National Jewish Population Survey: 2000

A snapshot of American Jewry.

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Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The Jewish population is aging and shrinking, its birthrate is falling, intermarriage is rising and most Jews do not engage in communal or religious pursuits. Yet a majority attend a Passover seder and celebrate Chanukah, Jewish education is booming, and many Jews consider being Jewish important and feel strong ties to Israel.

These are not dueling headlines, but parallel portraits contained in the long-awaited National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01. Federations and Jewish communal leaders use these studies every decade for policy and planning decisions.

national jewish population surveyThe United Jewish Communities, the federation umbrella group, officially released the $6 million study this week [in Sept. 2003], nearly a year after retracting initial NJPS data and delaying the survey's release amid controversy over its methodology and missing data. A subsequent internal audit led to an independent review that UJC officials said should be made public by week's end. But they and others said the study that emerged paints the most comprehensive, reliable picture of American Jewry to date. Not only did the reviews reinforce the data's validity, but the NJPS was compared to other communal studies and "our numbers checked out very nicely," said Lorraine Blass, NJPS project director and senior planner at UJC.

Those numbers add up to a complex Jewish continuum.

On one end lies a small segment of the community experiencing a Jewish renaissance, on the other a majority that continues to assimilate. In the vast middle remain most Jews who engage in few Jewish pursuits. "The big story is how the affiliated and the unaffiliated sharply differ on all measures of Jewish life," said Steven M. Cohen, a senior NJPS consultant and Hebrew University professor. "As a group, American Jews may be moving in two different directions simultaneously: increasing Jewish intensification alongside decreasing Jewish intensity. It may well be the most and least involved are gaining at the expense of those with middling levels of Jewish involvement."

Key Findings

Among the study's key findings:

- There are 5.2 million U.S. Jews, down 5 percent from 5.5 million counted in the 1990 population study.

- Of those, 4.3 million have "stronger Jewish connections," meaning they attend Passover seders and light Chanukah candles. This number also includes those more Jewishly committed--people who keep kosher homes, routinely attend synagogue, attend Jewish schools and belong to at least one Jewish organization.

- Jewish intermarriage is rising at a steady pace, with the rate at 47 percent--what would have been two percentage points higher than the 1990 figure of 52 percent if calculated the same way as in the 1990 study).

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Joe Berkofsky

Joe Berkofsky is the United Jewish Community's Director of Communications. He was previously a staff writer at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.