I was recently asked at a dinner party what motivated me to take a leadership role in the Hadassah Associates and a number of other Jewish organizations when I could otherwise be spending my free time with my family or improving my golf game.
My decision to become more involved grew out of understanding the implications of a relatively recent major survey of American Jews, the first in more than 15 years. The results had a profound effect on people like myself hopeful for the survival and efficacy of Judaism in America. We often ask ourselves will our children and grandchildren be Jewish? And what do we mean by being “Jewish”?
The survey, by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, 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% for non-Orthodox Jews, a huge increase from only 45 years ago. Two-thirds of those who identified themselves as Jews do not belong to a synagogue and, since this includes Orthodox Jews, the percentage among non-Orthodox Jews is considerably higher.
Furthermore, the percentage of those who identify themselves as Jews but also classify themselves as “Jews of no religion” has grown exponentially with each successive generation; 32% of those born after 1980 say they have no religion. This has great significance for Jewish continuity. Of the “Jews of no religion” who have children at home, two-thirds are not raising their children Jewish in any way. Sadly, the survey also portends growing polarization between religious and nonreligious Jews, something we see both in the US and in Israel.
On a positive note, irrespective of religiosity and age, 69% of Jews say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel.
So will your children and grandchildren be Jewish? Based on survey projections, the chances are they will not be Jewish in the traditional religious sense, but with the proper guidance, they may very well identify themselves as Jewish and carry on the basic tenants of Jewish traditions and culture. Much of this is up to us as their fathers and grandfathers.
In its recent study, the UJA-Federation of New York identified three attributes that if passed on to the next generation encourages Jewish identity:
- Feels part of a Jewish community
- Feels very attached to Israel
- Volunteers for a Jewish organization.
As members of the Hadassah Associates community, Hadassah events and its missions to Israel give you and your loved ones the opportunity to participate in Jewish life. It also gives you the ability to connect with Israel, to volunteer, and to pass these ideals and values on to the next generation.
Please participate with your loved ones and maybe, just maybe, with luck, the next generation and generations after that will retain their Jewish identity and love of Israel.
President, National Committee of Hadassah Associates