Survey Says

What a way to kick-off the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Annual Campaign. Last night Dan Pallotta was phenomenal with his clear message – if you want to solve real issues you have to do more than you ever thought possible. And the Jewish Federation is striving to do just that! Following last night’s event, our community’s campaign already stands at $839,000 on our way to our $3.6 million goal. An incredible start! Mazel tov to Mindy and Mark Zeitzer, chairs of the event, their committee, and the Federation professional team for all the evening’s successes.

You can help move the pace of our campaign even faster – make your commitment today (payable by December 2014). And remember, all increases of 10% or more and all new gifts will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous donor.



What is the old adage, "Two Jews…three opinions”?  Well, throw in the most comprehensive study of the American Jewish population in a dozen years and you will get even more.

On Tuesday, the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project released its findings from a comprehensive survey that examines changing Jewish identity in the United States. This landmark report, based on contacts with 70,000 people in all 50 states and interviews with 3,475 Jews from February to June of this year, is the first study to be done not under the auspices of the organized Jewish community.

The study covers a wide range of topics, including population estimates (6.7 million Jews in America making up 2.2% of the U.S. population), demographic characteristics, Jewish identity, religious beliefs and practices, intermarriage, child rearing, connections with Israel, and social and political views.

The study highlights both strengths and challenges facing the American Jewish community. The majority of American Jews say being Jewish is important to them, are proud of being Jewish, and feel a deep sense of connection to and responsibility for other Jews. At the same time, the report underscores growing gaps in engagement in Jewish life between those who are “Jewish by religion” and secular Jews, between in-married and intermarried Jews, and between those who identify with a religious movement and those who do not.

Some key statistics:



  • American Jews are overwhelmingly proud to be Jewish (94%) and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people (75%).

  •  One in five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion. 32% of millennials (those born after 1980) identify as Jews of no religion compared to 19% of baby boomers.

  • The majority of Jews say being Jewish is a matter of ancestry and culture, and not mainly a matter of religion.

  •  More than 90% of “Jews by religion” who are currently raising minor children in their home are raising them Jewish. In stark contrast, two-thirds of Jews of no religion say they are not raising their children Jewish or partially Jewish.

  •  Among Jewish denominations, the Reform movement remains the largest (35%), followed by no denomination (30%), Conservative (18%) and Orthodox (10%). There is a trend of “denominational switching” with the direction toward less traditional Judaism.

  •  73% say remembering the Holocaust is essential to being Jewish…69% say leading an ethical Jewish life…56% say that working for social justice and equality is essential to what being Jewish means to them.

  •  More Jews believe a good sense of humor (42%) is essential to being Jewish than observing Jewish law (19%) 

  • Since the 1950s, the percentage of Jewish adults who say they follow the Jewish faith has dropped by 48%.

  •  Overall intermarriage rate is at 58%, up from 43% in 1990. Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71%.

  • Emotional attachment to Israel has remained steady with 69% of respondents saying they feel attached or very attached to Israel.

  • 43% of respondents have been to Israel (much of the growth in this number is due to the success of the Birthright Israel program).

  •  Less than 33% of Jews say they belong to a synagogue.

  • 24% of Jews said religion is very important in their lives, compared to 56% of the general American population.

  • 65% of Jews in America live in just six states – New York (20%), California (14%), Florida (12%), New Jersey (5%), Massachusetts (5%) and Pennsylvania (5%). If you include Illinois, Maryland, Texas and Ohio, that brings the total to 80% of all Jews in the United States.

Should we be surprised? Emerging generations of Jewish adults are not connected to Jewish life the way their parents or grandparents were. They may be far less likely to marry other Jews, raise their children as Jews, give to Jewish charities, belong to Jewish organizations, feel connected to the Jewish community, and/or have the same sense of care for the State of Israel.

Looked at one way, the fact these young people consider themselves Jewish at all points to a growing diversity within the American Jewish community. Looked at another way, the fact that their ties to faith and community are so weak suggests that their Jewish identity is increasingly unimportant.

Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine, wrote this sobering note:

Overall, the survey tells us that the falloff of Jewish affiliation among the young and the non-Orthodox is already considerable and will only grow in the future…Instead of accepting assimilation, Jewish groups must resist it whenever possible and concentrate their efforts on encouragement and investment in those elements that produce Jews rather than people with only a dim grasp of what it means to be a part of the Jewish people. Only with major investments in those experiences that build Jewish identity such as schools, synagogues, camps, and trips to Israel can American Jewry stop or even lessen the demographic slide.”

Read the survey results. Make your own interpretations. Think about what our future will look like. Please share what you think.

Because, only together, can we meet the challenges spelled out in this study so we can ensure a vibrant and connected Jewish future.

Shabbat shalom.



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