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October 18, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 18, 2013 PAGE 5A By Gary Rosenblatt from the extensive datawith a sense of deep pessimism about l~ot surprisingly, there has the future. already been a large wave of Unless, of course, you be- reactionsto the first major lieve that... national survey of American The Survey is Flawed: We Jews in more than a decade, are already seeing questions with its sobering, if notbleak, being raised and holes being portrait of a community on poked in some of the many the fast track toward assimi- statistics and charts that are lation, part of the Pew report. The responses to the Pew From past experience we Research Center's Religion know that the small group and Public Life Project report, of Jewish demographers who based on interviews with dominate the field tend to nearly3,500 Jews, tendto fall critique and counter-cri- into one of three categories: tique each other over these Oy Gevalt, We're Doomed: kinds of surveys. Sometimes With the study indicating their views are motivated by that an increasing number of method, "Sometimes their Jews, particularly among" the criticism is based on conflict- young, are moving away from ing philosophies of survey formalexpressions~)fJudaism methodoiogy," andsometimes (22 percent say they have "no by a mix of ideological and religion"), marrying out (at a personal differences. It's dif- rate of 58 percent overall and ficultforlaymentofeelknowl- 71 percent among the non- edge~ble enoflgh about the Orthodox) and not raising various arguments to weigh Jewish children (two-thirds in intelligently. The result is of the "no religion" Jews), it's that the findings tend to get difficult not to come away marginalized;AsAresult, the findings tend to be ignored; most dramatically, the Jewish Federations of North America ceased its once-a-decade national Jewish population survey after 2001, at least in part because it felt the study was too expensive and con- troversial. The Pew study was done independently, but several prominent Jewish leaders have, if not dismissed the findings altogether, asserted that their own knowledge, observations and/or instincts about American Jewry are so different from the study's find- ings that the Pew numbers must be off. Much of the skepticism stems from the views and practices of Orthodox and ul- tra-Orthodox Jews surveyed, indicating, for instance, that a small but telling percentage have Christmas trees at home or that more than one-third of ultra- Orthodox Jews believe one is not considered a Jew if he or she works on Shabbat. These findings are so il- logi~cal that they are raising red flags about the credibility of the entire survey for some, despite the fact that Pew has a long and solid reputation for its research, which in this case was done by a group of highly respected experts, including those with a deep understand- ing of the American Jewish community. Alan Cooperman, associate director of research at Pew, explained to me that "how respondents self-identify, religiously, in surveys seldom, if ever, lines up exactly with what their re|igious leaders or others might wish or expect." He and other experts in the field note thatpeople can differ on how they hear or interpret survey questions, and there is a certain degree of what researchers call "noise," or randomness, in such studies. I think it would be a major mistake, tinged with denial, to dismiss the findings of this exhaustive Study because of these secondary, findings. I subscribe to the school of... Step Backand Consider the PrimaryTrends: More than 20 years ago the National Jewish Population Survey concluded that the intermarriage rate had climbed to 52 percent. That is the one statistic, out of many hundreds, that is remembered today. The Jewish demographers are still arguing over the accuracy of the number, but'whether it was a bit high or low, the primary message was that assimilation was on the rise. It did galvanize the com- munity to focus on efforts to counter the trend, and beyond the rhetoric of "Jew- ish continuity" that emerged, there were specific programs put in place that had positive results, like the push to cre- ate and sustain more non- denominational, community day schools. My takeaway from the Pew research, which is consistent with the chief findings of the New York Jewish Population Survey of 2012, commis- sioned by UJA-Federation of New York; is that the signs of erosion of American Jewish identity from within are too strong to ignore. They trans- late to less connection to Jew- ish practice and observance among younger Jews; less attachment to synagogues, and establishment Jewish organizations, including fed- erations~ and more tolerance and acceptance for marrying outside the faith. If you separate out the Orthodox community, which remains strong in terms of " Jewish identity and involve- ment, the signs of rapid assimilation are even more dramatic. Of course there are hopeful notes from the study, inc3ud- ing the surprisingly large number of Jews who express pride in being Jewish, as well as those who feel attached to Rosenblatt on page 18A By David Suissa young people love things that want to be successful, have I'd love to see synagogues I'don't buy the argument can dilute Jewish identity are free. The Birthright Israel happy relationships, feel a transform themselves into that synagogues Should limit if it is not solidly grounded It's funny how the Ameri- program wasagreatidea, not sense ofbelonging, fallinlove, centers of Jewish celebra- themselves to their indi- in the Jewish experience. can Jewish community has a a great study, eat good food, listen to good tion that serve up the whole vidual communities. Every As Jonathan Tobin wrote in way of getting all breathless ThemostsuccessfulJewishmusic and so on. Jewish buffet in all its glory: synagogue--including the Commentary in response to and excited when a new study organization in history-- The challenge for the Jew- culture, history, music, phi- Orthodox--should serve up,. the Pew study, "Simply being comes out, as is happening Chabad--didn'tneedpollsters ish community is to take these losophy, art, literature, poetry," in their own way, the full a good person orfighting for right nowwith the new Pew to tell them that showing fundamental human truths comedy, Jewish meditation,, buffet ofJudaism to attract as good causes makes you a nice survey. " unconditional love for their andcreativelyandorganically mysticism, self-improvement, many Jews as possible. That's human being but not neces- As if we