Speaking at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, philanthropist Joseph Neubauer announced that he has partnered again with the Pew Research Center to fund this time a survey of Israeli Jewry. The Jerusalem Post is the only news publication to report on the new survey. According to Neubauer the new survey to be released in November 2014 will focus on the "religious behavior, Jewish attitudes toward the United States, and Middle East peace among Israeli citizens." The new survey will be a companion to the "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" survey released by Pew Research Center this past October, 2013 the results showing troubling and raising assimilation has remained a central topic for the Jewish community since the survey's release
The Pew Research Center's first survey on Jewish life was released in October 2013 on American Jewry illustrated a portrait of a shrinking Jewry as it has previously been defined, and left many questions unanswered which is why according Neubauer the new study of Israeli Jewry will "enable many Jewish organizations to determine how they are achieving their stated goals. I hope new study will inform debate and decision making."
In addition to Neubauer, Sergio DellaPergola, a professor and demographer at the Hebrew University's A. Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Cameron Brown, a research fellow at the institute, and Rabbi Avi Shafran from the Agudath Israel of America organization spoke at INSS conference about the Pew Report's results on American Jewry, why a survey on Israeli Jewry is needed, and what more needs to be done.
The Pew Research Center released their survey entitled the entitled "A Portrait of Jewish Americans" showing a growing a trend of American Jews identifying only culturally as Jews, but not religiously. What is even more troubling about the results is that this new trend is widely represented among the youngest American Jews, putting the future of the religion in peril in the U.S. The survey also looked at American Jews' views of Israel in the section "Connection With and Attitudes Toward Israel."
The poll identified the Jewish population totals in the U.S., their religiosity and included a number of results on the views of Americans Jews. Pew determined that there is a total of 6.7 million Jews, with 5.3 million Jewish adults in the country representing 2.2 percent of the total adult population, with 4.2 million or 1.8 percent of the total population considering themselves as "Jewish by religion." While a large portion 1.2 million or a half a percentage of the total population view themselves as Jews, but without practicing the religion, which are being called "Jews of no religion."
The problem in the Pew Report was not the total Jewish population, but the rise of Jews of no religion. Pew found the number skyrocketing from 7 percent a decade earlier to 22 percent of the population. The trend is highest amongst young Jewish adults, while America's oldest Jews still have the strongest ties with the religion. On the opposite side now only 78 percent of Jews identified as Jewish and called Judaism their religion, when ten years ago 93 percent identified as Jewish, calling Judaism their religion. The trend is highest amongst young Jewish adults, while America's oldest Jews still have the strongest ties with the religion. On the opposite side now only 78 percent of Jews identified as Jewish and called Judaism their religion, when ten years ago 93 percent identified as Jewish, calling Judaism their religion.
The survey also looked at how the Jewish population is divided by denomination, with the least amount of Jews affiliated as Orthodox Jews at 10 percent, the most religious denomination, and largest segment affiliated with one of the least religious Jewish denominations, Reform with 35 percent, and 30 percent not identifying with any of the denominations. Conservative Judaism, a traditional denomination that used to dominate the survey and nation is down to only 18 percent. The Orthodox denomination also faces the largest percentage drop of affiliation from Jews as they age, especially when they were raised Orthodox.
Intermarriage was identified as a major problem and threat according to the Pew Report, not only a myth of being an issue anymore. The survey stated; "Whatever the causal connection, the survey finds a strong association between secular Jews and religious intermarriage." Since 2000, young Jews getting marrying, end up with a non-Jewish spouse by an overwhelming majority at 58 percent. A total of 44 percent of Jews are intermarried across all ages. Most of the intermarried Jews are coming from those who are Jews of no religion by 79 percent, and only 36 percent of Jews by religion tend to intermarry.
The Pew Report turned upside down previous perceived notions about the American Jewish community has since remained important to the dialogue about what needs to be done for the community. What shocked communal leaders and workers the most was the rate of assimilation, the distancing of the Jewish community from a Jewish identity, with the high intermarriage rate, and the fact that "one-fifth" of American Jews view themselves as "Jews with no religion."
