October 4: Readers react to the Pew survey

Should we be surprised that Jewish identity continues to transition into non-existence?

Letters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Letters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Sir, – The Pew survey (“Pew poll: 1 in 5 American Jews have ‘no religion,’” October 2) is startling.
For two millennia, exiled Jews living among the people of other nations and with no nation state of their own could exist as such. There was very little assimilation. It was a world where both Jews and their neighbors considered them to be foreigners and strangers living in exile in someone else’s nation state on some other nation’s soil.
It was a world in which Jews uttered L’shana haba’a b’yerushalayim (Next year in Jerusalem) with sincere devotion.
But in relatively recent and very rare Diaspora experiences, such as in America, where Jews primarily have been redefined as people who believe in a religious philosophy or adhere to certain cultural practices, rather than as a nation, should we be surprised that Jewish identity continues to transition into non-existence? The role of non-religious communal organizations in the Diaspora, including (and especially) those related in any way to Israel, is critical to any hope of maintaining a Jewish national identity.
Identifying with the Jewish nation state is the sine qua non for our survival in societies that are democratic, inclusive and increasingly non-religious.
Undoubtedly, American Jewish communal leaders will be studying this survey closely, but one hopes the leaders of the Jewish state are focused on this as a serious threat to the country’s “national” security.
MICHAEL TRAISON Herzliya/Chicago
Sir, – The Pew survey reveals what many of us have felt for a long time – that American Jewry identifies with bagels and lox, and not with being in any way Jewish or caring about Israel. It is a heartbreaking survey. Reform and Conservative Judaism must begin real tshuva (introspection) and undertake an in-depth analysis of why their messages have failed.
What has succeeded in no small measure has been the creativity of having young people come to Israel to see its dynamics. It has succeeded in taking these young people around and ensuring that they see and understand the uniqueness of the Land of Israel.
Perhaps – just perhaps – the leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements should concern themselves less with politics and their strong leadership positions, and concentrate more on teaching the Jewish religion and Jewish history. My gut feeling is that they have watered down Judaism so much that they are only ethical culturists.
Judaism is not only an ethical culture, but a way of life that is meaningful and identifies with Israel because God identified with Israel.
Let us begin to try harder.
Sir, – Many of us who accept the dichotomy, even the multiplicity, of the Jewish experience were treated to an illustration of this by the juxtaposition of two important pieces in your October 3 issue: “Jews in the US” (Editorial) and “Why I’m staying” (Comment & Features).
The editorial presented disturbing facts about the American Jewish community based on the recent Pew survey. But in the face of this depressing and astonishing reality, readers who turned a few pages came to Anderson Harkov’s magnificent personal account “Why I’m Staying.”
I thought to myself: How prophetic that Harkov knew how to respond correctly to an issue of such magnitude without knowing that his piece would be printed the same day as the editorial.
He knows what many olim know – that Israel is our home and that Jewish survival and continuity can be guaranteed only by living here, no matter what the hardships.
To those (including myself) who are despondent over the negative prospects of the Pew survey, I would counsel Jewish pride, constant historic awareness and, most of all, work toward the ultimate ingathering of Jewish exiles to our ancient and holy Land of Israel.