Wednesday, August 27, 2014 Elul 1, 5774

Quality, Not Quantity

January 19, 2012
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What's in a number? That's the question sparked yet again by the latest studies attempting to pinpoint the number of Jews in America.

The good news is that our numbers are apparently up: Two new studies, using completely different methodologies, discovered between 6.4 million and 6.6 million Jews, or about 1.8 percent of the U.S. population, the Forward reported this week.

The 6 million-plus figure is some 20 percent higher than the 5.2 million reported by the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America, a study that was said to have undercounted the Jewish population.

The first of the new studies, by Ira Sheskin, a human geographer at the University of Miami, and Arnold Dashefsky, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found 6,588,000 Jews. Their findings were reported to the North American Jewish Data Bank at the University of Connecticut last month.

A second study, also released last month, by Leonard Saxe, a Brandeis University sociologist, put the number of American Jews at 6.4 million.

At a time of increasing anxiety about the future of our community, it is encouraging that our collective population is not declining. Yet while counting Jews is an important and useful exercise, numbers alone don't capture the story of American Jewry.

Exactly two years ago this week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia released its own local population study. The study also found a slight rise in the number of Jews in our region, to 214,700. But growth aside, the findings served as a wake-up call on many fronts, alerting the community to the low number of Jewish children in our midst (36,900, with only 22 percent of Jewish households having children under the age of 18), and the fact that only 29 percent of intermarried couples are raising their children solely as Jews.

The local study also found that an alarming number of younger Jews feel disconnected from the Jewish community in general, and from Israel in particular.

Such statistics by themselves live in a vacuum, serving little purpose beyond academic discussion among demographers and sociologists. What matters, both locally and nationally, is how we use those numbers to determine policies and priorities for the distribution of our communal dollars and our energies.

The Federation, as it embarks on a new funding cycle of community needs, is seeking to align those dollars with a set of priorities, with the end goal of creating a stronger, more vibrant community. The decisions that are made will have a major impact on our future.

So before we get too caught up in the numbers game, remember that it's not the quantity of Jews but the quality of Jewish life that will, in the end, determine our destiny.

The good news is that our numbers are apparently up: Two new studies, using completely different methodologies, discovered between 6.4 million and 6.6 million Jews, or about 1.8 percent of the U.S. population, the Forward reported this week.

The 6 million-plus figure is some 20 percent higher than the 5.2 million reported by the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America, a study that was said to have undercounted the Jewish population.

The first of the new studies, by Ira Sheskin, a human geographer at the University of Miami, and Arnold Dashefsky, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found 6,588,000 Jews. Their findings were reported to the North American Jewish Data Bank at the University of Connecticut last month.

A second study, also released last month, by Leonard Saxe, a Brandeis University sociologist, put the number of American Jews at 6.4 million.

At a time of increasing anxiety about the future of our community, it is encouraging that our collective population is not declining. Yet while counting Jews is an important and useful exercise, numbers alone don't capture the story of American Jewry.

Exactly two years ago this week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia released its own local population study. The study also found a slight rise in the number of Jews in our region, to 214,700. But growth aside, the findings served as a wake-up call on many fronts, alerting the community to the low number of Jewish children in our midst (36,900, with only 22 percent of Jewish households having children under the age of 18), and the fact that only 29 percent of intermarried couples are raising their children solely as Jews.

The local study also found that an alarming number of younger Jews feel disconnected from the Jewish community in general, and from Israel in particular.

Such statistics by themselves live in a vacuum, serving little purpose beyond academic discussion among demographers and sociologists. What matters, both locally and nationally, is how we use those numbers to determine policies and priorities for the distribution of our communal dollars and our energies.

The Federation, as it embarks on a new funding cycle of community needs, is seeking to align those dollars with a set of priorities, with the end goal of creating a stronger, more vibrant community. The decisions that are made will have a major impact on our future.

So before we get too caught up in the numbers game, remember that it's not the quantity of Jews but the quality of Jewish life that will, in the end, determine our destiny.

 

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