The 1990 National Jewish Population Study sent shockwaves throughout the organized Jewish community in North America. The most most striking number was the intermarriage rate of 52%. This precipitated the creation of several initiatives such as synagogues offering family education programs, the improving of “Hebrew Highs,” Hillel’s hiring more staff, as well as the creation of Birthright Israel. To date, 500,000 Jews, ages 18-26 have gone on a free 10-day trip to Israel through Birthright.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center Study released its study on the state of American Jewry, which showed even a further decline. The intermarriage rate had risen to 58%, though the more revealing measure is the intermarriage rate of 71% among non-Orthodox Jews.
Certainly, one would think that two years has been a enough time for the leadership in the Jewish community to come up with additional initiatives to curve the numbers. However, it appears that the focus and energy for the past couple of years has been on police violence, Black-Jewish relations, illegal aliens, Syrian refugees, LGBTQ issues, and interfaith relations, while failing to address the accelerating intermarriage rate.
The state of American Jewry and the lack of initiatives to reverse the free-fall pains me. Instead saying Kaddish, I write to offer a plan, but before sharing my ideas, let’s review some of the other statistics from the Pew study and other studies.
* The intermarriage rate among Conservative Jews is 39%, and 27% of Conservative Jews are married to a non-Jew.
* The intermarriage rate among Reform Jews is 80%, and 50% of Reform Jews are married to a non-Jew.
* 30% of Jews who were raised with a Conservative Jewish identity now identify as Reform, 17% identify as no denomination or no religion, and 10% no longer identify as being Jewish.
* 24% percent of Jews who were raised with a Reform Jewish identity now identify as no denomination or no religion, and 11% no longer identify as being Jewish.
* The denominational shifting has resulted in a current market share of 10% of Jews claiming to be Orthodox, 18% Conservative (down from 43%), 35% Reform, 6% Reconstructionist or Renewal, and 30% no denomination.
* In 2001 78% of American Jews participated in a Passover Seder, but by 2012 this number had dropped to 70%.
* Thirty-four (34) percent of Conservative Jews regularly light Shabbat candles versus 10% of Reform Jews; and 31% of Conservative Jews keep a Kosher home versus 7% for Reform Jews.
* Only 13% of the membership of Conservative synagogues are in attendance on Shabbat; and only 4% of the membership of Reform temples are in attendance on Shabbat.
The Talmud relays that “All Jews are responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a). Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Jews who do see the relevance and spirituality of Jewish religious practices to take it upon themselves to revitalize American Jewry. I propose the following “6 x 6” plan for sparking a Jewish revival:
1. Host a Jewish family for Shabbat dinner who do not “do Shabbos” at least six times per year.
Getting Jews to one’s Shabbat table is the primary methodology of Orthodox outreach rabbis. This is because of the transformative beauty of Shabbat, and few people decide to start growing in Jewish knowledge and practice without first engaging in meaningful Jewish experiences.
2. Offer a Torah class in your house on your birthday or on a yahrzeit and invite at least six Jews who typically do not attend Torah classes.
A single class session is not going to be a magic bullet, rather, its purpose it to spark an interest for attending an upcoming mini-course. It is actually best if the host teaches the class on something s/he has been learning.
3. Create six 2-minute d’vrei Torah videos and post them on Facebook.
This is one’s chance to explain the relevance and meaning of a particular Mitzvah or Jewish holiday to dozens of their friends. It is perfectly okay if the video quality looks amateur (I shoot videos while holding my cellphone in one hand). What matters most is speaking from the heart in sharing Jewish wisdom.
4. Share at least six mitzvot you do with other Jews.
Doing a mitzvah activates a Jew’s soul since a mitzvah connects one to God. There are numerous examples of how doing one mitzvah has sparked a Jew’s spiritual growth. Just like one would share telling a friend about a good movie s/he saw, one should also share the mitzvot s/he does. For example, take your luluv and etrog to work.
5. Teach the sixth grade class of Hebrew School.
The shortage of applicants to Hebrew school teacher positions who have a good knowledge of Judaism is at a crisis level. Although college students and secular Israelis mean well, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s quip sums up the real role of a Jewish teacher: “What we need is not more textbooks but textpeople, it is the teacher who is the text that the students read.” This is an amazing opportunity to be that “textperson” who shares a deeper and more meaningful level of Judaism with our youth.
6. Pay for a Jew’s 6-month membership to JDate.
A six month membership to JDate is just $150. (I have no connection to JDate.)
Numerous times throughout our history a leader has emerged to save the Jewish people — Esther, Ezra, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakki, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, etc. However, we are in a unique era. We need at least 100,000+ people to step up from the masses and take personal responsibility for saving the Jewish people from today’s spiritual Holocaust. Are you willing to be a leader?