needed all this fellow Jews is a really compel- marry them to the Jewish socialjustice, etc., in addition notjustgoodforoutreach, it's sarilyaJew." sophisticated evidence to lingidea, tradition so that more people to prayer, Torah study and also good for members. If all this sounds like remind us that Judaism in Ir~agineifChabadhaddonewill be interested in Judaism. everythingelsetheyoffernow. To build Jewish identity, common sense to you, it's AmeriCaisintrouble, andthat focus groups asking secular Piece of cake. Ifthegoalistobuil~lJewish we ought to focus on things because it is--just as send- we muat find ways to make it Jewish men iftheywere inter- Let's take one simple truth: identity, shouldn't we put the that are uniquely Jewish. Few ing kids to Israel for ~ree more attractive andrelevantif ested in having black-hatted It'sbetter to havea restaurant odds onour sideby creatingas things feelmoreuniquelyJew- was a great idea based on we want a healthy, pluralistic rabbis with beards accost with 20 items on the menu manyconnectionstoJudaism ish to me than learning the common sense, and just Judaism to survive over the them on-the street and urge than two or three items. The as possible? stories of ourpeopleandtheir as taking advantage of the next century, them to put on tefillin, problem is that most Jewish Let's look at just one item contributions to humanity, whole buffet of Judaism to When it comes to the de- As advertising legend Bill "restaurants" of today--the onthisbuffetthatconsistently Stories build loyalty. The attract the new generation cline of Judaism in America, Bernbach once put it, "We're synagogues--feature too few gets ignored: telling the sto- more I know about my past, is also common sense. we have this habit of getting so busy measuring public menuitems, whichusuallyre- ries of our people, the more stories I hear about Now, if we can take all that bogged down with research opinion that we forget we can volve around religion (prayer When is the last time any my ancestors, the more I learn common sense, sprinkle in specifics and losing the big mold it." andTorah)andholidayevents, synagogue did an event on about other Jews, the more I some creativity and serve it picture. Whatwill drive the success Religious practice is an es- the history of the Persian feel I belong to an extraordi- up with great leadership, the As I see it, here is the big of future Jewish initiatives sential component of Jewish Jews, or the Moroccan Jews, nary family that I don't want only research studies we'll picture: What Judaism needs is not a sexy finding from a identity, which I love, but it or the Polish Jews, oreventhe to break away from. I'm now ever need are those that will more than anything is great research study, but common is not the only one. And let's Chinese Jews? partofapeople, partofagrand measure Our success. ideas and leadership, notmore sense, creativity and brilliant face it, not everyone loves We're always talking about story, partofashareddestiny. David Suissa is president research, execution. "religion." Thank God, we're building Jewish peoplehood, That's peoplehood, of TRtBEMedia Corp.~Jewish We didn't need research, We don't need research to lucky that the Jewish buffet is but how are we expected to Even the tikkun olam Journalandcanbereachedat for example, to tell us that tell us that people generally so rich. If we want to succeed do that if we don't teach and movement, as noble as it is, thebestway to connect with love to laugh, hatetobebored, withthenewgeneration, we'll celebrate the fascinating Israelistovisit Israel, andthat want meaning in their lives, need to tap into these riches, stories of the Jewish people? CHAI By Andrew Silow-Carroll Weiss. I am calling from the neighbors as a) upper class, b) New Jersey Jewish News Pew Research Center... middle class, c) working class, Mrs. Weiss: The Jew Re-or d) applying for a day school Above all, [the new Pew search Center? scholarship even though survey of American Jews] Caller One: No ma'am, it's their last bat mitzvah was an vindicates a thesis ch'ampi- Pew. We're doing a public extravaganza? oned by the late sociologist opinion survey and wanted Mrs. W: B. But I really don't Gary Tobin. He argued that to know if you would answer know what this... callinguparandomstranger a few questions. Caller One: Let's keep go- and asking right off the bat Mrs. W: About what? ing. What do your neighbors about their religion is a sure Caller One: Oh, you know, like to do on a Sunday morn- way to get a false reading, this and that. Maybe some- ing? Is it a) go to the mall, b) Many people regard the thing about the quality of life go to church, c) read The New matter as private. That will inyourneighborhood, doyou York Times over bacon and be especially true of Jews .... own any pets, where will you eggs, or d) read The New York Well, the Pew folks say they daven for yontef. Times over bagels and lox? startedoffby askingrespon- Mrs. W: What was the last Mrs. W: Really, I'm very dents about the quality of one? busy at the moment. life in their neighborhoods Caller One: Never min~.Caller One: That's fine. and then came aroilnd to So here's the first question. We're almost done. If your bringing up religion...--J.J. Which of the following de- neighbor'ssonmarriedsome- Goldberg, writing in The scribesyourneighborhood:a) oneofthesamesex, wouldthe Forward suburban, b) urban, c) you can parents a) pretend they were Caller One: Hello, can walk to houses of worship, roommates, b) tell each other I speak to the head of the or d) you can't get good deli whose fault it is, c) insist he household? for miles, convert, ord) wonder if this Caller Two: This is Mrs. Mrs. W: A? improvestheirchancesofget- Weiss. Caller One: Okay. Question ting the announcement into Caller One: Hello, Mrs. two. Would you describe your . The New York Times? Mrs. W: I'm not sure what you're driving at here... Caller One: please. Mrs. Weiss, we only have a few more questions. Let's pretend it's December, and I need to find your house WouldIa) consult~ Google maps, b) plug your address into Garmin, c) turn left at the rod and reel club, or d) look for the houses without Christmas lights? Mrs. W: Are you asking if I'm Jewish? Caller One: Well, that's up to you, ma'am. But now that you've brought up religion, I might have one or two hun- dred questions. Mrs. W: Actually, my last name is German. I'm not Jewish. Caller One: Why didn't you say so in the first place? Andrew Silow-Carroll is editor-in-chief of the New Jersey Jewish News. Between columns you can read his writing at the JustASC biog.