There has been much commentary about the recent release of the Pew Study Profile on American Jews. A lot of commentary. Literally hundreds of articles, blogs and rabbinic sermons on the impact of the study on the state of American Jewry. There have been some who liken the release of the Pew study to the 1990 National Jewish Population, which provided shock and awe of the 52 percent intermarriage rate in the Jewish community. There are sobering statistics in the Pew that illuminate some of the overarching challenges we face as Jewish institutions.
So what impact does Pew have on the Baltimore Jewish community? The short answer is not that much. Pew is a national study that, as of yet, has not been broken down regionally. It is quite difficult to accurately translate the national Jewish experience to the local one. Our Jewish experience in Baltimore is very different than one’s Jewish experience in San Francisco, Grand Rapids or New Orleans. What Pew shows is that the Jewish experience is becoming more individualistic, less institutional and more experiential. American Jews are looking for more meaning, relevance and demonstrated value in participation in Jewish life.
Here in Baltimore we have much to be proud of. In 2010, The Associated released the findings of our own Jewish Community Study. When you put The Associated study side-by-side with Pew, we compare significantly higher in many data points related to engagement and affiliation. Baltimore Jews trend higher in wanting to be part of the Jewish community than what’s noted in the Pew study (82 percent vs. 28 percent). More Baltimore Jewish households belong to a Jewish organization compared to national statistics (60 percent vs. 20 percent). Baltimore Jews have a higher emotional attachment to Israel (74 percent vs. 69 percent). We also trend better in Jewish education, philanthropy and show less of a decline in denominational Judaism.
Dr. Jack Ukeles, principal researcher for the 2010 Baltimore Jewish Community Study, stated it best when he said, “the Pew Study should be in the background, and the local study should be in the foreground.” For Baltimore, Pew paints an important picture. It presents a scenario on what Jewish life could look like in 10 years if we do not stay focused on the need to evolve the Jewish experience and stay relevant to the potential consumers of Jewish life. Pew provides us with a case for giving, on why it is critically important to give to The Associated Annual Campaign – which nurtures Jewish life from cradle to grave by fostering opportunities for enrichment and education. Pew provides us with a sense of validation in our investment in more than 30 innovative programs started after the Jewish Community Study including PJ Library, Charm City Tribe, Moishe House and the Baltimore Jewish Abilities Alliance.
Baltimore continues to be one of the most vibrant and exciting Jewish communities in North America, and thanks to the Pew, we now have data to prove this. What makes Baltimore so unique is we do not rest on our laurels. I am most excited about what is to come next from our dynamic Baltimore Jewish community and Associated system.