Quick, what’s the fastest growing part of the Jewish community, or at least the New York metro area’s Jewish community? Orthodox? They’re growing, but not the fastest? Conservative? Nah. Reform? Not anymore. Reconstructionist? Nope.
According the the recently released study of the NY Jewish community, the group that has doubled it’s share of the community, growing from just 15% to a walloping 37% is [drum roll, please]…
That’s right, “other”. [Source: Jewish Community Study of New York, page 121].
Are you an old school thinker about the Jewish community? Guess what? Over 1/3 of the Jews in New York don’t fit into the categories that you have been using to describe Jews and Judaism. These categories, which were born during the period from the early 19th century through the middle of the 20th century, are in decline. Realistically, the terms “Reform”, “Conservative”, “Orthodox” and “Reconstructionist” never referred to all Jews. They are descriptions of religious Jews. And even at that, they apply mostly to Ashkenazi Jews who have been in North America for more than a generation. The categories always left out a significant chunk of Jewish life (and creativity). According to the New York study, these categories now leave out a full 37% of all Jews!
So, who are these “others” and what should the community do about the trend? According the the study, “other” includes those who describe themselves as:
- Just Jewish
- Not Religious
I would also suggest that these other folks might be among the “other”:
- Israeli born Jews, most of whom have little use for the American denominational labels
- Jews from families that emigrated from the former Soviet Union (if we still use that term), most of whom have no use for the denominational labels
- Jews whose connectedness is through social justice or political activism
- Jews who are still searching for the communities that will most fully accept them (and who are not comfortable with a home in any of the old movements): GLBT Jews, Jews of color
- Jews who are aboard the Do It Yourself Judaism train. They are individualistic and want to set their own Jewish paths
Admittedly, “other” is not a unified category; it is a hodge podge of my fellow American Jews. I should also admit, in the name of transparency, that I have defined myself as either “just Jewish” or “post-denominational” for at least the past 20 years, meaning that I, too, am “other”.
Yet I can’t help thinking that these is some common thread that might hold many in the “other” category together. A conversation needs to begin, and I’m happy to help start it now:
- What does the finding of 37% of Jews falling outside denominational lines mean?
- Who (individually or organizationally) is going to support the “others” as they chart their Jewish lives?
- Is the distinction between “religiously Jewish” and “culturally Jewish” significant to most Jews today? Or perhaps we all live along a continuum, moving constantly along it? And if that’s so, how do we change the organizations that are only interested in people when their journeys put them, however briefly, in a certain category?
Looking for YOUR comments.