A Portrait of Jewish Americans

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A month ago, the Pew Research Center issued, as part of its “Religion and Public Life Project,” a new survey about American Jews. What it found is fascinating and we’re going to talk about it on Friday night, December 20, at services.  Here’s a preview:

– The most essential aspects of being Jewish are, in descending order, remembering the Holocaust, leading an ethical life, working for justice and equality, being intellectually curious, caring about Israel, having a good sense of humor and being part of a Jewish community.– 89% believe that a person can be Jewish and critical of Israel and 68% say that not believing in God isn’t a disqualifier.

– Jews are twice as likely as the general population to have a college degree, three times as likely to have a post-graduate degree and three times as likely to have a household income exceeding $150,000.

– Half of American Jews can read Hebrew.

– Half live in the suburbs and a quarter live in the West.

– 22% of Jews say they are Jewish, but have no religion.

– 36% of Jews by religion are intermarried and 63% of them are raising their children as Jewish.

– Conservative Judaism has declined dramatically, while Reform, Reconstructionism and Orthodoxy have increased in the last fifty years.

Some caveats.  Such surveys are often judged deficient after sociologists and others have gotten to examine them more closely.  For example, the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000 inaccurately described a 53% intermarriage rate (rather than a more accurate 35% one) and predicted that the American Jewish population would drastically decline by 2020.  (We’re still 6-6.5 million, depending on which survey you read and who is included, e.g. patrilineal Jews.)

Some concern about the results of the Pew study is warranted; being alarmed is not.  Jews and Judaism change and we always adapt.  Especially as Reconstructionists who prize living in two civilizations – Jewish and American – and embrace modernity, we need to focus not only on what has changed, but on how to address the new needs of contemporary Jews and their families.  Increased disbelief in God isn’t bad, if earlier definitions of God are irrational.  Secularism isn’t the enemy; it’s a call to attention and awareness for liberal Jews to develop truer, more humanistic theologies and a more rational, inclusive and meaningful Judaism.

No one is better equipped to create that kind of Judaism than Reconstructionism and University Synagogue.

Come to services on December 20.  Let’s explore the present and create the future together.


Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

November 1st 2013 |