Comments on the Pew Research Center study on the American Jewish community
I want to comment on the Pew Research Center’s recently released 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews, the most comprehensive national study of the American Jewish population in a dozen years.
As presented on page 12A of the November issue of the Federation Star, the study covers a wide range of topics, including population estimates, demographic characteristics, Jewish identity, religious beliefs and practices, intermarriage, child rearing, connections with Israel, and social and political views. It also estimates a total of 6.7 million American Jews, who make up 2.2% of the U.S. population. As a side note, during the winter months, there are usually 1 million of these American Jews scattered throughout the State of Florida.
So now that we have the study, what do we do with it?
Michael Siegal, Chairman of the Board of The Jewish Federations of North America, and Jerry Silverman, President/CEO of our national system, commented in the November 1 issue of The Jewish Daily Forward that “If we go by numbers alone, the non-Orthodox American Jewish community is facing an existential crisis. The study clearly demonstrates that we stand at an urgent crossroads for American Jewry, and presents us with a major opportunity. Our communal leadership must seize upon it with renewed vigor and focus.”
Their column goes on to highlight several areas where our energy and dollars should be directed, including but not limited to: Early Childhood Programs, Jewish Camping, Birthright Israel and Establishing Jewish Development Zones.
As I see it, our Jewish Federation of Collier County has been focused on and addressing these critical areas for a long time.
Early Childhood Programs
For decades we have provided grants to the synagogues in our community for their religious education programs, as scholarships – providing the synagogue accept any Jewish child regardless of their ability to pay. In recent years we have also provided Temple Shalom and Chabad Naples with grants as scholarship funding in support of their preschool programs. And we have been sending the Progressive Reform Synagogue in Kiev, Ukraine, grant monies in support of its preschool. Let’s face facts – if we don’t capture our Jewish youth at a young age and hold them fast to their Judaism, we stand to continue to lose young Jews and their affiliation to Jewish communal activities on a global plane.
Jewish camping has always been high on our priority list because we know the impact that it has on those who attend. In the September issue of the Federation Star we featured Felicia Lilien, one of our success stories, because we provided her with scholarships to attend several Jewish camping experiences. That support has translated into this young woman serving as the Program Director for the Hillel at The Ohio State University. This does not include all of the additional scholarships we have granted to our youth and teens to travel to Israel, as well as to participate in a variety of leadership conferences. If you are not aware, I am also a product of the Jewish camping experience. I went to Camp Coleman fifty years ago, when they first opened their doors; and also received a scholarship to attend.
Our Federation has funded the incredible Birthright Israel program since its inception, just over 13 years ago. To date, about 350,000 young college-aged Jews from all over the world have participated in this trip opportunity. Our challenge is to engage the alumni when they return, and to create a pool of new young Jewish leaders for the future. You will be hearing more about this in the next couple of months from Lauren and Michael Saravis, children of Jill Saravis, our Community Program Coordinator. Lauren and Michael will participate in this month’s Birthright Israel journey, along with several thousand other college-aged young adults. We provided Lauren and Michael with a small scholarship to help them with domestic transportation and other costs for their trip.
Jewish Development Zones
We are certainly innovators in this arena. In the past 13 years, we have helped launch a Holocaust Museum; a Center for Judaic, Holocaust & Genocide Studies at FGCU; a Jewish Family Service agency; the Evy Lipp People of the Book Cultural Event; a BBYO community-based youth group; and a WCA and MCA. We also assist with the JCMI Jewish Film Festival and Saul Stern Cultural Series programs. We launched a Connections magazine and Jewish Community Directory – later this month you will be receiving the 2014 editions. And we continue to produce this newspaper, the Federation Star, as the connecting thread to everything Jewish in our community, at no charge to you. I’m sure I have omitted other things that we have initiated.
Do you see a pattern here? I do. It looks like we have been focused on and addressing the most important issues relevant to the American Jewish community for a long time. If you are a donor to our Federation Campaign, you should feel very good about how your charitable dollars are being spent. If you are not a donor to our Federation Campaign, we think you should hop on the bandwagon and know that you could be funding the most important issues that face our Jewish community today. Please join us and make a gift to the 2013 Jewish Federation Campaign in our community. You’ll be glad you did.