Trends in the U.S. Jewish Population

agouraguy's picture

You’ve probably seen or heard about the results of the recent Survey of U.S. Jews conducted by the Pew Research Center.  (If not, here is a link to an on-line version of the Survey Report:  There has been a spate of articles over the past several days that have tried to make sense of the data, and to draw conclusions and recommendations about what might be done to mitigate the negative trends that were highlighted by the survey.

The report paints a picture of the Jewish population in America that is indeed worrisome.  I'll mention a few key survey results here.  Note that the report does have a few positive results, but it’s the negative ones that are of course of greatest interest and concern. 

Of the 5.3 million adult US Jews, 78% identify themselves as Jewish either fully or partly on the basis of their religion, and 22% identify as having no religion.  The latter number is an increase from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Study (NJPS) in which only 7% of US Jews self-identified as non-religious.  This trend of increasing secularization of the US Jewish population over time was found to occur in several of the survey results, and reflects trends in other religions as well.

Looking at the age categories of respondents shows another significant trend -- while only 7% of those in the Greatest Generation (born 1914-1927) self-identify as non-religious Jews, the corresponding percentages are 19% of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and 32% of Millennials (born after 1980).  Clearly, our future generations are becoming less and less linked to the religious roots of their parents.

From the perspective of Jewish denominations, while 70% of Jews indicated having an affiliation, only 18% identified with Conservative Judaism.  There are nearly twice as many Reform Jews (35%), while Orthodox affiliation is 10%.  Of Conservative Jews, 50% belong to a synagogue.

Finally, the rate of intermarriage has increased over time.  Of all currently married couples, 44% are intermarried.  Of couples married before 1970, 17% are intermarried but of those married since 2005, 58% are intermarried.   Interestingly, about two-thirds of intermarried couples with children are raising them as Jewish. 

These results indicate to me that the trends of assimilation, secularization, and intermarriage that many have been concerned about for some time, and particularly since the results of the 2000-2001 NJPS were published, have continued – despite the ongoing efforts of Jewish leadership to understand the reasons that drive these trends and to develop approaches to counteract them.

So what can be done, within the Conservative Movement and specifically by FJMC, to make a significant impact and turn around these trends?  Here are four areas, and as you might expect I will link them to the elements of FJMC’s tagline:  Leadership, Innovation, Community (but not in that order).

  1. Community:  At our last Convention we learned from Ron Wolfson about the importance of relationships in attracting people into our synagogues, encouraging them to get involved, and retaining them as active members.  In his new book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, Ron emphasizes that developing personal relationships creates intimate, caring communities, and “communities offer meaning and purpose, belonging and blessing” to their members.  And who better than FJMC and our Men’s Club members to serve as role models for building community in our synagogues?  We simply have to be proactive in extending a hand and in developing a relationship with everyone we see at our synagogues.
  2. Innovation:  Every two years men and women leave our convention and nearly everyone says, commenting on their experience of worship, “Why can’t services be like this at home?”  We think they can.  That’s why we are developing a new initiative to better involve Jewish men and their families in Jewish prayer that is meaningful to them and which inspires them.  (I wrote about this in my blog last month.)  Our plan is to provide guidelines and training material to enable our men’s clubs to conduct a variety of alternative ritual services that provide meaningful spiritual experiences for the participants.  Wouldn’t more Jews come to services if they knew that they would be moved by attending?
  3. Innovation:  Some 100 years ago, the author Ahad HaAm wrote: “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”  Shouldn’t this still be true today?  If so, then helping more people celebrate Shabbat should help keep the fires of Judaism alive.  Our new Celebrating Shabbat initiative (which I also wrote about last month) is aimed at doing just that.
  4. Leadership:  FJMC, with our 250 clubs and 20,000 members across North America, has a virtual army of volunteers and committed men who are Jewish role models in their communities.  But we can’t do it all by ourselves.  That’s why we have been working closely and collaboratively with the other arms of the Conservative Movement, including United Synagogue, Women’s League, Jewish Theological Seminary, Ziegler School, Rabbinical Assembly and Cantors Assembly, to address the issues facing Conservative Judaism (and the larger overall Jewish community) in a united way.  I’ll address some of the specific areas of collaboration in a future Blog posting.

