One Educator’s Response….. on the Findings of the Pew Report and the Jewish Future

By Nancy Parkes I have read the reports and the responses. I have attended meetings and have discussed the findings of the Pew report with many of my colleagues and with experts in the field, all whom I would define as people who care deeply about the future of Jewish life in America. And, like many others, I am concerned about the Jewish future. But not in the way you may think. It is clear from the findings of the Pew Report that we still have work to do in making Jewish learning and life meaningful, engaging, and relevant for American Jews. I don’t believe that anyone would deny that. My issue with the articles and proposal presented by Steven Cohen and Jack Wertheimer is that there is absolutely no mention of the value and importance of supplementary synagogue education. It is … [Read more...]

Who Will You Be Welcoming Into Your Sukkah?

The very people who are reading and talking about the Pew study are by in large, the people who are already engaged and not the ones that we need to try and be reaching. By Sam Aboudara On Sukkot, we remember the several decades that the Israelites spent journeying through a hostile environment in search of a promised land that they believed to exist at the end of their travels. During this time, our ancestors took shelter in temporary dwellings. Essentially, the Jews experienced homelessness. Only a short few weeks after Sukkot ends, we read Parashat Vayera, in which we see evidence of Abraham’s hospitable nature as he welcomes in three traveling guests, who for all purposes are complete strangers. Not only welcoming them into his tent, Abraham rushes to their beck and call, involves his … [Read more...]

Can Pew Help Us Renew?

By Rabbi Hayim Herring We're less than a week away from Rosh ha-Shanah, the peak season for personal introspection and communal reflection. Reflection on the American Jewish community leads me back to almost a year ago, when the Pew’s Study, A Portrait of Jewish Americans, was released. In speaking with two colleagues the other day about a program involving my forthcoming book, Keeping Faith in Rabbis. A Community Conversation About Rabbinical Education, and how the one-year anniversary of Pew Study might serve as context for the program, they both commented: “Pew is old news, our people have already moved on.” I should have expected their remark - after all, the initial response to the Pew Study a year ago by many observers of Jewish life was, “There are no surprises in it.” Pew may not have … [Read more...]

Ready to Prove a Prediction Wrong?

What does a more perfect Jewish world look like in the eyes of the Conservative Movement? And how does that world intersect with and influence the broader world? [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Rabbi Hayim Herring The Reform and Conservative Movements are accidents of history and will disappear within 50 years.” Michael Steinhardt delivered that death sentence on September 6, 2000, before a group of about 150 people, mostly rabbis, at the formal launch of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal). Thirteen years later, I want to assess Michael’s prediction within the shadow of the Pew study. Individual Conservative leaders correctly note that “there … [Read more...]

Orthodox “Retention” and Kiruv: The Bad News and the Good News

A mere 22 percent of Jews 65 and older who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox, while 57 percent of people aged 30-49 who were raised Orthodox are still Orthodox - and the percentage rises as the group gets younger. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Jerome A. Chanes We are swimming - indeed drowning - in the ink spilled on the data from the Pew Research Center’s 2013 study of American Jewry. Early reactions from the religious movements have been, predictably, along the lines of the Talmudic “Kol ha-doresh, doresh l’atzmo” - “The one who analyzes, analyzes in his own interest.” There have been a number of analyses of the data, but to date we have seen … [Read more...]

The Reform Tent: Half Full or Half Empty?

The disengagement of so many Reform Jews from synagogue life is a significant concern in a movement where the organizational building block and the primary conduit of education, engagement and influence is the congregation. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Fern Chertok The Reform Movement stands at a crossroads. The current moment is rife with challenges to traditional religious institutions, and the movement faces a set of critical decisions about how to adapt in order to engage and serve the next generation of American Jews. The ability of the movement’s umbrella organization, the Union for Reform Jewry (URJ), its rabbinic organization, the Central … [Read more...]

Invest in the Children of Intermarriage

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The Pew report, administered after the wave of children of intermarriage born in the 1970s and 1980s had reached maturity, afforded the first possibility of an alternative look at the impact of intermarriage. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Theodore Sasson A main focus of demographic concern since the publication of the National Jewish Population Survey of 1990 has been the rate of intermarriage. According to the new Pew Research Center survey, the rate of intermarriage began increasing rapidly in the 1970s, reaching about 55 percent for marriages between 1995 and 1999 and 58 percent for marriages between 2005 and 2013. All else being equal, the … [Read more...]

What Are Funders to Do? Implications of the Pew Report

Sometimes we need to spawn many new organizations, and sometimes we need intelligent birth control. [This essay is from "Philanthropic Priorities in Light of Pew," reprinted with permission from Contact, a publication of The Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life.] By Andrés Spokoiny In The War of the End of the World (1981), Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa wrote about a peculiar rebellion that took place in Northern Brazil in the 1890s. It was a peasant revolt against the metric system. The insurrection was drowned in blood by the new Brazilian Republic, and the conflict became a metaphor for how useless it is to try to stop time and how futile it is to fight reality. So it is with Pew. The Pew report is not good or bad. It is what it is. It shows the complexities - some … [Read more...]