Jewish Journal

Israel May Be Main Topic In Next National Jewish Population Survey of the U.S.

by Pini Herman

March 14, 2013 | 11:26 am

And Then We Wait For the Slings And Arrows

If the new planned national surveys of Jewish population confirm what has been clear to demographer Sergio DellaPergola and myself and some other demographers that Israel has overtaken the U.S. in the last decade in having the largest Jewish population in the world, this may be world changing, at least cartographically and perhaps cognitively.  There will be two independent scientific opportunities to test this hypothesis.  This may be a historic milestone in how American and world Jews and Israelis view one another as the Jewish population balance point shifts geographically off the shores of the U.S. ends up somewhere around the Jews of Rome, Italy.

Israelis living in the U.S. may again be proven to be a tiny fraction, about 2 percent, of the U.S. Jewish population, as I have termed this group as the “Jews of the Jews” in the U.S. This will be attacked as unbelievable to most Israelis and many in the organized American Jewish community and held up to ridicule.

Israel may again be shown as a blip on the radar screen of concerns of the majority of American Jews.  This too will be roundly attacked by many in the organized Jewish community as it sound's too much like Iran's Ahmadinejad's evaluation of Israel in his UN speech of last year, but it may be the most concerning of issues found in the upcoming surveys.  The debate of what constitutes a blip may rage.

Intermarriage, which made headlines when the 1990 NJPS was released, may be old news.  If my colleague Bruce Phillips is correct, intermarriage may now be declining. If so, expect an attack on the surveys  from Jewish orthodoxy that their prognosis of ever growing intermarriage and the eventual disappearance of non-Orthodox Jewry in the U.S.  The Jewish Federations and non-Orthodox denominations may of course jockey for credit for somehow doing their jobs and the decline in intermarriage.

If a question regarding the Jewish denominational upbringing of respondents is included, the trend of denominational shifting in the direction of, from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform to Just Jewish and No Religion, will likely continue to the consternation of all the denominations.  The Orthodox will again loudly claim that the survey somehow methodologically missed them and all those new practitioners to Jewish Orthodoxy are not being counted.

As in Israel, the economic polarization and fall off of the middle class and the lack of social services may be found in the U.S. among its Jews.  It’s doubtful that this will cause recriminations, because its probably not going to be studied. It will remain invisible this decade for U.S. Jewry as the Jewish Federations of North America has disassociated itself from all the planned Jewish population studies.  There will be no questions about existential needs such as employment, occupations, utilization of services funded by the Jewish community for those in need.  Somehow the Jewish Federations of North American forgot its roots of mutual aid and the measurement of those needs.  Picturesque needy waifs, elderly and  other media suitable graphics suffice to prove need and effectiveness at meeting those needs among American Jews.

All of this is in anticipation of the planning of not one, but two major surveys of America’s Jews. One planned by the Pew Research Center is closer to fruition, and the second in earlier development by the Berman Jewish Policy Archives at New York University, are coming down the pike.  The surveys  are designed to complement each other with enough overlap to aid in calibrating and adding to scientific research methodology and knowledge.  The surveys share expert advisors formally and informally, but each will hew to the historical areas of expertise of their respective institutions, the Pew Research Center and the Berman Jewish Policy Archives, primarily for reasons of resource maximization.  Surveys are expensive to field and national surveys on a relatively tiny population group, such as the estimated 2 percent of American Jews, are especially expensive when you have to successfully randomly interview 98 non-Jews to find two Jews.  Six hundred to eight hundred contact attempts are not unusual to complete those 100 household interviews to yield two Jewish households.

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive’s National Jewish Population Survey, which in the inexplicable absence of JFNA’s involvement, is now a vitally important survey informing Jewish communal and social policy to be undertaken. The BJPA has garnered a $1 million grant that still needs to matched for the National Jewish Population Survey to proceed.

Why is the Pew Research Center studying Jews? It doesn’t only study Jews, it studies many religions.

Pew Research Center has conducted surveys of religious groups in the United States – including Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and the religiously unaffiliated – They have done so independently, not on behalf of the religious group(s) surveyed or on behalf of organizations that serve those groups.

Fortunately, the non-profit Pew Research Center receives funding from the  Pew Charitable Trusts and a few other foundations. This allows Pew Research Center to pursue independent research and their findings are made  freely available to the public.

The Pew Research Center is an independent, non-profit, nonadvocacy organization. The term “nonadvocacy” means, among other things, that Pew Research doesn’t take positions on public policy issues and doesn’t make recommendations to public or private decisionmakers. Pew Research Center doesn’t have clients, doesn’t sell their research.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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