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October 11, 2013
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 11, 2013 i Pew points the way toward more avenues to Jewish life By Andres Spokoiny NEW YORK (JTA)--Since the release of the Pew report about American Jews, the question I've been asked most often is what surprises me about it. What surprises me most is that anybody is surprised. The Pew report poin.ts to a series of phenomena that are well known in the world today: identity fragmentation, radical free choice, embrace- ment of diversity, and the breakdown of organizational and ideological loyalties. Jews are, as Tolstoy said, like everybody else, only a By Yossi Prager NEW YORK (JTA)--Last week, the Pew Research Cen- ter released the first national demographic study of Jewish Americans in more than a decade. Like all such studies, there are disagreements at the edges about the accuracy of some of the results, but the study's most significant findings have been generally accepted. The big news is that one in five self-identified American Jews does not identify as Jew- ish by religion (one in three By Jan e Eisner Jewish Daily Forward This article originally appeared at forward.corn, Oct., L 2013, reprinted with permission. There's a classic story in my family about the time many years ago when we sat around the table at Aunt Sarah's house loudly debating what it meant to be a Jew in America. Bubbe Esther, my husband's grandmother, sat quietly in the corner until someone thought to ask her. How do you define being a Jew, Bubbe? I'll never forget her answer: A Jew is what a Jew does. For the religiously obser- vant, Yiddish-speaking im- migrants of her generation, little more so. For many of these phenomena we are the canary in the coal mine, the early adopters and the over adapters. The report is not good or bad news. It shows us a real- ity we can't ignore anymore. It is up to us to see the op- portunities hidden in this new reality. There are a few things we should be thinking about here. One, inclusiveness is no longer optional. In a highly diversified community like ours, inclusiveness--of mixed marriages, of people with dis- abilities, of different sexual orientations, of different ide- ologies and levels of obser- vance-is not optional. We can no longer think in terms of a majority including a mi- nority because in our highly diverse world, everybody is in one way or the other part of a minority. Two, we need more avenues to Jewish identity. Those of us who grew up in communities where the main expressions of identity were secular (Zion- ism, Hebrew, arts and culfure) are not surprised to learn that more than 30 percent of young American Jews do not identify as religious in any way. But it would be foolish for us to think that they have a weaker po- tential to identify themselves meaningfully as Jews. If we don't want to lose 30 percent of our people, we need to work much harder at de- veloping alternative avenues for Jewish engagement. We significantly under invest in Jewish culture as a way to foster Jewish "identity. The report makes self- evident that one of the main tasks of Jewish leadership needs to be opening as many gateways as possible to Jewish life without being judgmental about which ones are more authentic. The more doors we open, the more people will come in. As the Talmud says, the Torah is a heart with many rooms. In a context of extreme uncertainty, we can't foresee which ones will be successful in offering a good avenue for engagement. Three, nothing is either/or. The Pew report shows that American Jews don't see their identity in either/or terms. However, those of us in leader- ship positions usually do. In a world of fragmented, plural identities, we need to break loose from old definitions that condition our thinking and action. The concepts of religion, culture, nation and people are 19th-century ideas created to respond to the How to inspire a Jewish future in America among younger Jews), and that even among Jews by re- ligion, the intermarriage rate since 2005 is 55 percent. Look- ing only at the non-Orthodox, since 2005 more than 70 percent of the marriages have been intermarriages. The big question now is how funders and Jewish organiza- tions respond to this data. By itself, the news that one-fifth of America's Jews do not see themselves as Jewish by religion might not be disastrous. After all, there are many Israelis who identify with the Jewish people who call themselves "secular." The problem is that the Pew study found that unlike Israeli "chilonim," most of whom see themselves as integral mem- bers of the Jewish people and actually perform more than a few Jewish rituals as a matter of course, American "Jews Of do religion" are unlikely to raise their children as Jews, be attached to Israel, give to Jew- ish causes or see being Jewish as important in their lives. One Jew of no religion who was interviewed for the study described himself to Slate this way: "Six months ago i told a friendly Pew pollster that I consider myself Jewish but not religious, that my wife is not Jewish, and that my daugh- ter is being raised 'partially Jewish,' in Pew's terms. And as an intermarried Jewish nonbeliever, I think it's time we anxious Jews stopped wor- rying and learned to love our assimilated condition--even if it means that our children call themselves half-Jewish and our grandchildren don't consider themselves Jews at all." In short, most Jews of no religion have both feet out of the Jewish community--or at least are on their way to the exit sign. The astonishingly high intermarr.iage rate among recent marriages outside of Orthodoxy is so important because according to the Pew study, nearly all children "of two Jewish spouses are being raised as Jewish by religion, 'while only 20 percent of chil- dren of intermarriages are being raised exclusively as Jewish. Some of these couples are Jews of no religion and others are headed for the exits What makes a Jew? It's what you do the outlines of what "doing Jewish" meant were clear and defined. Butno such clarity existed for my generation, and my children's. Ever since I became editor of the For- ward in 2008, I became more and more convinced that too many people claimed to speak for American Jews politically, religiously and culturally without much proof for their assertions. The surveys that existed were suspect. The last major one, the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, was so rife with problems that the version