The “Wicked” Child of the Pew Study

by Rabbi Danny Burkeman Pesach is coming, and at sedarim across the Jewish community we will once again label four children as wise, wicked, simple, and the one who does not know how to ask. I have always struggled with this part of the seder for two reasons. All of my work with young people has taught me that we should avoid labeling children because it gives them a negative message, often encouraging them to live up to the label we ascribe. And on a secondary level, I have always found it hard to understand why the respective questions correspond to the labels which the Hagaddah gives them. While we could analyze each of the children and their corresponding labels, I would like to devote my focus on the wicked child. He asks: "What does this service mean to you?" The Hagaddah's preoccupation … [Read more...]

Enough Identity Already

The Pew study confirms what we have seen in every other study in recent years. American Jews today are perfectly comfortable with their Jewish identities. by Jon A. Levisohn In the blizzard of articles, reactions, and blog posts about the Pew Research Center study of American Jews, the most unexpected came from the prominent public intellectual Noah Feldman. Writing in Bloomberg, Feldman’s column jumps from the Pew study to some observations about, surprisingly, the Lakewood yeshiva. He explains that Lakewood is a massive ultra-Orthodox educational institution (6500 students embedded in a community of 55,000) focused almost entirely on the study of Talmud and exclusively for male students, that its educational model is "astonishingly egalitarian and democratic," that it demonstrates that … [Read more...]

Lies, Damned Lies and Big Data

by Russel Neiss Nary a day goes by that there isn't yet another response to what seems to be an endless myriad of reactions to the Pew Study. And this week, JTA reported on a $750,000 initiative by the NY Fed for twelve NY-based congregations to promote "more sophisticated data use among synagogues." Ostensibly, these and countless other "data driven" initiatives going back to the establishment of the Bureau of Jewish Social Research in 1919 have existed in order to facilitate and support the work of Jewish educators and communal professionals and help them engage in the holy work they do - but I wonder if our fetishizing of these figures is doing more harm than good. A Mashal: Robert McNamara was appointed as the U.S. secretary of defense when the Vietnam conflict began to rear its ugly … [Read more...]

Scattered Sunshine with Pew Clouds: The URJ Biennial Forecast


Demography is not destiny and the results of the Pew survey are a cloud, not a rainstorm. by Leonard Saxe and Fern Chertok As thousands of Reform Jews gather this week in San Diego for the 2013 Biennial of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the assembly is no doubt thinking about the recently released Pew Research Center’s Portrait of U.S. Jewry. We expect that many are confused. The study simultaneously documents the strength of Reform Judaism in contemporary America and its weaknesses. The positive news is that Pew confirms that American Jewry is larger than some skeptics had imagined and that, among the growing population, Reform Jews comprise the largest denominational group. Thirty-five percent of those considered to be Jewish by Pew identify as Reform. Reform Jews are also … [Read more...]

BBYO and Synagogues

chess board

The post-B’nai Mitzvah drop off is staggering, so let’s work together to reverse this trend. by Adam Tennen I’ve had the quintessential pluralistic Jewish experience. I grew up in NFTY, worked for USY, currently belong to a conservative synagogue and now work for BBYO. I’m part of the global Jewish people, but I’m a Jew without a label - and I’m not unique in my perspective on Jewish identity. The recent Pew study only reinforces this seemingly growing trend of those simply calling themselves Jews. I’m a staunch supporter of synagogue life and affiliation because I believe it is fundamentally the best way to be part of a spiritual community. For my family, our synagogue has been a place where we’ve found friendship, support, comfort, acceptance and respect. You can’t … [Read more...]

What To Do About Pew?

Unless we break some molds, we’ll be having this very same conversation 20 years from now. by Steven A. Rakitt Now what? On October 1, 2013, the Pew Research Center released “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” an exhaustive survey of the American Jewish community with over 3,500 respondents. Within only a few weeks, hundreds of articles and blogs have been written and dozens of conference calls held, along with countless hallway conversations on what it all means. Is it good news? Is it bad news? Is it news? The answer to all three: “Yes.” The Pew Research Center is a non-Jewish, non-partisan, non-policy research center funded by the Pew Charitable Trust that focuses on survey research. Their methodology is sound; their research data reliable. Pew has given the American Jewish … [Read more...]