Population Is Growing and Jews Aren't Hiding From HeritageBy Bethamie Horowitz for The Jewish Daily Forward
Initial reactions to the recent Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews have been almost knee-jerk in their pessimism. One commentator called the portrait a “grim” one. Another viewed the study’s results as “devastating,” with its evidence of “so much assimilation.” This rush to gloom brings to mind the old sendoff about the definition of a Jewish telegram: “Start worrying. Details to follow.”
The actual facts that evoked these reactions needn’t be viewed as unequivocally problematic. Another reading is possible.
Consider these findings: The American Jewish population turns out to be larger than expected: 6.8 million rather than previous estimates of 6 million or less. Intermarriage rates have held more or less steady since 1990. And most (61%) of Jews who intermarry are raising their children as “Jewish or partly Jewish,” rather than in another religion.
So the Jewish population isn’t shrinking, and even though many Jews intermarry, among those who do, the impulse to evade being seen as Jewish and to avoid “burdening” the identity of one’s children with a Jewish connection seems to have faded.
Today, intermarriage is more aptly a marker of integration and acceptance of Jews into America than a sign of Jews abandoning their origins or turning their backs on Judaism. I’m thinking of people like Jon Stewart, Natalie Portman and Rahm Emanuel, who have intermarried yet strongly identify as Jews.