Jewish Americans in 2020 - May 21, 2021

Jewish Americans in 2020
It is very positive to see that a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians has been agreed upon following 11 days of conflict. There is much healing to be done on all levels.
Each day of the conflict I read a wide array of articles and opinion pieces. I was struck by a comment Rabbi Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, made in this article. He was talking about the difference between facts on the ground and perceptions. He wrote, “Facts matter. They have to. But which facts matter is another question altogether. In our conflict with the Palestinians, we are not merely engaged in a military conflict, but in a conflict of ideas and narratives.” Just have a conversation with anyone about the conflict and you will find this is true.
Speaking of narratives, I invite you to listen to two educational group briefings that were made available this week. One from Dror Israel (password is may_update_2021) and the other from the Hand in Hand schools.
Sadly, there is too much hate in our world. Hate is taught. Hate is experienced. To combat issues of discrimination and hate in our state, country, and beyond, the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is partnering with a broad coalition of organizations and allies to host a virtual summit. A Community Call to Confront Hate is the culmination of an incredible series of webinars on the history of discrimination and bigotry in Oregon. Join us on May 26 from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and hear from incredible speakers addressing this issue. Register here.
Last week, the Pew Foundation released their latest survey on Jews in America, the most comprehensive study of its kind. As always, there are key highlights that come to the fore:
  • There are 7.5 million American Jews, an increase of 800,000 since 2013, making us 2.5% of the American population. The number includes approximately 5.8 million adults and 1.7 million children. Jews are slightly older than Americans overall, with a median age of 49 compared to the overall median American age of 46.
  • 15% of Jewish adults under 30 do not identify as white. 7% identify as Hispanic, 2% as Black, 6% as multiracial, and less than 1% as Asian or Pacific Islander. By contrast, 97% of Jews over 65 identify primarily as white.
  • More than 80% of Jews say that caring about Israel is an important or essential part of being Jewish. Nearly half of American Jews have been to Israel, and a quarter have been there more than once. Some 43% of Jews oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and another 43% know little about it. One in 10 American Jews said they either “strongly support” or “somewhat support” the BDS movement.
  • Most young Jews are either Orthodox or unaffiliated. The future of American Jewry appears to be one of polarization. The numbers of Orthodox and unaffiliated Jews are growing while the Conservative and Reform movements are shrinking.
  • Since 2010, nearly 74% of non-Orthodox Jews who married wed non-Jews. In total, 42% of married Jews have a spouse who is not Jewish.
  • The survey found that more than two-thirds of children of intermarriages are being raised with some Jewish identity. The data led researchers to conclude that “the share of the offspring of intermarriages who choose to be Jewish in adulthood seems to be rising.”
  • In the last year, 51% of Jews have experienced anti-Semitism — either by seeing anti-Jewish graffiti, being harassed online, being physically attacked or through another form of discrimination. Sadly, 5% of American Jews said they have stayed away from a Jewish event or observance because of safety concerns.
  • More than three-quarters of American Jews say remembering the Holocaust is essential to being Jewish. At the other end of the spectrum, just 15% of Jews said observing Jewish law is essential to being Jewish, and 33% said being part of a Jewish community was essential.
  • Only 20% of Jews said religion is very important to them. That compares to 40% of Americans overall. At the same time, 27% of American Jews describe themselves as “Jews with no religion.”
  • Half of Jewish adults say they seldom (24%) or never (28%) attend religious services. This is similar to the general population. In fact, another national study pointed out that less than 50% of Americans currently belong to a synagogue, church, or mosque. Twenty years ago, that number was 70%.
Here are some other interesting tidbits:
  • The percent of one’s closest friends who are Jewish makes an impact in one’s involvement in Jewish life. Only 19% of Western Jews (this includes cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco) said that all or most of their friends were Jewish. Compare this to 38% in the northeast, 22% of Midwestern Jews and 27% of Southern Jews.
  • Jewish women between the ages of 40 and 59 are twice as likely not to have children than American women overall in that age bracket. About 54% Jewish women aged 18 to 39 are childless, compared with 44% of American women overall.
  • When asked which activities or aspects of their lives provide them with the most gratification, 43% of Jewish Americans said spending time with their pets is something that provides them with meaning and fulfillment, compared with only 20% who said the same about their religious faith. Reform Jews were more than three times as likely to prioritize their pets. Spending time with family and friends topped the list.
All of this data has implications. Whether we put our “heads in the sand” or learn from it is up to us.
Perhaps the main takeaway from the survey is the reinforcement that there are diverse ways to be Jewish in America. The challenge for our community is how we can empower people to express their self-defined Judaism and create truly enduring Jewish connections. This is already happening and more will be done via the creative power of our current institutions, as well as unique projects being curated here in Portland and beyond. Our goal -- inspire people Jewishly.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the passing of Ray Packouz (z"l). He was so entertaining. I will always cherish a two hour lunch (eating plenty of chopped chicken liver at Mother's Bistro) with Ray and Harry Glickman (z"l) where they shared story after story. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Packouz family.
Shabbat shalom and let us hope it remains peaceful in Israel.
Marc N. Blattner
President and CEO


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