Tracking Jewish Journeys

In catching up on my Forward newspaper reading, I came across a fascinating article by social psychologist Bethamie Horowitz from March 11th about how people’s Jewish involvement changes over time. By examining how survey respondents compare their current levels of Shabbat observance now to when they were children, and how important being Jewish is to them now compared to childhood, she identifies an even split among Jews between “Movers” and “Stayers,” that is, between those whose Jewish identities have “morphed” over time and those whose identities have remained stable.

She writes that “Typically, Jews have been conditioned to forecast any changes in Jewish life as being in the direction of ‘down and out.’ But in fact, one of the most noteworthy realities of being Jewish in America today is the sense that one’s life could lead in any number of directions — and not necessarily in the direction of disengagement and rejection.”

Although not mentioned in her piece, this is certainly as relevant for intermarried Jews as for any others: the Jewish journey continues. In our work we’ve seen how many Jews find a deeper connection to their heritage brought on by their intermarriage, because they are—sometimes for the first time—confronted with their Judaism. Often, it is related to decisions about raising children. It would be interesting to see the breakdown between intermarried Jews among her categories of “Movers” and “Stayers.”

The print version of the article also had a graph that Dr. Horowitz created, which we’ve scanned in and posted here. It’s especially interesting and perhaps ominous to note that while the breakdown of “Movers” and “Stayers” has remained around 50% through four generations of American Jews, among the “Stayers” the percentage who have had “steady involvement” continues to shrink while the percentage who have had “steady lack of involvement” continues to rise (the top and bottom parts of each bar in the graph).

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