The Jewish Future is Here: A New Vision of Identity and Community

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To the outside world, it looks like the Orthodox are ascendant in American Jewish life. But this is because, increasingly, the Orthodox are the only Jews who see being Jewish as essential to who they are and are still interested in things manifestly Jewish. Other Jews are more interested in less parochial and more cosmopolitan issues. That leaves the Orthodox and people for whom Jewish identity is central to who they are and how they present themselves as the people who speak for and as Jews.

Manual The Jewish Future is Here: A New Vision of Identity and Community

On a variety of measures, the percentage of Jews outside the Orthodox world who call themselves atheists is very high. This includes members of synagogues and participants in Jewish institutions. This puts the many Jews who have a nonreligious identification outside the American mainstream, which is not particularly secular. There also is a struggle within Israel between the secular, nationalist Zionist tradition and various types of religious forces, some of which are actually anti-Zionist and some of which are hyper-Zionist, such as the settler movement.

That struggle has spilled over into the American Jewish community.


It has, in my judgment, poisoned our culture, so that people will no longer talk to each other. It would be interesting to project forward 33 years, because if the territories remain a part of Israel and yet the Palestinian Arabs living there do not have citizenship—my definition of an apartheid situation—it will fracture American Jews.

And the sort of opposition you get now, which is somewhat marginal in groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace which is sometimes profoundly anti-Zionist , will become more and more acceptable. The vast majority of American Jews today are more comfortable with and proud of their Jewishness than at any other time in the modern era.

But if you look closely at the American Jewish community, particularly at younger Jews and specifically non-haredi Orthodox Jewish adults between 25 and 49, as Steve Cohen and I did in analyzing the Pew report, you see two trends that are going to be more pronounced as the years pass. We see a very substantial minority who are creating Jewish homes and raising Jewish children and feel connected with Israel, even though some of them might feel critical of Israel.

And then we see another, larger group that is much more weakly connected to Jews and Jewishness and might not even have strong feelings about Jewishness or Israel. Those who say they are raising their children as Jewish by religion are much more involved with every kind of Jewishness you could measure. People always think about how much parents influence children, but it turns out that having kids in any kind of Jewish school has a profound impact on the parents as well. So, what experiences made the first group more likely to create Jewish families?

We found that being involved with Jewish educational settings as teenagers was key to how Jewishly involved they were in college and as young single adults after college. Jewish educational experiences in college—such as Jewish studies classes, informal educational experiences in Hillel and Birthright Israel—also make a big difference in later attachments.

Israeli Identity and the Future of American Jewry

These patterns are likely to become more pronounced in the future. People in conventional Jewish families will have more Jewish children and give them more Jewish education. Those who take comfort in the growth of the Orthodox community should realize that an unknown percentage of them defect.

If this were not happening, then, given their high birthrate, they would already have been at least 50 percent of the total Jewish population. I do know anecdotally that a certain percentage of Hasidic Jews defect. Also, in the yeshiva community, there are families in which up to half the children are not observant. In truth, Jews are disappearing as a people.

And how strongly do most of them identify? Tikkun olam? Every compassionate, liberal-minded person, regardless of religion, believes in that. At the end of the day, eight of the ten Jewish senators voted for the deal. What constitutes a healthy Jewish identity is changing dramatically. Fifteen years ago, nobody would have questioned voting against this deal. The study of population trends—though they are important to track—misses out on a more crucial understanding of the state of the Jews in America. We need to expand our studies of the nature of Jewishness and the various ways it is expressed in the American context.

The presidential election is a case in point. Post-election American Jews are more attuned to dangers in the environment. We need to be more finely attuned to those nuances as we study Jews in America.

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Today, a lot of the research being done in the Jewish world is programmatically driven evaluations of philanthropic initiatives, for example and as a result, we are missing the new developments, particularly new ways of expressing Jewishness, that are happening around us. I believe that going forward, Israel will be less the central focus of American Jewish life. American Jewish culture — Jewish literature, filmmaking, investigation of Jewish history, social justice practices, giving circles, klezmerfests and so on, along with new expressions of Jewish religiosity—will take its place.

Some of these developments are likely to be very different from what we can anticipate today. One hopes that by that time, research will be able to reflect the new realities of the American Jewish landscape and have the communal support to do so. Straight-line projections are often wrong. But longstanding tendencies often continue.

The growth in Orthodoxy in parallel with the strength of fundamentalist Christian groups in America seems very likely to continue into the midst century.

