Maybe We’re Looking At the Wrong Pew

By Rabbi Gordy Fuller

In both the articles and the reactions to the recently published Statement on Jewish Vitality, the conversation has been centered around the now two-year old Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of American Judaism.” But I wonder if we are all focusing on the wrong Pew study as we plan for Jewish America’s future. I found their recent Religious Landscape Study, particularly the chapter on religious switching, to be more telling.

The thrust of the study is that, not surprisingly, most Americans take a “cafeteria” approach to religious choices, going through the line of entrees, perhaps sampling many, and then finally choosing their favorite. It also showed that an incredibly high percentage of Americans are now in a different faith tradition than the one in which they were raised (34 – 42%, depending on how one defines the change, i.e. to include or not someone who is in one Protestant mainline tradition and then joins another).

What does this say about Judaism’s future if we are not even on the menu of options for 120,000,000 or so Americans who are hungering for something more in their spiritual lives? Might we not be doing more for our Jewish future, as well as for the future morality and potential redemption of the world, if we were to put our best offerings in that cafeteria line instead of waiting for others to knock on our door (at least three times, no doubt)?

I know I am not the first, but I want to add my voice to those who have called for more active Jewish outreach to non-Jews and to overtly seek more converts to Judaism. And I don’t only mean for those who might currently find themselves in a relationship with a member of the Tribe. If we have such a wonderful heritage and such a rich, moral tradition, why not seek others to share it with? I’m purposely avoiding the “P” word, but I’m confident that we Jews could find a moral, ethical, and dignified way to bring our message to the Gentile world.

Last week we read the story of Avraham Avinu, and how he left Haran for the promised land “with all the souls he had made.” Genesis Rabbah tells us that this refers to all those whom he converted to belief in the One True God. If Avraham had not converted all those souls, who would have helped start the Jewish people? If we don’t seek to bring more non-Jews into our peoplehood, what will the future hold for us, and our world? And in the words of Hillel, “If not now, when?”

Rabbi Gordy Fuller is the spiritual leader of congregation Shirat Hanefesh in North Chevy Chase, MD.