The recent New York Jewish Community Study can be (and has been) parsed from various angles (here, here, and here, for example). It turns out that while the Jewish population of the NYC metropolitan area (including Long Island and Westchester County) has grown slightly over the past decade, it has also become increasingly dichotomized. Rather than the familiar denominational spectrum, most New York Jews today fall either among the growing (and increasingly poorer) Ultra Orthodox, or among those (also growing in numbers) who are not affiliated with institutional Judaism.
In the rush to debate the significance and implications of this study, one finding is worth looking at more closely. Of those Jews surveyed, fully “12% […] consider themselves ‘partially Jewish.’” And this number, too, is on the rise.
Rising numbers of people report unconventional identity configurations. They may consider themselves “partially Jewish,” or may identify as Jews even while identifying with Christianity or another non-Jewish religion (many more do so now than who so reported in 2002). Of such people with unconventional configurations, 70% have a non-Jewish parent (or two).
Now, what are the implications and significance of this finding to the future of the American Jewish community?
When I joined JOI a couple of weeks ago, it was with the hope of using my research skills to help sustain the research-focused aspect of JOI’s work, both in terms of documenting our successes, and in terms of helping us think about ways to grow going forward. I fully believe in the power of research to help the American Jewish community be the best that it can be. Like many at JOI, I believe that interfaith couples are the largest untapped resource for the Jewish community; pushing them away just makes no sense. But I also think that the growing population of interfaith couples and their children challenges the more mainstream Jewish community to think harder about what it means to be an interfaith person.