How We Help Our Community

One strong indicator: Orthodox Jews are just 5 percent of the Jewish baby boomers but are 35 percent of Jewish children under age five. Regrettably, in parallel with mainline Protestants and Anglo-Catholics, their numbers have diminished rapidly and will likely continue to do so in the decades to come.

By and large, these connected and committed younger Jews are uncomfortable with strong group boundaries that seem to privilege Jews over others. They disdain normative preference for in-marriage, connections with Jewish friends and the Jewish State of Israel with all its problems of intolerance and the occupation , or anything that seems tribalistic. Future research should examine instruments of Jewish education such as overnight camps, Israel travel, campus rabbis particularly non-Orthodox, who are now found in small numbers , Jewish preschools, conversion opportunities be they rabbinic or personal and innovations for Jewish young adults such as Moishe Houses.

An area of current and probably ongoing concern: How do you keep Jews engaged with Israel and at the same time allow politically liberal Jews to sharply criticize anti-democratic, theocratic and ultra-nationalist tendencies in the Israeli polity? Without an inspirational Israel, we lack a major pillar of collective Jewish purpose, passion and commitment. Steven M. There is a lot of debate over whether intermarriage is increasing or decreasing the Jewish population. The traditional Jewish middle—the Conservative and Reform movements—is still large but appears to be shrinking, at least in percentage terms.

The American Jewish population is stable or growing slowly, but declining as a portion of the overall U. Although the rate of intermarriage was steady during the years , at six in ten 58 percent , there is considerable room for the rate of intermarriage to grow. Even though the rate of intermarriage is historically high, one could argue that the rate still is low, considering that Jews are only 2 percent of the U.

In fact, the rate of in-marriage is a lot higher than that. The rate of intermarriage for non-Orthodox Jews is 72 percent. And for the rapidly growing group of Jews who identify themselves as Jews of no religion, the rate is 79 percent. In-married Jews are much more likely to raise their children as Jews by religion 96 percent , whereas just 20 percent of intermarried couples said they were raising their children as Jewish by religion, and 37 percent said they were not raising their children as Jewish. On the other hand, more than half 63 percent of those who intermarried said that they were raising their children Jewish in some way.

An increasing proportion of the children of Jewish intermarriages are choosing as young adults to identify as Jewish. So there is some evidence to support both sides of the debate.

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Demography is not destiny. Who, and how many of us, there are is going to depend on how the Jewish community responds to the challenges of 21st-century life. Consider how much demographic change has occurred in less than a generation. For the post-war Baby Boomer generation, and the Gen Xers who followed them, intermarriage was a genuine threat to Jewish continuity. Only about 30 percent of the children of intermarried parents born between and identify as Jews when they become adults. That rate doubled for millennial children of intermarriage.

It happened in part because the Reform movement welcomed non-Jewish partners and the children of intermarried parents. The NJPS estimated that there were approximately 5. Using similar criteria to identify who is Jewish, the U. Jewish population is now 7. Until recently, nearly as many Jews were ceasing to identify as Jews as we were gaining by Jewish immigration and the birthrate of some sectors of the population. But a shift is underway and the population is now steadily increasing. Intermarriage, rather than being a source of negative growth, is contributing to an increase in the population.

My simple prediction is that if Jewish education continues to be enhanced and transformed, the future is bright. The future is in our hands to shape. The history of the Jewish people depends on global geopolitics. And this will bring surprises.

We all love Venice, Rome and Paris, but Europe will be a different place and the changes will be linked with what will occur in Africa and the Middle East. Global warming will be a catastrophe worldwide, but initially Africa will suffer the most. Another sad story is, of course, the Middle East. Egypt is going through a terrible catastrophe now with 90 million people, but can you imagine how the country will be able to supply enough food and water in ?

Europe will turn brown and black, receiving migrants from the east, southeast and south.

Jews will not tolerate this and will leave Europe. Around 8.

By , it will be no more than 5 percent. Here is my vision of where the Jewish people will live in Israel will be the core. In , 42 percent of the global Jewish population was in Israel. In , Israel will be 58 percent of the Jewish population, while Jews in Canada and the United States will account for around 38 percent, or possibly much lower. Nowadays, scientists have adopted the traditional role of the shamans and, grievously, some of their inclination to narratives Sand, In reconstructing the past from the distribution of genetic variation, population geneticists oftentimes rely on narratives.