That Pew study showing all those Jews of no religion has sent shockwaves through the official Jewish community. From a November fundraising appeal from Samuel Norich, president and publisher of the Forward. I thought the Forward was, uh, forward… [No link, I’m typing this from the original.]
By now, you have probably have heard the statistics: 32% of Jews under age 30 say they have no religion, and the majority of those without religion have Christmas trees. Fully two-thirds of the Jews with no religion are raising their children without any Jewish identity at all. After reading the latest survey of American Jews, historian Jack Wertheimer told the Forward, “It’s the story of a community contracting.”
If young Jews were choosing some kind of secular engagement over a religious one, Jewishness itself would not be at risk. But even ethnic and cultural identifiers are disappearing. America’s full acceptance of its Jewish citizens has led many more to leave their Jewish identity entirely behind.
What is to be done? The Forward has been out front in raising that question and looking for answers. For us, it’s personal — we feel a direct responsibility to our community and its continued vitality….
Suggestion to the Forward: Ask some of those Jews why they are making the choices they’re making. See if those choices are blind, as Norich suggests, or if in fact they fulfill spiritual yearnings, i.e, seeking a life of greater meaning and purpose in this globalized era. Ask if a tribal definition of community is satisfying to these young people or is consistent with their values. Ask Catholics (like Marielle Segarra, who told us she had left that church this morning on public radio) and Protestants (including my wife, who prefers meditation to church) whether their original communities provided spiritual fulfillment in this era. Ask Brant Rosen and Lynn Gottlieb about universalism as a Jewish value. And ask Rebecca Vilkomerson how synagogues’ connection to Israel is affecting American Jewish identity.