Courtesy Pew Report
Many American Jews do not consider themselves religious, but do want to be identified culturally as Jewish.
Despite the high concentration of observant Jews in the Five Towns, a large percentage of American Jews define themselves as nonreligious, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.
The center’s Religion & Public Life Project, which interviewed 3,475 Jews from February to June, found that 62 percent of them believe that being Jewish is mostly about culture and ancestry, while just 15 percent say it centers on religion.
Keeping Jews connected to religious observance is an ongoing battle, according to rabbis in the Five Towns. At Orthodox Beth Shalom in Lawrence, Rabbi Kenneth Hain said that the report confirmed what has been occurring for four decades. “This disengagement from religion is something absolutely of concern,” Hain said. “We have to think long and hard about what more we could be doing.”
The report’s numbers also came as no surprise to Rabbi Sholom Stern, of the Conservative congregation Temple Beth-El in Cedarhurst. Stern said it is the price [Americans] pay for the “unprecedented freedom” of choice in the U.S. “We are no longer in ghettos — this is the high price we have to pay for living in America,” he said. “You have the freedom to be as devout as you want. That is what our American life is all about.”
Rabbi Steven Graber, of Temple Hillel in North Woodmere, another Conservative synagogue, said “it’s a sad statistic” but added that he was not shocked by the report. “It concerns me,” Graber said, “because each of those Jews that has chosen a nonreligious or was led to a nonreligious path is missing out on the depth and splendor of Judaism and the fulfillment that Jewish religion brings to a person’s life.”
Generating a sense of pride in being Jewish through trips to Israel, student exchanges between countries, and encouraging people to help congregants and other community members during disasters are three of the ways Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel, a Reform synagogue in Lawrence, said he tries to engage less observant Jews and build their connection to faith.