expected in 2010 was cancelled. That's when I approached some folks I knew at the Pew Research Centerwith thedea of conducting one of their trademark national surveys Letters To The Editor HERITAGE welcomes and encourages let- ters to the editor, but they must be typed or printed and include name and phone number. We will withhold your name if you so request. Please limit letters to 250 words. Due to space limitations, we reserve the right to edit letters. Send letters to P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park, FL 32730. Or e-mail to news@orlandoheritage.com Abe Wise instrumental in startup of 'The Heritage' Dear Editor: I have just heard of the passing of Abe Wise. My heartfelt condolences go out to Tess and their kids. Abe was a kind, gentle, mensh who will always be remembered as being the father of the Orlando JCC. But he was also the reason Orlando residents today are able to read Heritage Florida Jewish News. It happenedbackin 1976. I knew both Abe and Tess before I moved to Orlando. They both attended family functions in Youngstown, Ohio, where Tess had rela- tives. That's where I first met Abe. When I moved to Orlando in 1973 1 went look- ing for some Jewish activities, primarily for my mother-in- law, Esther Regenstreich, who had just moved from Youngstown to be near her daughter, Dorothy Kresner. After two or three days, I on a group they'd never re- searched in the past in such detail--American Jews. Or, as Pew refers to us, Jewish Americans. There's a reason why this was a long, complicated and expensive undertaking: Jews comprise such a small percentage of the American population but are so diverse and dispersed that surveyors must reach out to an incred- ible number of people just to ascertain a representative sample. An even larger task was deciding how to catego- rize Jews. Are we a religion? An ethnic group? A modern tribe? All of the above? Pew's first, understandable predilection was to think of Jews as they do Catholics, evangelical Christians, or Muslims--that is, a group defined by religious beliefs and practices. But there is a proud history of secular or cultural Judaism (whatever you like to call it) that doesn't fit that definition at all, and Jews who identify that way needed to be counted, too. So the decision was made to allow respondents to identify themselves as Jews, however they chose to, and then probe their attitudes and behaviors without judgement. Pew could do this with authority not only because of its stellar history of con- ducting nonpartisan, first- rate surveys on religion, but because, well, it's not part of the Jewish community. It had no agenda here. The results would be what they would be, without concern for the public perception or policy implications. That's for the Jewish community to worry about. (And we should be worried.) There was another ben- efit in Pew's experience with surveying other religious groups: being able to ask similar questions, and so add- ing a richer level of analysis by comparing Jews to other Americans. Hence Pew's term "Jewish Americans." Being Jewish is the descriptor, the adjective, to the core identity of being American. Substi- tute "Christian" or "Muslim" and you see where we are on the continuum. But "American Jews",. looked up Abe and Tess and asked, "Isn't there a Jewish Center in Orlando?" "You should have asked me when you first got here," Abe answered. "Tess and I are heading a group that is just starting to build one." At that time the pool was under construction and there was an old bungalow on the property for a youth activities. It was the summer of 1976 when I decided to look into the possibilities of publishing a Jewish newspaper in Or- lando. I went to see my friend Abe and his brother, Zelig, for their advice. "Where are you going to find the Jews?" they asked. "From the JCC and the Federation," I replied. Abe told me thata Miami publisher also wanted to publish in Or- lando, and wanted the same mailing list. But they told me they would try to help. And help they did. At the next Federation meeting, both Abe and Tess vouched for me, saying they knew my family background well and felt assured that I would do the community well. I agreed to share the names of new subscribers with the JCC and the Federation. As the paper became more popular, both of our mailing lists increased and an era of mutual coopera- tion began. I cherish the friendship both myself and the Heritage have had with the Wises. Both Abe and Tess are true pioneers of Yiddishkeit and Jewish heritage in Orlando. We will all miss both Abe and Zelig. Their contributions to Jewish Orlando are enormous: the JCC, Federation, day school and Holocaust Center, are just some of the permanent imprints they have left. Please give them all the kuvit they deserve. My best wishes go out to the family, especially Tess, whom I have loved and respected these many years. Gene Starn, Founding editor of Heritage PAGE 5A specific reality of European Christianity. They are not adequate (and never were) to describe the Jewish experi- ence. Things shouldn't be either/ or in terms of communal funding. We shouldn't invest in culture at the expense of investments in education or synagogue life. Rather we should look at the synergies that will materialize if we stop looking at those areas as unconnected silos. Skeptics will say that hard choices must be made because resources are scarce. But Spokoiny on page 15A anyway. Others might be seen as having one foot within the Jewish community and one foot out. So what to do? Without offering firm pol- icy recommendations, which should be carefully developed, here are initial principles: * We should recognize the big picture. In the aggregate, the many programs developed by Jewish philanthropists and organizations after the 1990 population study that first showed alarming intermar- Prager on page 15A the term you see used at the Forward and countless other places in the Jewish community, has a different connotation. We feel no less American, but we recognize that being Jewish transcends nationality in time and space, connecting us to Jews in Is- rael and the world over. It's a semantic difference, but a powerful one. Whether it will remain so--whether American Jews will continue to prioritize being Jewish over assimilating into a more amorphous American cul- ture-is one of the profound questions raised by this study, one I hope we will all grapple with in the days and weeks to come. Dry Bones RF300Ok00$ 00m00AHU You A j WHAT'S YOUR