National Jewish Population Survey: 2000

A snapshot of American Jewry.

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- Day school enrollment is rising, with 29 percent of youths ages 6-17 saying they have attended day schools or yeshivas.

- An estimated 353,000 people, including 272,000 adults and 81,000 children, live in households with incomes below the poverty line.

- Jews live in 2.9 million households, with a total of 6.7 million people, meaning that two out of every nine people living in households with Jews in them are non-Jews.

- The median Jewish age is 42, compared to 35 for Americans generally, and the birthrate was 1.8, below the 1.9 rate for American women generally.

While many of these figures did not change sharply from the last NJPS in 1990, some warned of troubling signs for the coming decade.

There was a drop in the population of Jewish children, especially in the 0-4 age bracket, and though the initial report did not contain the exact figure, it said 20 percent of the overall population were children, down 1 percent from a decade ago. "In the next few years, there will be fewer Jewish children to go into Jewish schools and to bring their parents into synagogues," Cohen said.

David Marker, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee that consulted on the NJPS and a senior statistician at Westat, a statistics firm, agreed, but he said the trend underscores that Jews must face up to intermarriage now that it appears to be "stabilized."

On the Rise

According to the NJPS, intermarriage stayed at the same rate of 43 percent between 1985 and 1990 and between 1991 and 1996, then climbed to 47 percent through 2001.

"Intermarriage doesn't have to be viewed as a negative," Marker said. "The Jewish community needs to do a better job of reaching out to the families of the intermarried, making them feel wanted and comfortable in Jewish institutions without pushing them away."

In the wake of the 1990 study, the volatile intermarriage issue took center stage, launching an ongoing debate over whether the community should spend money on reaching out to Jews on the fringes and the intermarried, or on "Jewish continuity" and identity building of more committed Jews.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, continues to advocate the latter. He calls the decline in Jewish numbers and the intermarriage rate "staggering." Groups such as his only succeed in getting an estimated 4,000 Jews "back" a year, he said, while 80,000 are "lost." That means the community should spend  "serious" money on Jewish education and practice, since the 4.3 million that are considered "engaged" Jews remain mostly  "marginally connected," Buchwald said.

"It's not lighting Shabbat candles, it's not sending a Rosh Hashanah card or ethnic pride, it's not belonging to a JCC or love of Israel or Jewish philanthropy or memorializing the Holocaust," he said. "We know from 3,000 years of empirical evidence that the key to Jewish survival is Jewish practice."

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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.