One of my teachers said, “statistics do not apply to Jews.” This is why we should not pay much attention to the Pew study. In 1966, Look magazine published an article based on research that the American Jewish community was disappearing and by 1980, there would be fewer than 10,000 Jews in the U.S. Of course, Look is a defunct magazine and American Jews are alive and well.
After the publication of the Pew study on American Jewry, one intermarried writer (whose knowledge of Judaism could sit on the head of a pin) wrote that it is better for the Jewish community to disappear than promote “racial purity.” Seriously? If ignorance is bliss, this chap is the happiest fellow on the planet. It amazes me when intermarried Jews, who have made a personal choice to become the proverbial “Jew in the woodpile” instead of a link in the chain think they have a message to give the rest of us about Judaism. You don’t buddy. It is over for you. You are nothing more than a statistic.
If you take a good look at world Jewry, there are Jews of every color, background. I have met Korean, African, Chinese and South American Jews. None of us look the same. Jews are about as different as a people come. Judaism has never been about race. It is about personal, moral and collective responsibility and developing a personal relationship with G-d. When Abraham and Sarah left their village and traveled to the land of Israel, they shared their religion. Abraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. This has continued through the millennia. Most of these people went on to raise families, support the community and if need be died a martyr’s death. Judaism is an open religion. Only a short sighted biggot could conclude that there is a “Jewish race” or that Jews believe in some sort of “racial purity.”
Why is the Pew study important? It reinforces the reality that Jewish education promotes Jewish survival, and because it shows how American Jewry has changed. Over 50% of the Jews who are getting married are Orthodox. Traditional Judaism is growing. Traditional Jews are not easy to stereotype. They do not speak in heavy Yiddish accents. They are not illiterate. They have brought new life into dying communities. They have established Jewish schools in places like Palo Alto. They have large families (I have four children and that is a “small” family in the frum community). They come from all backgrounds. They graduate from Ivy League schools and are in all facets of American life. They serve in the armed forces both here and in Israel.
What sets them apart is they are active in their community, but their community revolves around Jewish life. Because of this, they have a low intermarriage rate, estimated at about 1%.
Over the past three decades, leaders of traditional Jewry have followed the example set by Chabad in reaching out to assimilated and unaffiliated Jews. Thousands of people have attended Shabbaton’s or studied a little Torah or enjoyed a Sabbath or Holiday meal.
The ability to open up one’s home and heart will trump another study, speech or panel. The leadership of America’s Federations could learn a lot by following their example. A little study of Torah and a well baked challah helps sustain the Jewish soul.