I was recently asked what motivated me to take on a leadership role on the National Committee of Hadassah Associates, the more than 30,000 male associated members of Hadassah, and to actively participate in other Jewish organizations when I could be spending my free time with my family, improving my golf game or whacking a pickle ball.
I decided to become involved when I came to understand the implications of a relatively recent major survey of American Jews, the first in more than 20 years. The results had a profound effect on people like me, who hope for the survival and potency of Judaism in America. We often ask ourselves, will our children and grandchildren be Jewish? And what does it mean to be Jewish?
The Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project survey found that, despite the declines in religious identity and participation, American Jews have a strong sense of identity and say they are proud to be Jewish.
Nevertheless, the intermarriage rate has reached an astounding 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews, a huge increase from only 50 years ago. Two-thirds of those who identified themselves as Jews do not belong to a synagogue. The percentage among non-Orthodox Jews is considerably higher.
Furthermore, the percentage of those who identify themselves as Jews but classify themselves as “Jews of no religion” has grown exponentially with each successive generation; 32 percent of American Jews born after 1980 say they have no religion.
This is extremely significant for Jewish continuity. Of the “Jews of no religion” who have children at home, two thirds say they are not raising their children in a way they would characterize as “Jewish.” Sadly, the survey also indicates a growing polarization and animosity between religious and secular Jews, something we see in the US and even in Israel.
On a positive note, irrespective of religiosity and age, 69 percent of American Jews say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel, if not its politics.
In another relatively recent study, the UJA-Federation of New York identified three sentiments which, if passed on to the next generation, will encourage Jewish identity:
“Feels part of a Jewish community
“Feels very attached to Israel”
“Volunteers for a Jewish organization”
So, will your children, grandchildren and future generations be Jewish? Based on the survey projections, the chances are they will not be Jews in the traditional religious sense. However, with the proper guidance, they may very well identify themselves as Jewish and carry on basic Jewish religious and cultural traditions. Much of this is up to us, their parents and grandparents.
The Hadassah Associates are committed to doing their part. That commitment is connected to Hadassah’s mission of healing. Associates work to educate and engage men around the country in conversations about the vital work of the Hadassah Medical Organization, Hadassah’s two-hospital medical center in Jerusalem, and to encourage financial support for that work. Currently, we are raising funds for Stem Cell Research and raising awareness of diabetes, one of the world’s most challenging diseases, and what Hadassah is doing to fight it.
The nearly 33,000 Associates are valued partners of Hadassah. They have stood side by side with Hadassah’s members since the Associates group was formed 50 years ago. Being an Associate offers men the opportunity to support the significant women in their lives and to connect with Israel, to give back to the community by volunteering and to pass on the ideals of Jewish pride and tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world,” to the next generation.
I encourage you to join us, to participate with your sons, fathers, nephews and the other men in your lives. If you do, maybe, just maybe, with hard work and a bit of luck, the next generation and the generations after that will retain their Jewish identity and love of Israel. L’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
For more information about Hadassah Associates, click here.
James C. Rotenberg is Past President, National Committee of Hadassah Associates.