The long-awaited study of the NY Jewish community is finally out. It is comprehensive, thought-provoking, and much too long for us to write about all in one post. Thus, what you’ll get here is a handful of headlines and comments, to be followed in the coming days by more (until you say enough). For those of you wanting to read the original, go here, where you can choose just the Executive Summary, the whole study, or specific chapters.
“Since 2002, population growth has been driven by high birthrates among the Orthodox (especially the Haredim), increased longevity, and an increase in the number of people who consider themselves partially Jewish”.
That’s probably the most loaded sentence in the whole report, and you can find it right at the beginning. Orthodox growth is a phenomenon that will become a huge issue, and the growth related to “partial” Jews will be the flip side of the same discussion.
“Nearly half a million Jewish people (493,000) live in Orthodox households — with significantly higher levels of Jewish engagement than others, much larger households, and somewhat lower incomes.”
Some Orthodox leaders would want more resources, they’d want to go back to the discussion of funds allocations, and re-debate the question that the Jewish community keeps struggling with: Is it wise to spend all that money on the periphery, in the hope that some distant Jews might decide to remain within the tent, instead of spending more on the committed and the engaged? Reading this study, I think it gives more ammunition to those preaching an investment in the “core” and relative abandonment of the periphery, but I expect others to have a different reading of the findings. They’ll rightly point to the fact that, “More than half of all Jews with no religion and more than a quarter of those with another religion still engage Jewishly on at least a few measures.”
“Over the last nine years, Jewish engagement in New York has dropped on a number of measures. In 2011 compared with 2002: Fewer Jews feel that being Jewish is important (from 65% in 2002 to 57% in 2011). Fewer Jews feel that being connected to a Jewish community is very important (from 52% in 2002 to 44% in 2011).”
Remember: The overall engagement is down even though a growing number of Jews are highly engaged Orthodox. This can mean only one thing: a much steeper decline in the engagement of most other Jewish sectors, and a reflection of the growing “partially Jewish” sector (here’s how the study frames it: “the proportions with the most extreme forms of disengagement have grown substantially since 2002”).
“Over the past decade, the organized Jewish community has invested heavily in building Jewish connections through synagogue revitalization, Jewish education and Jewish identity-building grants, and Taglit-Birthright Israel. While it is highly likely that the decline in Jewish connections over the decade would have been much greater without these efforts, at the same time the trend of disengagement continues.”
Probably the most devastating statement of the study, policy wise.
“Of all people in Orthodox households in the New York area, 35% are poor. This figure masks significant differences between Orthodox groups… the poverty rate in Modern Orthodox households (15%) is a third of that in Hasidic households (43%).”
Namely, it is not just Israel having a problem with under-employment and troubling economic models in the Haredi community.
Unlike major religious groups in the United States, major segments of Jews do not necessarily identify being Jewish with Judaism as a religion. Significant numbers of Jews claim their religion as “none.”
Isn’t such an approach the most “Jewish” one can imagine?