The 2013 Pew study of American Jews continues to send ripples through the Jewish community – primarily in the form of anxiety about the future of Jews and Judaism in the United States and calls for action of various types to respond to what were generally perceived as discouraging, if not alarming, findings about declining levels of Jewish religiosity and engagement. Now, we have a more recent (2014) study from Pew on religious life in America generally – including a smaller, but still robust sample of those identifying as Jewish.
This more recent study puts the 2013 findings in a somewhat different light. It turns out, e.g., that compared with 2007, the percentage of those identifying as Jewish in the American population has increased from 1.7% to 1.9%. In terms of the widespread contemporary American practice of religious “switching,” Jews also turn out to be more “loyal” than most. Three-quarters of those raised Jewish still currently identify as Jewish – a figure that may seem distressing until one notes that only American Hindus and Muslims have higher “retention rates.” (Also of note is that of the 25% who no longer identify as Jewish, 18% have moved into the “unaffiliated” column – some number of whom may well retain a Jewish identity on an other-than-religious basis.) And, 17% -- one in six -- of the current Jewish population were not raised as Jews. On top of this, Jews remain one of the best educated and wealthiest (albeit also one of the oldest, on average) sub-populations.
I cite these recent statistics not to argue that everything is all right in American Jewish life. Hardly. But, it’s true as well that neither should we be wringing our hands and bemoaning the imminent disappearance of American Jews and Judaism. In fact, there is good reason to believe that Judaism can “compete” quite well in today’s religious marketplace, especially if we make good use of the considerable assets and resources at our disposal.
This is what we believe at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. We believe that Jewish teaching and practice – what we call Jewish wisdom and sensibilities – have much to offer, certainly to today’s Jews, and perhaps to others as well. We also believe that there are great numbers of talented, creative individuals and organizations who are keeping that teaching and practice vibrant and compelling in and for the contemporary world. Our job as a foundation is to support these people in their work – not only financially, but by helping their work achieve greater visibility, by connecting them to one another and to others seeking to take advantage of their efforts, and, when appropriate, by thinking together with them about the challenges and opportunities we face today as Jews and as humans.
We do this not in fear of the future, but out of a powerful sense of as yet unrealized possibility. Some of those possibilities are in fact taking shape before our eyes in the work of our grantees and conversation partners. We’re happy to share below glimpses of that work. In addition, we'd love to have you participate with us in one of our projects: expanding the list of Jewish Sensibilities that are central to the life wisdom we find throughout Jewish teaching and practice, both traditional and contemporary. Keep reading below to learn about our Jewish Sensibilities Crowdsourcing initiative and share some of the Jewish concepts that speak most powerfully to you.
Jon Woocher, President