Alternative Futures for the Jewish People

Executive Summary – 2030: Alternative Futures for the Jewish People

The Alternative Futures project identifies main trends and key drivers shaping the possible alternative futures of the Jewish People. The time horizon chosen is 2030, which is near enough to enable identification of main drivers and alternative futures, but far enough in the future to permit effective interventions. The underlying value position of this project is striving for a future in which the Jewish People thrives in terms of culture, quality of life and sense of cohesion, based on pluralistic Jewish values, with the State of Israel as the core state of the Jewish People. The operational goal of this project is to provide Jewish People decision-makers, thinkers, opinion shapers and communities at large with a professional framework for developing effective policies leading to a thriving future, as well as facilitating more systematic policy-oriented thinking. It serves as a basis for some of the policy planning work of JPPPI.

The project is based on established methods of constructing alternative futures. The first phase includes analysis of currently observable major trends likely to have the greatest impacts on the future of the Jewish People. The trends are analyzed through several prisms – dimensions – that taken together provide a sufficient overview of the condition of the Jewish People. The selected dimensions for analysis include both internal and external aspects. The internal dimensions of the Jewish People relate to demography, identity, hard and soft power and influence, Israel-Diaspora relations, economics and leadership. Together they form a composite image of the Jewish People called “Jewish Momentum.” The external aspects relate to the external environment with which the Jewish People interact. It includes those dimensions expected to have the greatest impact on the trajectory of the Jewish People. These dimensions include geopolitics and especially the main global actors and their distribution of power, proliferation of weapons of mass killing, terrorism, energy, and the Palestinians and the Middle East. They also include global societal factors such as globalization, demography, economics, culture, religion, governance and anti-Semitism, as well as science, technology, cyberspace and environmental and public health issues. The internal and external dimensions overlap somewhat and interact intensely. Jewish People policies can be directed mainly at one axis or another, but usually at both. These policies are constrained by internal factors and the external environment, but in part independent (“free will”) and, with time, influence both the momentum and some aspects of the external environment.

Following is a brief description of the observed trends in each dimension. The full report provides more detailed analysis, as well as discussion of possible changes in the observed trends.

Jewish Momentum Internal:

Jewish demography : A negative balance of Jewish births and deaths now prevails in most Jewish communities worldwide with the prominent exception of Israel. Across the Jewish Diaspora, more frequent choosing of marriage partners from outside the Jewish community is associated with growing percentages of children not raised Jewishly. The consequent erosion of the younger generation has produced a steady process of Jewish population aging, leading in turn to higher death rates and population decrease. Further major consequences of ongoing familial and cultural changes include the blurring of Jewish identification boundaries and the growing complexities in defining the Jewish collective. In Israel, Jewish population grows naturally but the demographic balance between Jews and non-Jews produces a problematic equation critically linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The location of Jews on the world map largely reflects the ranking of countries by the Index of Human Development. Over 90% of world Jewry now lives in the top 20% of more developed countries – that is in North America, West Europe and Israel. The two major Jewish population centers in the United States and Israel now jointly comprise some 80% of world Jewry.

Jewish identity : The overall trend in Jewish identification is towards more diverse and pluralistic forms of Jewish identification less focused on a common set of basic values. There is a shift in identification from religious to secular, from ethnic to cultural, from community-oriented to individualistic and universal. Global norms about identity, individual choice, communal expression and religious freedom are making it more acceptable to choose one’s religious or non-religious and community identity. Jewish identity is increasingly about choice and the personal quest for meaning, especially among the younger generation. Outside Israel, within the overall growing diversity and plurality, the course of Jewish identification seems to be towards increased polarity between those clearly identified and those totally unidentified as Jews, with a large segment falling in between.

Jewish hard and soft power and influence : The Jewish People has never been as powerful as now, including the military power and global standing of Israel, the soft power implied in the idea of “The Jewish Century” – however exaggerated – and the political and economic power and influence of the American Jewish community and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish communities. However, power has to be evaluated in terms of relative or “net” power, which means the power of the Jewish People in comparison to the dangers, threats and challenges it faces. Outside of Israel the Jewish People faces almost no physical danger, while Israel is still subject to existential threats. Israel is still confronted by enemies determined to destroy it, and is subjected to the intense anti-Israelism of a variety of groups, including some in Western countries.

Israel-Diaspora relations : The overall trend in the relations between Jews in Israel and the Diaspora is for the younger generation both in Israel and the Diaspora to be less and less interested in the fate of their fellow Jews overseas. Relations between Israel and the Jewish People in the Diaspora are strong at present, but are likely to face decline. The younger generation in the Diaspora is distanced from the dramatic historical events that accompanied the establishment of the State of Israel. The younger generation is more likely to be exposed to negative views of Israel and its policies, and has almost no experience of identification with Israel as a source of pride. It is less concerned about Israel and its future and has less of an emotional attachment to the country.

Jewish economics : The Jewish People today is at a historical zenith of wealth creation. With the vast majority of Jews living in countries that are among the world’s wealthiest, and with the majority of those Jews belonging to middle and upper socio-economic strata in those countries (excluding Israel) the Jewish People as a whole enjoys access to wealth as never before. There is more money per capita in Jewish hands, absolutely and perhaps even relatively, than anytime in history. Within Israel, the accumulation of wealth by Jews is much more dependent on the economic and social policies of the government (or lack thereof), within general global economic and local security contexts. The expected trend for Israel is a slightly better performance than the growth rates for most developed countries, mostly due to improved policy, especially with respect to encouraging higher rates of employment participation and fighting poverty through employment. With respect to the distribution of wealth and its allocation to Jewish causes, there is insufficient data and the evidence is mostly anecdotal. It appears that outside Israel philanthropic giving directed to Jewish causes is only a very small share of overall Jewish philanthropic giving, but the increase in wealth may mean that in absolute terms there are more funds available today for Jewish causes than there has been in the past. A critical juncture will come as the current older generation of committed, involved and wealthy Jews makes estate planning decisions about the disposition of their wealth. While the recent economic crisis has had immediate and specific impacts on Jewish wealth and philanthropic giving, it has appeared to
not yet substantially transform the underlying conditions and long-term trends of Jewish economics.

Leadership : The Jewish People is facing a serious paucity of high quality leadership – spiritual, political and organizational – with no clear trend of improvement. Current leadership, both in Israel and in Jewish institutions, with few individual exceptions, appears to lack the capacity to meet the challenges facing the Jewish People and a deep understanding of changing realities and new ideas for coping with them that are able to assure, as much as possible, the long-term sustainable thriving of Jewish communities around the world and the thriving of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, which add up  synergistically to the thriving of the Jewish People as a whole. Jewish leadership positions in Israel and in other Jewish communities do not attract the best and brightest – with some notable exceptions. Efforts to attract and prepare the best and the brightest for leadership are inadequate, and despite some beginnings, including on the Jewish civic society level, the entry of younger persons into leadership positions is very slow. There is also a very pronounced lack of spiritual leaders acceptable as such by major parts of the Jewish People.

The complete report, 2030 Alternative Futures for the Jewish People, is available to download.

The introduction, the complete executive summary and the main recommendations, are all posted with permission.