Today The New York Times reported the findings of a study conducted among American Jews. The editor in chief of The Jewish Daily Forward is quoted as warning against the threat of assimilation to the American Jewish population.
According to this article, only one third of American Jews belong to a synagogue. The study also finds that “only 17 percent think that the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security.” Apparently this is an alarming statistic. The numbers support that there is “’growing polarization’ between religious and nonreligious Jews.”
I’m having a personal reaction to this article for a few reasons, which I’ve been pondering for months now. My parents have an “interfaith” marriage (I don’t really know if one can “have” a marriage but I’m sticking by my syntax), although I just call it a “marriage.” I am not currently affiliated with a synagogue, and I definitely do not support the building of settlements in the West Bank. According to the aforementioned study, I am a prime candidate for Judaism-dropout. I’m not going anywhere, but I understand how someone with similar views to mine might be turned off by what often presents to me as an exclusive faith. I have many many many Jewish friends, mentors, teachers, and family members who keep me engaged and respect my views, choices, and background. These are the people keeping me Jewish.
It is my opinion that this “growing polarization” is a cause, not a consequence, of what this study finds to be discouraging numbers. I do not believe there is a right way to be a Jew. It is my hope that leaders and those involved in American Jewish communities will welcome Jews of all walks of life, synagogue or no, Jewish spouse or no, belief in God or no, and so on. I’m not an expert, but based on my own life experiences, I believe this is the way to keeping the American Jewish population healthy for the foreseeable future and beyond.
Assimilation is a scary word for Jews for a host of reasons I needn’t mention. However, this article acknowledges that “the trend toward secularism is also happening in the American population in general, with increasing proportions of each generation claiming no religious affiliation.” I see no reason why American Jews should be immune to phenomena the rest of the country undergoes. Personally, my belief in science and participation in secular society does not diminish my connection to Judaism. The only thing doing that is the prescriptive definition of Judaism pushed on me by others.