We are often called the people of the book, but the reality is that we are the people of numbers. From when we were first led forth into freedom by Moses millennia ago we were counted – sure then it was a census for the army, comprising of only males from the age of twenty through sixty, but as history moved forward we continued to count (the Talmud presents multiple ways of counting the Jewish people including from the paschal sacrifice). Unfortunately for the past seventy years it has been a count that has looked back at what we have lost – our six million brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust, soldiers that we have lost in the protection of our state, and souls who have been lost through assimilation. The Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Survey was no different it was a numbers crunching game that spanned the spectrum of our people and commented on nearly every issue facing us.
Numbers such as 58% of Jews getting married since 2005 married non-Jews, 30% see themselves as Jews with no religion, observing Jewish law as a priority of our people drops to 19% whereas remembering the Holocaust hits 73%, 68% believe that one doesn’t need to believe in God to be Jewish – on the bright side, 68% are proud to call themselves Jews.
These are scary numbers, don’t get me wrong, but there is a silver lining. We are now six months on from the release of these statistics, and it has been commented on from every angle, but now is when action is being taken to counter these numbers. I overheard a discussion with some rabbinic colleagues who were explaining the buzz that was happening in their wider communities – it seems that in many places the Pew study was a wake-up call. And communities across the religious spectrum, who for the past thirty years have had their head in the sand, are changing their brands, giving their websites a makeover, and increasing their presence in their wider communities.
Yes, to counter these numbers we are going to need a dramatic change that addresses the culture problems at its root, and it needs to be both worldwide and religion wide in order to effect long-lasting change. But it needs to start somewhere, and these small changes that communities are engaging with are the beginning of the solution. It is our job – Rabbis and community lay-leaders across the spectrum – to realize the enormity of the issues, but also realize that we can no longer stand quiet and do nothing. We need to open our doors and our arms, embrace those around us, and engage them with not only their heritage and history, but also their future. It is only by looking forward that we can move forward!