The challenges highlighted in the recent Pew Survey may seem overwhelming, and yet we know that the Jewish people have faced existential threats many times in our history and we have always ultimately survived and prospered.  I hope I’ve given you some food for thought, and maybe some reasons for optimism. 

I’d like to hear your views on my comments, and would welcome hearing whatever suggestions you may have for impacting the situation.  That’s the beauty of a blog like this, it provides an easy way for us to think together to tackle important issues.  I look forward to hearing from you!




Great ideas. There is going

Great ideas. There is going to be a lot of discussion and wringing of the hands over the Pew Survey. But, we're on the front lines and your ideas can be taken right in and be worked on. In regard to the prayer and shabbat initiatives. I hope they addresse the use of musical instruments at services. Tradition in so many conservative synagogues puts a damper on this. But, music, properly done, can raise the spiritual level of a service significantly. Younger people are looking for spiriutality and to be inspired. Intellectual readings of the Talmud are fine. But, they want to be emotionally moved. I was never moved so much at a Friday night service than I was at Convention this past July. Perhpas Rabbi Simon can clarify halacha on the subject to give us permission. In regard to building relationships, there is much we can do through HMV and through men working together on projects and just having a good time together. We have such a good time at our Club Board meetings that over 15 regularly attend. Good luck, Hal 

Hal,I heard an interesting

agouraguy's picture


I heard an interesting talk at the USCJ Centennial convention where the speaker indicated that we should pursue "disruptive ideas" in order to energize Conservative Judaism.  For many synagogues, having music is certainly disruptive to their traditions, although I don't believe it's an issue of Halacha.  It's an issue of what the rabbi wants and what the congregants are used to.  We use music extensively at my synagogue and indeed it enhances spirituality.  At first many congregants were not in favor, but over time they have (mostly) embraced it. 

We are very hopeful that our new Prayer initiative will offer some exciting alternative approaches that will resonate with congregants and create new spiritual experiences.  The use of music will be a part of this!



While Jews comprise a small

While Jews comprise a small percentage of the United States population, they have a far larger share of political influence than their small numbers may suggest.  If their overall share of the population continues to wane, at what point will it severely reduce or perhaps eliminate their political power?  To extrapolate this further, at what point could this potentially cause the USA's backing of Israel to diminish or cease altogether?Think globally, act locally.  

Mark,One of the positive

agouraguy's picture


One of the positive findings of the Pew survey was that 94% of all US Jews are proud to be Jewish.  Three-quarters indicated that they have “a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people,” and 69% are emotionally attached to Israel. 

I don't believe that survey showed that the Jewish population as a whole is waning, but that the identify of this population is changing -- becoming less religious.  It's this aspect of the survey and how this trend can be reversed that is raising serious discussion among Jewish leaders.  For now, anyway, I wouldn't be concerned about support to Israel, at least not because of anything in this recent survey.



If there is no support at

codewizard42's picture

If there is no support at home, then the Jewish education programs for our kids are facing an impossible task. We need to find a way to reach out to the parents and help them bring Judaism into their family's life. Joel Lurie Grishaver and Ron Wolfson wrote a book entitled "Jewish Parents - A Teacher's Guide", which is about building partnerships with parents to actively involve them in their children's Jewish education. We should be reading this book and bringing its ideas to our synagogues. The message of how to raise Jewish kids has more clout if it comes from lay people rather than clergy.

Aren,I agree.  Support from

agouraguy's picture


I agree.  Support from the home is critical.  From the FJMC perspective, we know how much influence a man has on his children, especially his sons.  So we encourage our club members to be good Jewish role models.  Beyond this I like your suggestion that we actively involve the parents as partners in the children's Jewish education.  Are there any specific approaches that you envision our clubs could undertake to accomplish this?



This is a wonderful

This is a wonderful conversation. I would like to challenge readers of this blog (in the words of Rabbi Simon in his essay in "Jewish Men at the Crossroads") to Step UP to the Plate! We all need to be mentors to the men in our community, to the boys in our schools and to our own families. Rabbi Brad Artson in his essay in the same book describes parents as "Rebbes", in other words, as parents we are the first (and potentially the most effective) teachers of our children. I would love to see a discussion as to how we can most effectively shoulder that responsibility.  

