It’s been a while since I’ve been down this long road of my disdain with the reformist Jews, and unfortunately a lot of the Jewish organizations as a whole, but it’s not because of contentment with the entire issue. It’s not just about me, the Jew among Gentiles and the Gentile among Jews looking for a place to be, it’s about the Jewish population as a whole.
Looking at the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) 2008, our estimated number declined from 2,837,000 to 2,680,000, people identifying as religiously Jewish are amongst the few groups that dropped. The others are Hindu, some obscure branches of Christianity like Holiness/Holy, and Quakers. Now Christians will typically gravitate towards another branch of Christianity, Church of the Brethren will become baptists, and baptists will become Evangelical/Born Again. So where are the Jews going? Pagan or Wiccan? Those two more than doubled between 2001-2008 (crazy right?)
According to the Brandeis University Study, there are actually more Jews in America than they originally estimated, 20% in fact, but there’s a catch; “the number of people who are affiliated with Jewish organizations is unchanged. Therefore, the percentage of Jews who are being served by the Jewish community is actually less than previously thought. This leads us to an important question, has the present institutional structure in the Jewish world been responsible for the severe decline in affiliation?”
So putting that together, it means that we are still reproducing at a regular rate, but our numbers are getting smaller a far as those who will identify with being Jewish. According to the Harris Poll #59, only 16% of Jews go to synagogues once a month or more often, and only 48% of Jews believe there is even a G-d.
So where is everyone going? Nowhere, precisely. Walking into any synagogue or temple, there is always a stress on unity. It is so important to everyone to band together, to unite as a people, to harken back to the days when our children ran together in villages (okay I have a tendency to romanticize but you catch my drift). The urge of unity is there, but far to often, this comes at a price.
I’m going to look at some places around me, okay we’ll start with Sons of Israel, Allentown PA.
Their Membership Application reads:
“Jews have united for communal prayer, education and social gatherings for over three thousand years, dating back to the formation of our nation. When G-d took us out of Egypt, He instructed us to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle, which was the focal point of our offerings and prayers. We studied the Torah in groups in the tent of Moses. We blew the Shofar and gathered together for social celebrations. This tradition continues in our times. The synagogue is called a “Beit haKnesset,” “house of gathering,” and we gather to pray, to learn, and just to be with each other. Just like the original Tabernacle, the synagogue depends on us for its upkeep, and so we take membership and support our community institution.”
Wow seems like they romanticize even more than me! Where do I sign up???
Minimum dues per family – $1,450.00
Each member of the congregation is also required to assist in our continuous capital expenditures by contributing $500.00 to our Capital Fund. This contribution shall be paid at the rate of one fourth (1/4) each year of membership for the first four years of membership.
Okay, so that must include like everything right? Nope. You still have to buy holiday tickets, and if you have the time you can even fundraise! No not for yourself, for Sons of Israel.
So how much does it cost to be a Baptist? Nothing. Agnostic? Nothing. If I want to go pray with someone, oh my goodness I can do it for free. So let’s say I am I 23 year old new mother, I want a place to raise my child on the limited budget of my new family. Do you think I would go to Sons of Israel?
No wonder so many of us don’t want to bother. Yes of course, I understand the Rabbi needs to make a living, I understand that the building isn’t free, that despite fundraising, donations, and campaigning, there are still obvious needs for revenue, but to have a set price is daunting. Noted later in the application is “Please contact the Finance Committee chairman if this would cause a hardship.” Because nothing is more fun than telling someone you are too broke to worship, discover your heritage, and educate your child.
A friend of mine moved here from New York last year, there is only one day a year she wants to be Jewish, one connection a year with her heritage, it’s yizkor for her mother. She went to this exact temple, being new and from out of town, and they wouldn’t even open the doors for her. She didn’t have any tickets. And what could be worse than too many people praying together? Not making enough money from it.
This is the corporation of religion. This is a factor that keeps people away and to be blunt, makes us look like greedy people to every non Jew who hears about this. Had it not been for a place like Chabad (more like a franchise), for as little as I bother now, I never would have bothered at all, and my daughter wouldn’t have even known she was Jewish. Had I been called for the survey I would have been a number against our population, and why? Because I don’t have parents to help me? Because I couldn’t afford college? Because I had a child young? And that to me is morally wrong. Perhaps not to the extent of Keneseth Israel’s application that actually asks you if you owe another temple any dues.
According to the American Jewish Identity Survey of 2001 the Jews of No Religion population has grown from 1,120,000 in 1990 to 1,710,000 in 2001, an increase of nearly 53 percent. Maybe a lot of them lost their jobs.