Major Jewish funders not surprised by Pew survey figuresby uriel heilman, jta
|Follow j. on||and|
If you’re pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish identity-building, what do you do when a survey comes along showing that the number of U.S. Jews engaging with Jewish life and religion is plummeting?
That’s the question facing major funders of American Jewish life following the release last week of the Pew Research Center’s survey on U.S. Jews.
The study — the first comprehensive portrait of American Jewry in more than a decade — showed that nearly one-third of American Jews under age 32 do not identify as Jewish by religion, that Jews are intermarrying at a rate of 58 percent (71 percent if the Orthodox are excluded) and that most intermarried Jews are not raising their kids as Jews.
“It will certainly animate our discussions and have a bearing on the foundation’s decision-making, because it is actually good data,” he said.
For many of the Jewish world’s biggest funders, the answer to this question is clear: Stay the course.
“We’ve known about these issues and many of us have been working in our own ways to address them,” said Sandy Cardin, president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which with more than $2 billion in assets is one of the Jewish world’s largest foundations focused on bolstering Jewish identity and community among young people.
“We haven’t done it yet, and by no means is success assured, but I do think as a community we have identified significant ways to address these challenges,” he said. “It’s too soon, I think, to see the immediate impact of what many of us in the community have been doing over the past five to 10 years.”
The logic to this approach is relatively straightforward: The findings in the Pew survey mostly upheld the assumptions upon which major givers in Jewish life already have been operating. In their view, the survey validates their own philanthropic priorities, even if they disagree with other philanthropists about what to prioritize.
“This new study reinforces the idea that we need an energizing nucleus which is literate in Hebrew, and which is engaged in intensive and immersive education and committed to Jewish life and Jewish institutions,” said Yossi Prager, executive director in North America of Avi Chai, a major investor in Jewish education.
Mark Charendoff, president of the Maimonides Fund, said the study demonstrates a remarkable failure to achieve many of the central goals adopted by the Jewish community in the wake of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, which showed what many considered alarming assimilation rates.
“As a community, we made a decision a couple of decades ago to focus on Jewish continuity and Jewish identity, and we don’t seem to have moved the needle by even one degree,” Charendoff said. “I would love to tell you it’s a wakeup call, but I don’t think anyone’s waking up.”
Jewish foundations need to get on the same page to develop a comprehensive strategy to begin to reverse the negative trends, he said. “Donors by and large are focused on particular efforts and not focused on the field as a whole,” Charendoff said. “There needs to be more coordination, more resources.”
Be the first to comment!