On Monday, the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University released a report entitled American Jewish Population Estimates 2012 and yesterday, the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project released a report entitled A Portrait of Jewish Americans. The last national study of American Jews was released in 2001 by the UJC (United Jewish Communities), now the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America), and had some significant methodological flaws. The Jewish establishment has been relying on partially unreliable data collected in 2000 for planning purposes, so rightfully these studies will garner significant media attention. In this post, I’ve culled headlines from as of 7pm Central Time yesterday from a variety of publications and organizations in the United States and Israel. My headline to the headlines: Beware as the Spin Begins!
American Jewish Press
JTA: Pew Survey of US Jews: Soaring Intermarriage, Assimilation Rates
Jewish Daily Forward: Jews Bound by Shared Beliefs Even as Markers of Faith Fade, Pew Study Shows
New York Jewish Week: Fast-Growing “Nones” Seen Reshaping Jewish Community
Los Angeles Jewish Journal: Pew Releases Landmark Survey on U.S. Jewry
New Jersey Jewish News: Surveys: More Jews, But Fewer Connections
American General Press
Wall Street Journal: Increasing Number of U.S. Jews Are Not Religious
New York Times: Poll Shows Major Shift in Identity of U.S. Jews
Huffington Post: What Defines an American Jew? Study Reveals Divides on Identity, Religion and Views on Israel
Associated Press: For Many American Jews, Religion Separate From Belief in God, Pew Survey Finds
Religion News Service
Being Jewish Means Being Funny, and That’s No Joke
Who’s a Jew? Few American Jews Say it’s A Matter of Belief
Haaretz: Top 10 Takeaways From Pew Survey on U.S. Jews
eJewishphilanthropy: Pew Survey Examines Changing American Jewish Identity
Ynet News: U.S. Jews Losing Their Religion, Survey Finds
Jerusalem Post: Survey: 1 in 5 Jews Say They Have No Religion, Orthodox Share Grows
Times of Israel: Pew Survey: 6.8 Million US Jews, But Majority Intermarry
(Oh…and no coverage on the Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform national congregational and rabbinical websites, and websites of Chabad and the Jewish Federations of North America. Pretty hard to understand why they weren’t ready with press releases and interviews, as they all knew about the impending release of the Pew study.)
It’s more than just “interesting” to read the initial responses (or note the lack thereof) to these studies, and track how the headlines evolve as leaders of all stripes digest the data. For data are merely points of information. What make them significant is how different individuals and organizations use them to tell a compelling story about the Jewish past, present and future, with the hope of swaying Jewish influentials to support their competing narratives with resources.
That’s why it’s important to read the original studies first without the spin, reach some of your own preliminary conclusions and then listen to what other people are saying. There are significant decisions riding on the stories that leaders craft from the data, and we need to hold them and ourselves accountable for accuracy in distinguishing between fact, opinion and prognostication. As you do so, please let me know what issues you think are the most essential over the next decade for leaders to be focusing on- which are the most amenable to influence, which should we invest in moderately and which we need to abandon. I’ll be weighing in as well after I do my “homework.” Thanks and I hope to hear from you!