The reasons for this

The reasons for this phenomenon of falling affiliation and interest are many and diverse.I understand that the USCJ has been putting significant resources into dealing with this; however, in at least one area the organization is getting its lunch eaten regularly.The Chabad website is exciting, full of all types of information and various interesting points of view and is consistently interesting.  Many Conservative Jews I know visit at least one of the Chabad sites weekly or more, if for nothing more than studying that week's parsha.  By contrast, the USCJ site is not very user friendly, nor very interesting. An example would be the one weekly Torah commentary provided.  While occasionally well written and interesting, more often than not it's pedantic and not likely to attract or hold the attention of someone who's not learned.  That audience is already committed.  Rabbis and scholars shouldn't be using that forum to demonstrate their academic chops or impress their peers.  The RA does that in spades.  USCJ should be appealing to those who, while perhaps not well informed, are at least interested enough to look at it.I've written several times about this to USCJ and have yet to receive a response.Clearly, there are demographic and sociological issues with which to deal.  The marketing part will not, by itself, fix everything.  On the other hand if it's not done in an attractive, intelligent way, it'll never do anything.  The Chabad publishing organization has proven that one can be a committed Jew and a talented marketer.  Would that we could learn from that.  

Food for thought: Saw your

Food for thought: Saw your thoughts on the PEW Report. I have started digging into the meat of the report and have just started. One fact that jumped out in the summary:At the same time, 20% of U.S. Jews report household incomes of less than $30,000 per year; about six-in-ten Jews in this low-income category are either under age 30 or 65 or older.  We need to dig deeper into the financial aspect of being a Conservative Jew as a function of age, income, job security etc. Especially for those under the age of 30.  The recession has left this group battered and the scars are deep. Many do not have job security today and for those that do, the prospects for getting into the demographic earning >$150,000 are not good. Perhaps the spending priority of the < 30 y.o. demographic is on food, rent, insurance, finding a mate etc.  Another point, 16% of Jews in the 30-49 y.o. demographic have income of $30,000 or less per year. These numbers are eye openers!!!  

Building on the Millennial

Building on the Millennial Financial IssueIn a survey from PayScale Inc and Millennial Branding (Consulting firm) the following statistics are eye openers: 1. 30% of millennials (born 1982-2002) move back in with their parents- they can not afford to live on their own2. The average millennial will not be able to retire until age 73, because the first 10 years of their working lives are used to pay off student loans rather than save for retirement When combined with the PEW study results indicating a good percentage of this demographic that is Jewish earns less than $30,000 per year.FOOD FOR THOUGHT- PART 2Proposed action for FJMC:1. Define the problem:  is it a real problem that Jewish Men <30y.o. can not afford to be involved with a Synagogue and or Jewish group?  How do they compare to the 30-40 y.o range?  What is the real data?  What are the implications?  Conduct a more detailed study of Jews under 30 y.o. vs. 30 -40 y.o range to determine % full time employed, average salary, synagogue membership, Jewish group engagement, Male vs. Female, stay at home work vs outside home work, number of days per week working.  The PEW study had an N~ 300 for under 30 y.o.  2. Pending results, formulate an action plan.  FJMC can take a stand with Clubs that they offer free membership for those under 30 and 50% lower rates for men in the 30-40 y.o. range.  FJMC and Region dues would follow suit. Finally, this is an issue I brought to attention at the LDI meeting in 2013 during a discussion with the Region Presidents (incidentally, I had to request time in the agenda so we can talk and ideate).   Perhaps we need more discussion on ideation around issues than topics on delegation, Yellow Candles, and other dribble on running Regions, Clubs. Focus should be on the issues that will cause problems for FJMC and Men's Clubs in 5-10 years. We are too narrowly focused on the next year.

Kol hakavod! Not to diminish

Kol hakavod! Not to diminish the or take anything away from this very important topic. I just want to thank Myles for creating this forum for us to bouce ideas off each other. The blog is a wonderful forum to create and share. Community, Innovation, Leadership. Yasher Koach.. 

 Thanks to everyone who read

Thanks to everyone who read this blog and who posted their comments and thoughts!   The trends reported in the Pew study reflect complex issues which the leadership of the Conservative Movement will have to address in the coming months and years.  FJMC is committed to strengthening  Conservative  Judaism by strengthening our clubs and by developing and implementing meaningful initiatives and programs that involve Jewish men and their families in Jewish life.  Please write me at if you’d like to offer any additional comments.   --  Myles