The Jewish world is a buzz with the recently released Pew research study on American Jews. Pulpits are on fire and “Jewish leaders are worried.” The study is being quoted far and wide in our community. It breaks down like this: 71% of American Jews are intermarrying and 1/3 of American Jews below the age of 30 have no Jewish identity at all. No doubt these numbers are tragic, but the response is worse.
In the mid 1980’s, a study announced that 50% of American Jews were choosing to intermarry. Several researchers also reported that the best way to stem this tide was to provide children with a Jewish education (no Virginia, afternoon Hebrew school does not qualify as Jewish education). That makes sense. Young Jews learn about their unique religion, heritage, language and culture, and they grow up with and socialize with other Jews. The more they learn, the more likely they are to remain with and want to marry people of their own background. Wow! what a revelation!
Federations across the country announced they were going to do everything possible to stem the tide of intermarriage. They held panels, discussion groups and stood by as their own children made the same choice. The Federation of New York (and its sister Federations across the country) continued to give most of the billion dollars raised to “Jewish” hospitals that served mostly non-Jews. The mighty minds who were so upset by the data, refused to acknowledge the companion data that Jewish education is the most important response our community can offer. Jewish education costs money. I watched an interaction (late 1980’s) between the Lubavitcher Rebbe and a high ranking official of the NY Federation. He proudly told the Rebbe that the Federation had given “a quarter of a million dollars” to Lubavitch educational institutions (mind you, the Federation gave hundreds of millions of dollars to institutions that did not serve the Jewish community). With his cutting wit, the Rebbe replied, “Why should I be satisfied with just a quarter of a million?”
Now comes the Pew study. Once again, Federations across the country have sprung into action announcing their panels and projects. They are going to tackle the intermarriage and assimilation problem. The reality is they will do what they do best, wring their hands, hold another junket in a nice resort and do absolutely nothing.