In the presentation “U.S. Jewry 2010: Estimates of the Size and Characteristics of the Population,” given at the Association for Jewish Studies meeting in Boston on December 20th, Professor Leonard Saxe reported that rather than declining, the Jewish population has been increasing since 1990. NJPS 2000-01, the last national Jewish population study sponsored by the United Jewish Communities (currently, the Jewish Federations of North America), found that the U.S. Jewish population had declined by 300,000 during the 1990-2000 period. Saxe and his colleagues found that the Jewish population has actually risen from about 5.5 million individuals in 1990 to an estimated 6.5 million as of 2010, an increase of nearly 20%.
The new population data were drawn from a synthesis of data from more than 150 nationwide surveys conducted by the U.S. government and other agencies as well as national polling organizations. All of the surveys included standard questions about religious and ethnic identity and had national samples of respondents. Together, the surveys included responses from more than 400,000 individuals.
The Steinhardt Social Research Institute also conducted a parallel study of a sample of 1400 Jews who are part of a panel of nearly 50,000 Americans developed by the respected polling firm, Knowledge Networks. The results of this survey reveal that more than 80% of those who indicate that they are Jewish identify as Jewish by religion. The remaining individuals identify as Jewish by some other criteria.
Saxe’s results present a paradox. While the findings show a higher number of Jews than previously thought, Saxe found that engagement in Jewish life has decreased. Even among those who identify as Jewish “by religion,” he found a majority do not belong to synagogues, do not participate in Jewish life cycle events or have not visited Israel — all indicators, according to Saxe, of engagement in the Jewish community.
In summary, Professor Saxe presented the following points:
U.S. Jewish population significantly larger than previously estimated
- includes 5.5M adults and children who identify as Jewish by religion
- includes 1M who identify as Jewish by other criteria
- Jewish population is increasing at a rate similar to U.S. population
Majority of Jews uninvolved in Jewish communal life, lack education
- Even among those who identify “by religion,” majority do not belong to synagogues, participate in Jewish life cycle events, or have visited Israel
- Most U.S. Jews do not understand Hebrew and many not able to read
- How does the Jewish community respond to the interest in Jewish identification, but the lack of institutional connections among Jews?
- How to engage the millennial generation that has had the benefit of broad array of new educational programs and opportunities to engage with Israel