Kudos to the UJA-Federation of New York for completing a Jewish population study. I was sorely disappointed by the failure of the Jewish Federations of North America to complete a nation Jewish population study in 2010, and I’m delighted that the NY Federation has done its own regional study. The findings, on the other hand, are grim.
Most of the press around the study has focused on the significant increase in Orthodox population and poverty, and the continuing decline of Conservative and Reform Jews. All the usual reactions: The Orthodox are sad and smug at the same time, the Conservative and Reform are concerned and bewildered, and the Just Jewish continue to think nothing is wrong – whether because they’ve found a wonderful Judaism outside the bounds of the Big 3 denominations, or because they are indifferent to Jewish life.
But here’s what we should be paying attention to: Non-Orthodox Jews are marrying later or not at all, and they are having fewer or no children. Folks, that’s the ball game. Would non-Orthodox synagogues be fading if families had three or four children instead of one or two? Each additional child adds a few more years of synagogue membership, and a few more years of living a synagogue lifestyle – the kind that might end up lasting a lifetime. And that’s just synagogues.
Young Jews joke about it all the time – that the Jewish community is only interested in them getting married and having babies. And yet, I’d argue that our message has been much more ambivalent. We’ve encouraged our children to get married later and later, after education, after career, after multiple lovers and after living with a significant other. And I fear we’ve made a terrible mistake.
Too many Jewish young adults spend their 20s in an extended adolescence simply because they can. It’s time we remembered that taking on the responsibilities of marriage and family is part of what it means to grow up, not what comes after you’ve grown up.