America’s open society is working its magic on the 4,000 year old Jewish People according to the Pew Religion in America 2014 study. First of all, the racial and ethnic variety of America’s Jews has increased greatly since the beginning of the 21st century, and now is 2 percent black, 4 percent Latino, 2 percent Asian-American and 2 percent “other non-Hispanic.” That’s a notable change from a 2007 Pew study, when Latinos were 3 percent, blacks were 1 percent and the percentage of Asians was less than one percent.
This is largely the result of the death of the oldest cohort of East European Jews and the rise of the youngest cohort of American Jews; many of whom have married outside the Jewish People. But it is also the result of the large number of converts to Judaism over the last half century: who now number almost one sixth of America’s Jews.
Although Jews usually think of themselves as an ‘endangered species’ we are not doing bad in our open society. When it comes to religious retention rates; recent immigrants like Hindus at 80 percent and Muslims at 77 percent are at the top. American Jews come in third, retaining 75 percent of those raised Jewish. Behind the Jews are Evangelical Christians at 65 percent; Mormons, 64 percent; Catholics, 59 percent; and mainline Protestants, 45 percent. Jehovah’s Witnesses retain only 34 percent.
Most Jews will be not only surprised, but shocked, to read these figures. An even more shocking figure from the Pew Religion in America 2014 study is that seventeen percent of American Jews say they were raised in another religion. Six percent say they were raised unaffiliated, 4 percent as mainline Protestant, 3 percent as Catholic, and 2 percent each as Evangelical and in some other religion. These ‘new Jews’ number almost one million out of six million Jews in the U.S.
The old line “you do not look Jewish” is steadily becoming old fashioned. Just ask a Korean American woman, Angela Buchdahl who was named Senior Rabbi of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue in a unanimous vote by the synagogue’s Board of Trustees. She is the first Asian-American senior rabbi of one of the North America’s largest (2400 families) Reform synagogues.
Born in South Korea in 1972 to an American Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist Mother, Rabbi Buchdahl exemplifies the new, ethnically diverse face of the worldwide Jewish community, which now includes between 800,000-900,000 non-Jews who have become Jewish; formally by conversion or informally by acculturation into the Jewish people and its culture.
If the children of converts to Judaism are added in: the number of Jews with recent non-Jewish ancestors is one and a half to two million, out of only fourteen million Jews world wide.
Then there is Chinese American Reform Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin, the associate rabbi of the thousand family members of Temple Sinai in Oakland, California.
“I’m a Jewish mother, and so was my mother,” the rabbi said, noting that her mother converted before marriage, and she and her sister grew up in San Francisco’s Reform Congregation Shearith Israel. These two Rabbis, like most Reform Rabbis, don’t look Jewish, and not just because they do not have long beards.