Jewish communities have survived slavery, persecution, poverty, and mass expulsions. Despite the existential threats over the millennia, Jews have found a way to sustain Judaism for more than 3,800 years.
Comparatively, Jews today thrive throughout the world. We have a strong homeland, robust Jewish philanthropy in America, and a continuum of ultra-Orthodox through secular Jewry living in freedom on six continents.
So, what is the greatest threat we face?
The following is the story of the “Goldman” family, a common story of the American Jewish experience since the wave of European Jewish immigration to the United States in the 1890s. Not much over a century later, American Jewry is experiencing an outcome that ironically stems from liberties, not injustice. While the story of the fictional Goldmans does not represent the only direction Jews have taken in America, it does represent the greatest threat to Jewry today.
As a child, Abe Goldman was raised by his grandparents, who only spoke Yiddish. During the Great Depression, his father worked as a tailor in the garment industry, earning 5 cents for each sleeve he sewed onto a shirt.
At the age of 13, Goldman had a bar mitzvah, but quickly dispensed with the prayer rituals as he became an honor student in science.
As a teenager, he asked his father to teach him to operate the home sewing machine to earn extra income. His father responded emphatically, “No, you’re not going to rely on such back-breaking work. Get your education!” Dedication to a formal education has been a staple in Jewish life that helped the grandchildren of Jewish immigrants become accomplished professionals.
Goldman earned a Ph.D. in life sciences and worked for the federal government as a science administrator for 30 years. Goldman and his Jewish wife raised three children, who attended Hebrew school and Shabbat services throughout their upbringing.
When Goldman’s kids grew up, they did not embrace the inexplicable spirituality of faith, electing to view their Jewish heritage more as an identity, culture, and genetic inheritance.
All three of Goldman’s children married Christian spouses. As a result, the fourth generation of American offspring is as follows:
Goldman’s daughter, an award-winning artist, has two daughters. Both are college graduates and successful professionally. They are technically Jewish according to Halacha (Jewish law), but neither of them grew up going to synagogue and neither currently practice Judaism in any way, including observing the High Holidays.
Goldman’s oldest son, a teacher, has a teenage daughter and son. Neither has attended any religious institution. They celebrate Christmas and Chanukah only as gift-giving occasions.
Goldman’s youngest son works in the IT field. His teenage daughter has also never had any faith-based education nor shown any cultural identification with Judaism.
The example of the Goldmans’ lineage is by far not the only result of offspring from Jewish immigrants. However, a disturbing trend can be seen by the numbers.
By the year 2050, the Census Bureau projects the world population to rise 26 percent, but the world Jewish population will remain stagnant at about 0.2 percent. The Jewish population in the U.S. is projected to decline 8 percent, while most other ethnicities will be growing.
The reason for this American decline of Judaism may be the result of a generational clash between faith- and science-based perspectives. The Pew Research Center recently found 7 percent of Jews from “The Greatest Generation” consider themselves non-religious, but that figure jumps to 32 percent for millennial American Jews.
The decline in America may also be the result of dilution from interfaith marriages. Pew found that the percentage of American Jews who married non-Jewish spouses rose from 17 percent in 1970 to 58 percent by 2000. About one-third of these interfaith families do not intend to raise their children Jewish.
Is the attrition of faith from generation to generation a loss of a Judaic community? Or is it better to ask: Why do we need to belong to any group that adheres to an exclusive belief system? Is it not better to embrace and belong to everyone? Are Jewish values any better than universal values?
The greatest threat to Jewish survival may be our own diminishing commitment and assimilation, but does it matter in the age of inclusion and scientific objectivity?
By Cory Schulman
Cory Schulman is the owner of a book publishing company and can be reached through Bestsellerpublications.com.