a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Is This How Judaism is for You?

Posted on: October 2, 2013

jew-overview-1An article is fast circulating the Jewishsphere the past two days. “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” an article by the Pew Report has even made it’s way to the NY Times with various comments and commentary on a variety of Jewish Facebook groups and Twitter Feeds.

As a JBC, the article doesn’t necessarily apply to me. I wasn’t born Orthodox and decided later in life to self-identify as a non-practicing or non-religions Jew, I chose to be a Jew. That said, and after last year’s Jewish hiatus only two years post-conversion, I can honestly say that if you’re not inspired by your religion or your community no longer supports the person that you are then it can be hard to be a Jew in a largely secular world.


“The percentage of U.S. adults who say they are Jewish when asked about their religion has declined by about half since the late 1950s and currently is a little less than 2%. Meanwhile, the number of Americans with direct Jewish ancestry or upbringing who consider themselves Jewish, yet describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion, appears to be rising and is now about 0.5% of the U.S. adult population.”

“…most U.S. Jews seem to recognize this: 62% say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, while just 15% say it is mainly a matter of religion. Even among Jews by religion, more than half (55%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, and two-thirds say it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.”

To me, the most disturbing statistics are those of people who are and are not raising Jewish children.

It seems a bit hypocritical to shake my finger at Jews who chose or don’t make an effort to give their children a Jewish life or live in a Jewish home. Who am I to judge a family who isn’t connected to their Jewish practice. I can’t help but think, though, that having a disconnection to Jewish practice as an adult does a disservice to a child who may find beauty and meaning and, dare I say, fun in having a Jewish home.


Who doesn’t love singing Bim Bam (Shabbat Shalom) on a Friday evening. Lighting candles, singing song, being with family for Shabbat seems like something a kid would love. In fact, when I brought Shabbat to my Christian family in Ohio the entire family loved it. The boys loved singing the songs, and sang them well after I’d gone back to Brooklyn. This, is one of the things I most appreciate about Mirs.

Judaism isn’t her “thing”. Talking about or believing in G-d isn’t who she is, but being Jewish is and having Jewish children and raising them in a Jewish home is important to her. And while both of our religious experiences as children alienated us from those faiths, I think that having a parent who is dedicated to making it fun, different and more inspiring than it was for them as children is a good first step.

The last interesting point, which the NY times and the smaller report fails to mention is the diversity of Jews. In the full report, on page 46 we get a glimpse at the diversity of the Jewish population.

“Race and Ethnicity

More than nine-in-ten U.S. Jews surveyed describe themselves as non-Hispanic whites, while 2% are black, 3% are Hispanic, and 2% are of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Racial and ethnic minorities make up a far larger share of the U.S. general population than of the Jewish population. Geographic Distribution More than four-in-ten U.S. Jewish adults(43%) live in the Northeast, while 23% reside in the South, 23% in the West and 11% in the Midwest. Compared with Jews by religion, Jews of no religion are less concentrated in the Northeast and more concentrated in the West. The vast majority of Jews live either in urban areas (49%) or in the suburbs (47%). Just 4%of U.S. Jews reside in rural areas, compared with about one-in-five Americans overall.”

I’ve truthfully not gotten through the entire report, but so far I haven’t seen anything about LGBTQ Jews, which if it’s missing is a glaring omission on an important and always existent group of Jews.

I’ve highlighted a fraction of sections, but am interested in your thoughts. What do you make of the articles-do you agree or disagree and what can the Jewish community as a whole do to engage its members?

8 Responses to "Is This How Judaism is for You?"

How about–where is Peoplehood? Those Jews who say they don’t have a religion but are still Jews that Abrahamson is worried about–as in, “Oh my, without being religious Jews how can they possibly be Jews anymore?”–is total baloney. Judaism is not just a religion, it is a people. Any convert could tell Abrahamson that. We don’t merely adopt Judaism as a religion, we in a completely literal sense (in terms of Jewish law) join the Jewish people. The Jews who stop being Jews are not the ones who say “I don’t practice Judaism but I’m still a Jew.” They’re the ones who don’t even say they’re a Jew anymore. To suggest there is a correlation between an agnostic or atheist Jew and giving up on your part of peoplehood is simply not addressed in the study. It’s just the same old, tired, knee-jerk reaction from status-quo Jewish leaders that unless all Jews daven the same way–or daven at all–then we as a people will cease to exist.

We have never worked like that as Jews. We have always been diverse, and that includes Jews who don’t believe. See, if nothing else, the cohort of atheist Jews who…ahem…founded the modern State of Israel. You know?

The Jewish world is going to kick way more ass with you as a Rabbi, Michael πŸ™‚

And I agree with you. The study is flawed in so many ways that I can’t even begin to comprehend or care to delve into much more.

I missed your blog.

Shalom aleichem.

Oh thanks! Aleichem shalom
I’m baaaaaack πŸ™‚

πŸ˜€ me too! I missed about, oh… a year or two.

Stats I’ve seen point to about 20% of nonwhite Jews in America.
Pew says it’s 95%.

I wonder why?
Does the Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews see themselves as white?

“Stats I’ve seen point to about 20% of nonwhite Jews in America.
Pew says it’s 95%. ”

Obviously I meant that Pew says it’s 5% nonwhite, 95% see themselves as white.

I think it depends on the Jew. Through my work with JMN a lot of Sephardim that we’ve surveyed don’t see themselves as Jews of Color, but also don’t necessarily see themselves as “white” it’s the epitome of grey area πŸ™‚

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