Good News For Bad News Addicts

The new Pew Research Center survey of American Jews joins a long line of demographic studies that hit the headlines periodically, stirring mass panic over imminent Jewish demise. There was the 1990 Jewish population survey that reported 52 percent intermarriage, portending certain decline. It turned out to be wrong, but the correction didn’t make news. Then came the 2000 follow-up survey, which reported 5.2 million Jews in America, presumably down from 5.5 million in the 1990 survey, presumably because of intermarriage. That turned out to be wrong, too. And again, nobody noticed.

Now comes news that Jews actually number 6.3 million, or maybe 6.7 million, proving…that we’re increasing? That the previous surveys were off by a million? Where did things go right? Does anybody wonder?

Not a chance. The hot news is that Jews are detaching from religion at a terrifying pace: 22 percent say they’re Jews without faith. At some point someone will remember that the same 20 percent were saying the same thing in 1990. But few will notice. All we’ll remember is the bad news.

We’re addicted to bad news, always convinced disaster is just around the corner, unable to recognize good news when it stares us in the face. Worse, we obsess on the headlines but don’t bother reading the details.

Folks, the news this week is that the Jewish community is growing, not declining. While nobody was looking, the children of intermarriage in 1990 grew up and announced in 2013 that they’re Jewish after all. Their Judaism is detached, wary, skeptical. They’re at home in America, not afraid of the world, as liberal as any Jews ever were. Kvetching about whom they marry isn’t going to capture their imaginations.

*Read more from “Pew and the Jews: ‘So What?’”, an RD special feature on the Pew survey. 

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J.J. Goldberg, editor at large for the Forward, was the Forward’s editor in chief from 2000 to 2007. His books include "Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment", and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Daily Beast, Salon, Columbia Journalism Review and elsewhere.