According to a recent Pew study, the proportion of Jews who say they have no religion and are Jewish only on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture is growing rapidly, and two-thirds of them are not raising their children Jewish at all. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is currently at 71 percent.
Looking at all the information and statistics the study provides, it’s hard to find any ray of light for the future of Judaism in the Diaspora and the US in particular. We live in a different world, a world that provides a lot more access and opportunity to different cultures, people and lifestyles. If in the past Jews used to stay in their own neighborhoods, eat in their own restaurants and only date within their own little circle, today’s world offers single young people endless opportunities to meet people from around the world no matter their religion or origin.
However, besides a few very concerned Jewish figures (myself included), there doesn’t seem to be urgency among the Jewish leaders to handle the current situation. The Jewish world seems to be stuck in its old pattern and attention is given to matters like Iran, the Middle East conflict and such. I would like to use this platform to call on the Jewish world to recognize the urgency of assimilation and loss of Jewish identity among the young, non-Orthodox Jewish people.
At this point you might ask yourself what exactly this Jewish identity I keep bringing up is. I view Jewish identity as the common ground that unifies all Jews from different affiliations, and one of the beautiful things about Judaism is that it’s not about the religion per se but more about the identity of the human being, his origin and his identification as a Jewish person. That includes secular, Reform, Orthodox, and so on. However, as the Pew study suggests, less and less Jewish people identify themselves as Jewish and that is where the danger lays.
So how do we get the young Jewish generation to embrace its Jewish identity and pass it on to their kids and ensure the continuation of the Jewish race outside of Israel? I think it’s going to require a change in how the current Jewish world operates both from the religious side and the organization side. From the religious side I think we must find ways to accept and embrace intermarriage couples and make them feel more welcome so they will embrace the Jewish way and will be willing to teach and raise their children as Jewish or at least with Jewish influence. This is a key point because of the high percent of current intermarriage in the US, and we must accept that this rate is not going down and in fact has risen significantly in recent years.
From the organization side, there has to be an urgency with all current Jewish organizations to realize we are facing a crisis that must be dealt with now, otherwise these organizations will not have a target audience to approach. I think this point cannot be overstated. All the Jewish organizations, no matter how noble or important their individual cause is, must understand that they have to work together and help with this crisis. Without a joint effort by everyone we will not be able to turn this trend around, and the audience these organizations target will just get smaller and smaller, which will lead to the closing of many of these groups, some of which have crucial and important causes.
Unfortunately the environment in today’s Jewish organizations is not of unity and working together, but rather of an endless race and effort to keep each group’s audience to itself–focusing on one’s own cause without the realization that without a united front the Jewish audience that is so important to each organization will not be there in the near future. Obviously this requires some sacrifice from each group, but without this present sacrifice the existence of all organizations will be at risk due to the lack of Jewish audience, especially in America.
What we do know is that having young Jewish people around other Jewish people/events/trips increases their Jewish identity significantly and increases the likelihood their children will be raised with some kind of Jewish influence. I think now is the time for all the Jewish forces in the US to figure out a way to work together, not against each other, and increase the young Jewish generation’s exposure to Jewish experiences, activities and education, before it’s too late.