Modern Jewish life is alive and buzzing with tradition and change. The number of Jews who adopt an observant, Orthodox Jewish lifestyle is on the rise. Meanwhile, participation in post-modern alternative Jewish activities like Jewish meditation and the new Jewish mysticism (neo-Kabbalah) is also increasing. Jewish life in the 21st century is, according to many observers, experiencing a renaissance.
The Jewish Family
The 21st-century Jewish family album would feature Jews that are Orthodox and secular, gay and straight, divorced and single, converts and non-Jewish family members, childless by choice and adopted. Modern Jewish families come in all shapes and sizes.
The search for a conscious community has characterized recent trends in Judaism. From the activities of the formal denominations—Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist–to those in more informal settings like feminist groups and havurot (Jewish fellowships), contemporary Jews are seeking a sense of spiritual connectedness. Jewish synagogues, philanthropic organizations and community centers agree that outreach is the key to building community and ensuring the continuity of the Jewish people. Jewish organizations disagree, however, on the extent and targets of outreach. Should it extend to interested non-Jews or just unaffiliated Jews? What about intermarried Jews? These questions get at the heart of the current debate regarding Judaism’s boundaries. Other questions on the contemporary horizon include: Can Orthodox women be rabbis? Should gay and lesbian Jews be rabbis? Parents? Marry same-sex partners? Are the children of an intermarried couple Jewish?
Interfaith issues, long seen primarily in terms of Jewish-Christian relations, have recently broadened to involve several new players, including Islam and Buddhism. Recent world events have motivated Jews to seek out a more conscious and consistent dialogue with the Muslim community. The significant number of Jews attracted to Eastern philosophy, generally, and to Buddhism, in particular, have inspired the creation of a whole new religious phenomenon, “JewBus”–Jewish individuals who find spiritual sustenance in Buddhist practice.
Jewish education in the 21st century addresses the whole family. Synagogues sponsor parallel educational experiences where parents and children learn together or simultaneously. Jewish museums and cultural centers provide a non-denominational option for families wanting opportunities for Jewish activity. In more formal learning environments, opportunities for adults and children abound–online, on campus, and in the synagogue and the community. The number of Jewish day schools has increased dramatically; non-denominational, pluralistic schools have become especially popular.
There are between 13 and 14 million Jews in the world today. The vast majority of Jews live in the United States or Israel. Less than 2 million Jews currently reside in Europe; 400,000 live in Latin America; 350,000 live in Canada. Approximately 100,000 Jews live in Africa, about 90% of whom reside in South Africa. In Asia (not including Israel) there are 50,000 Jews. 100,000 Jews live in Australia and New Zealand. In all places and times, Jewish culture has borrowed and continues to borrow from (as well as contribute to) the larger cultural milieu.