Jewish population in the United States tops 8 million, study says

Despite grim projections about the inevitable disappearance of the American Jewish community, figures show that as of 2020, U.S. Jewry is doing better than ever, with many feeling connected to Jewish life on a cultural basis rather than a religious one
Itamar Eichner|
The Jewish population in the United States topped 8 million in 2020, according to a new study published by the American Jewish Population Project (AJPP) at Brandeis University in Boston, Massachusetts, up from 5.5 million in the 90s.
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  • However, the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) pins that number at around 6 million American Jews.
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    תפילה ליד בית הכנסת עמנו-אל בניו יורק בתקופת הקורונה
    תפילה ליד בית הכנסת עמנו-אל בניו יורק בתקופת הקורונה
    Jews praying at a New York synagogue
    (Photo: AP)
    Prof. Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, tells Ynet that the difference stems from whom each institute considers Jewish. The CBS only counts those who consider themselves "religiously Jewish", while the AJPP also counts those who consider themselves "culturally Jewish".
    "It's hard to estimate the exact number since there are no official counting standards," he says. "Many identify as Jewish but aren't counted as such. We need to strengthen the bond with such people to make them part of the Jewish identity."
    Prof. Saxe says he used to believe that only those who are part of a Jewish community should count. "Plenty of Jews aren't part of the community and have little knowledge about Judaism. Outside of demographics, I've researched a lot about young Jews who visit Israel. They come back stateside with plenty of knowledge and even more curiosity about Israel. They tend to marry other Jews and raise Jewish children with Jewish education.
    "Still, many marry non-Jews, but keep contact with Israel, especially through Birthright (a project that offers Jewish young adults a free trip to Israel) and my research suggests that even if they marry non-Jews, it's likely they'll raise their children with a Jewish perspective in mind. The number of those who consider themselves Jewish despite being born in a mixed family has doubled," he says.
    "So the ball is in our court. We're developing a Jewish educational program for those who have a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. We believe around 40% of U.S. Jews consider themselves neither Reform nor ultra-Orthodox but are still somewhat involved in Jewish life.
    "Many don't like putting themselves in a box, but just because they don't attend a synagogue or have Shabbat dinners doesn't mean they're not at least culturally connected to Judaism. They might view Israel as an anchor to their sense of belonging, even if it's not religious by nature."
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    פרופ' לאונרד סאקס
    פרופ' לאונרד סאקס
    Prof. Leonard Saxe
    What is your take on the new Israeli government's approach to American Jewry?
    "I'm a scientist, not a politician, but it would be a shame if the new government wants to disengage from the American Jewish community, regardless of how they define themselves. They're not attached to Israel because of government policy but because of cultural history."
    Dr. Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative Judaism Movement in Israel, said: "For years, research centers around the world have said that the methodology that the CBS uses to count Jews is inadequate. I'm glad it's out in the open now. All the doomsday scenarios about the disappearance of the American Jew have turned out to be false. The global Jewish community has grown substantially in the last 20 years.
    "I've heard Knesset members all but eulogizing American Jewry. A senior minister even told me that in 20 years, there will be almost nothing left of the stateside Jewish community, except we're more resilient than that. But now the Zionist movement must maintain the connection between the two epicenters of the Jewish people."
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