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Jews ranked second to last on the table of weekly worship attendance with less than one in six attending services, beating out only those who report no religious affiliation.
"This is a statistical cri de coeur from our people," Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles told The Jerusalem Post. "If things continue as they are we will produce a generation of Jews who will be irretrievably lost."
In a series of interviews conducted from 2002 to 2005, Gallup interviewed 11,000 adult Americans and asked, "How often do you attend church or synagogue - at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?"
Approximately 44 percent reported attending worship services weekly or almost weekly, the April 14 report stated. The results varied among religious groups and denominations with almost two-thirds of Mormons, conservative Protestants and Pentecostal Protestants reporting they attended weekly services.
Roman Catholics and members of the mainline Protestant churches - Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians - varied in attendance between 43% and 45%. Episcopalians came last among Christian denominations, reporting only 32% weekly attendance, while Jews reported only 15%.
Rabbi Gary P. Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, told the Post the survey was "very accurate snapshot" of worship attendance, but it did not accurately gauge the vitality of the American Jewish community.
He noted the survey did not distinguish among the different strands of American Judaism and stated that "you could find a different statistic" among the Orthodox than those drawn from "the more liberal-leaning wing."
"All of us who are concerned with the spiritual and religious dimension of the American Jew ought to be concerned about these figures," he said, but to "jump from that statistic to say that American Jewry is ill" was false.
"There is great vitality in American Jewry, but it is not being expressed" solely by worship attendance, Zola argued. "There are many different ways that you can legitimately wish to express yourself as a Jew and be involved in various aspects of the Jewish civilization, the Jewish communal experience," he said. "It is not possible to say the only measure of your commitment is synagogue attendance."
Zola noted that what the survey highlighted was the historic problem that synagogues were "not functioning in a way that is bringing in increasing numbers of American Jews that belong to the synagogue on a regular basis."
Wolpe was less sanguine. "Judaism requires a countercultural commitment," he argued. "If Jews do not develop a major, unshakeable passion for Jewish life and learning, observance will dwindle, as this study demonstrates. The results are a spiritual and cultural tragedy for the Jewish people and for America."
However decline was not inevitable, Wolpe argued. "At Sinai Temple we have instituted services that draw 1,000 people on a Shabbat morning and once a month, over 1,000 young people to Friday Night Live. It is through a combination of education, music and passionate preaching and teaching. There is no single, successful formula, but the best Jewish minds of our generation need support and aid in reversing this crisis," he said.