New York Jewry is Changing Fast
A new study of New York City Jews released last week by the
UJA-Federation of New York, and reported in our last issue,
found that the number of Jews in the greater New York City
area has remained constant from 1991 to the time the current
study was made in 2002. Actually the press release says that
the New York Jewish population is "stable," but the truth is
that the similarity in the overall number that is emphasized
conceals a tremendous amount of internal change. There may be
1.4 million Jews in the New York area but they are quite
different from the 1.4 million Jews who were there just
eleven years earlier. (The current study was performed in
2002 and the previous one in 1991.)
In 1991, New York Jewry was overwhelmingly Conservative and
Reform: together 70 percent of all Jews in the metropolitan
New York area identified themselves as one of these. In only
11 years this total has dropped to 54 percent -- a drop of
over 25 percent.
On the other hand, in 1991 Orthodox Jewry made up only 13
percent of the Greater New York Jews according to the survey.
By 2002 this rose to 19 percent, an explosive rise of almost
50 percent! The Orthodox now make up a quarter of all the
Jews living within the boundaries of New York City.
If these trends continue, and we expect that they will, then
in another decade the Orthodox community will be larger than
either of the Conservative or Reform communities, and a
decade after that the Orthodox may well be larger than both
Conservative and Reform combined.
All over the world, the Orthodox Jewish community is young,
dynamic and growing fast. Its members are involved in their
Judaism 24/7, and are naturally interested and concerned
about all Jews and all Jewish issues. Many are deeply rooted
in Jewish tradition by virtue of the fact that the majority
of their education is from Jewish sources and they continue
to increase their Jewish knowledge significantly throughout
their lives. They have strong and varied bonds to Jews and
communities throughout the world through activities such as
participation in daily prayer, study of the weekly portion of
the Torah and projects such as daf yomi in which
participants all over the world learn the same portion of
In contrast, Conservative and Reform Jews tend to be older
and only loosely associated with Judaism. Some get involved
weekly, many others only several times a year on major
holidays. Their educational and cultural roots are Western
and not Jewish. Even many of their ideas of religion come
from the Christianity that dominates America rather than from
Judaism, and they find their identities in university studies
or what passes for culture, rather than in what Judaism has
passed down. They are the tragic side of the American Jewish
Nonetheless, Jewish observance is generally on the rise. In
2002, 72 percent fasted on Yom Kippur compared to 66 percent
in 1991 who did at least "sometimes." Lighting Shabbos
candles went up from 43 percent to 53 percent, and keeping
kosher from 25 to 28 percent. The Pesach seder is the
greatest common denominator, with 77 always attending one, 15
percent sometimes and only eight percent never. Hopefully, as
the observant community becomes stronger, many of our wayward
brethren will become swept up in the current.
Judaism will survive. Hashem has guaranteed this to us in the
Torah. Yet there is hope that, despite the increasing
decadence of general American society, our Jewish brethren
will begin to really look like a mamleches Cohanim vegoy
kodosh -- a holy community whose entire life proclaims
their relationship to Hashem.
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