In November 2013 the Jewish Federations of North America's (JFNA) General Assembly that was held in Jerusalem, Israel focused much of their sessions and speeches addressing the Pew Report's results and what is wrong and what needs to be done differently. The President and CEO of the Jewish Federations for North America Jerry Silverman told Arutz 7 in an interview; "We are here to discuss the two futures - the future of the Diaspora relationship with the State of Israel, and also to really discuss what's happening with North American Jewry today, especially based on the new information which we received from the Pew Report."
Various educational and communal programs were proposed to try to curb the assimilation primarily focusing on young Jews to foster close ties to the religion, including free preschool, cutting the cost of Jewish education, and expanding Jewish summer camps, following up with Birthright Israel alumni, and mentoring programs to be located in areas to be labelled Jewish Development Zones.
According Neubauer despite the extended plans and proposals the community is considering and current community programs at American Jewish Federations the problem is the "attitudes of what and who is a Jew" is changing and "Lobbying, tradition, and politics perpetuate programs, but almost none has ceased to exist and all [the] new ones ask for more philanthropic money…. Jewish philanthropy shrank and synagogue rolls shrank." He concludes "Clearly there is much more work to be done."
The original Pew Report also examined American Jewry relations, attitudes and support for Israel. The survey's trends showed that among the more religious there is a greater attachment and support for Israel. The trends also demonstrated that older Jews are more attached than younger Jews, co-relating with religiosity. Support for Israel in all areas surveyed showed a similar trend, both relating to religiosity and age, with younger Jews more critical and less supportive of Israel, whereas in general Jews of no religion support and attachment was far less.
The results of the report demonstrated as Neubauer expressed that "Old attitudes about the US and its relation to Israel can't be taken for granted," it because of this that he wants to expand of the report and have a similar one for Israeli Jewry.
Speaking at the INSS conference Cameron Brown also noted that as a direct result of the loss of religiosity of American Jews and low birth rates "is shrinking and so with it the potential pool for pro-Israel activists is likewise shrinking." Brown suggested that American Jews will need to tap into other Jewish groups for Israel advocates; "It is time for us to look beyond this communal center, first by looking at those of Jewish background and Jewish affinity and, second, for looking at the ultra-Orthodox. We are not suggesting that we should stop these programs to shore up the communal center, far from it. What we are suggesting is that we expand the focus both in terms of our energy and our budget, so that we look beyond just the communal center." Brown suggested as substitutes the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox who have strong ties to Israel.
As the JFNA conference also concluded the shift of world Jewry is moving from the United States to Israel, and it is necessary to "strengthen" Israel and American Jewry's "connection" which is the Israeli government intends to do with the "Diaspora Initiative." The Director-General of the Israeli Prime Minister's Office Harel Locker stated; "The Jewish identity of Jews around the world has weakened. This shift is opening a gap between the Jews of the Diaspora and Israel, especially among the younger generation." The Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky expressed; "We are now undergoing a real historical change. Israel's government must take more responsibility for strengthening Jewish identity and to do that our lawmakers must understand the uniqueness of the American Jewish community, its problems, and its challenges."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his speech to JFNA also discussed the new initiative the Israeli government is taking on to strengthen American Jewish identity. Netanyahu introduced it as a "new initiative, a broad and deep initiative to unite the Jewish people, to initiate programs to help reach the inner cords of identity of the Jewish people around the world… We also know that the forces of assimilation and intermarriage are there. We also read these recent polls. We understand: we have a challenge. You understand, together, that we have a challenge. And we have sponsored this initiative to work together, think this through together, and then put forward programs to help solidify the core of the conviction and identity that is so central to securing our future." It is because of the solution to saving the Jewish population is now lies with Israel that Neubauer and the Pew Research Center's upcoming survey on Israeli Jewry is so essential in solving the American Jewry's assimilation problem.
- Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Pew Research Center. A Portrait of Jewish Americans: Findings from a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews, Oct. 1, 2013
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes JBuzz & Together with Israel. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are Northern American Jewish news, Israeli news & politics, and Jewish history, religion and cultural news.