, 64% say
blacks face a lot of discrimination, and 56% say
the same about Hispanics. By contrast, most American
Jews (54%) do not think there is a lot of discrimination aga
inst Jews in the U.S. today. A substantial minority,
however, says Jews do face a lot of discrimination (43%)…
About one-in-ten American Jews say that in the past year they have been called offensive names (12%) or been snubbed in a social setting or left out of social activities (7%) because they are Jewish. Overall, 15% of Jews say they have experienced one or another of these things in the past year. Younger Jews are more likely than others to say they have been called offensive names
because they are Jewish. Among Jews under age 30, 22% say they have been called offensive names because they are Jewish, as have 16% of Jews in their 30s and 40s. By comparison, 6%
of those ages 50-64 and 4% of those 65 or older say this has happened to them in the past year.