Jay Michaelson, a Religion Dispatches associate editor and founder of Nehirim, interpenetrates the results of the Pew Survey on American Jews from the eyes of Jewish Institutional Community
The results of the Pew Survey on American Jews track a weird set of ironies that have haunted the Jewish Institutional Community (JIC) for some time. On the one hand, the survey clearly shows that the minority of Jews who identify as Jewish for religious reasons are the only ones who really care about the kinds of Jewish values that lead to sustainability and continuity—i.e., values other than the holocaust and bagels. Pew’s data sets out the stark reality: Jews not religiously invested are just not that Jewishly invested in general.
The irony here is that the leading funders of the JIC are anomalies: non-religious Jews who are nonetheless committed to Judaism. They’ve coined new words like “Peoplehood” to describe what they’re interested in preserving: the sense Jews have of being part of a people, maybe even a nation. Such values are basically The Simpsons’ version of Auld Lang Syne: we’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.
Unsurprisingly to outsiders, but confusingly to the philanthropists who have spent tens of millions of dollars on the problem of Jewish continuity, this solution doesn’t work. For some, yes, Jewish culture, history, and “peoplehood” are enough reasons to raise your kids Jewish. But as the Pew data shows, not for most.