A comprehensive new poll of Jewish Americans found that they are increasingly concerned about anti-Semitism, proud of their cultural heritage, and divided over the importance of religious observance in their lives.
The poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center estimated the total Jewish population in the country at 7.5 million – about 2.3% of the national population.
The survey of 4,178 Jewish Americans was conducted between November 2019 and June 2020 – long before the current escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The results, however, reflected US Jews’ skepticism about the conflict – only a third said the Israeli government was sincere in seeking peace; Only 12% said the Palestinian leaders were sincere in this regard.
Compared to Americans as a whole, Jewish Americans are on average older, have higher levels of education and income, and are more geographically concentrated in the northeast, according to Pew.
While the Jewish population is thriving in many ways, concerns about anti-Semitism rose amid the deadly attacks on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 and 2019. Chabad of Poway Synagogue in Poway, California; and a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Three-quarters of Jewish Americans say there is more anti-Semitism in the US than it was five years ago, and 53% say they feel less safe. Jews wearing distinctive religious clothing, such as headgear, are particularly likely to feel less safe.
The impact of such concerns on people’s behavior appears to be limited: Pew reported that the vast majority of American Jews – including those who feel less safe – say concerns about anti-Semitism have not stopped them from participating in Jewish observation and security To attend events.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reformed Judaism, said American Jews believe they will be selected for attack and vitriol, but also see anti-Semitism as part of a broader national problem of bigotry and intolerance.
“We need to limit tolerance for intolerance in the United States,” he told The Associated Press. “Hate and bigotry existed five or six years ago, but in recent years it has become okay to do it in a very public, unbridled way.”
According to Pew’s criteria, Jews are significantly less religious than American adults as a whole. For example, 21% said religion is very important in their life, compared to 41% of adults in the US as a whole. A majority of US adults say they believe in God “as described in the Bible,” compared with 26% of Jews. And 12% of Jewish Americans say they attend church services at least once a week, up from 27% of the population.
Orthodox Jews excel in this regard. They are among the most religious groups in US society, measured by the proportion – 86% – who say religion is very important in their lives, compared to 78% of black Protestants and 76% of white evangelicals.
According to Pew, 9% of US Jews describe themselves as Orthodox. Far more belong to the two long dominant branches of American Jewry: 37% identify as reform and 17% as conservatives. More than one in four do not yet identify with a particular branch, but consider themselves ethnically, culturally or familially Jewish.
Interfaith marriages are commonplace: According to Pew, 42% of married Jewish adults reported having a non-Jewish spouse.
Jacobs said he wanted reform churches to embrace this phenomenon instead of viewing it as a sign of decline.
“Intermarriage can expand who is part of the Jewish community,” he said. “You see black, brown, Asian families who choose to be a part of Jewish life.”
Pew found evidence that the Jewish population in the United States is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Overall, 92% of Jewish adults identify as non-Hispanic whites and 8% identify with all other categories combined. For Jews between the ages of 18 and 29, however, this number rises to 15%.
Pew’s poll suggests that other generational changes are unfolding. For example, 17% of Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 identify themselves as Orthodox, compared with just 3% of those over 65. And among Jewish adults under 30, 37% identify with either Reformed or Conservative Judaism, compared with around 70% of those over 65.
Politically, US Jews generally tend to support the Democratic Party. In the poll conducted months before the 2020 elections, 71% said they were Democrats or Democrats.
But Orthodox Jews have moved in the opposite direction: 75% of them said they were Republicans or rejected Republicans, compared with 57% in 2013. And 86% of them rated Donald Trump’s handling of policy toward Israel as “excellent “Or” good “. “While a majority of all US Jews called it ‘only fair’ or ‘poor’.
While there are signs of political polarization among US Jews, the survey also found areas of consensus. For example, more than 80% say they have at least a sense of belonging to the Jewish people, and three quarters say that “being Jewish” is very or somewhat important to them.
Pew asked respondents which of the various causes and activities were “essential,” “important but not essential,” or “not important” to what it meant to be Jewish. More than 70% said it was important to remember the Holocaust and lead a moral and ethical life, and 59% said working for social justice.
Rabbi Noah Farkas of the Beth Shalom Valley, a Conservative synagogue in Encino, California, hopes Jewish Americans can maintain solidarity even as their ranks diversify and many forego religious observance.
“It is our imperative to find ways to be nimble and persuasive enough that Jews want to invest their time and resources in the wider community,” he said via email. “So the struggle for me is not the identity, but the practice of Jewish life and how we hold a community together when others try to tear us apart.”
Rabbi Motti Seligson, media director of the Hasidic organization Chabad-Lubavitch, was proud and optimistic that the ranks of young Orthodox Jews remain robust. Still, he praised other young adults who do not identify as religious but nonetheless embrace Jewish culture and tradition.
“They are avoiding the old construct of denominational affiliation and choosing a Jewish lifestyle that is unique to them and ultimately linked to their people and heritage,” he said.
Pew’s survey was conducted online and through the mail. The error rate for questions to all respondents was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The Associated Press’s coverage of religion is supported by the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.