Are we losing our religion? According to a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, Jews are, and increasingly so.
Nearly 1 in 5 Jews surveyed claim no religious ties, basing their Jewish identities on ethical or cultural values.
Those numbers spike for younger Jews, with more than 30 percent disavowing religion as the source of their Jewish identity. Factor in an intermarriage rate that hovers near 70 percent, and some observers fear the end may be nigh for organized Judaism — and the Jewish community — in this country.
While the Pew report will draw attention across the Jewish world, we do not share the pessimism it is already generating, as evidenced by our story on page 10. All one has to do is look around. As one of the most assimilated Jewish communities in the country, we in the Bay Area serve as living proof that the Jewish people thrive whether they pray or not.
It is true that a secular strain has long persisted among Jews. That continues today, with many marrying non-Jews, some putting up Christmas trees along with menorahs in their homes, and a number practicing Buddhism. What many Jews demonstrate, especially here in the innovative Bay Area, is that there is no one way to be Jewish.
The Bay Area has many strong and dynamic synagogues, but also an impressive number of Jewish community centers, Jewish environmental and social justice organizations, Israel advocacy groups, festivals of Jewish music, film, books … the flowering of Jewish expression we experience takes many forms, and draws in more Jews every year.
We have been called the ever-dying people for so long, maybe it’s time to admit we’re not going anywhere.
For those who worry we are becoming too assimilated and irreligious, let us remember the words from Ezekiel 6:8: “Yet I will leave a remnant, in that you may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when you shall be scattered through the countries.”
Even if that 1-in-5 number edges toward 1-in-4, we still have our saving remnant: Jews who study Torah, who know how to say Kaddish, who say the blessing over Shabbat candles.
Jewish religious tradition — the texts and practices that are the source of ethics that have forever driven Jews to make the world a better place — is not disappearing. And it will always have the power to nourish and preserve a core Jewish community, even as others stake their claim as Jews on other grounds.