In 2008, 2.7 million Americans called themselves religiously Jewish, down from 3.1 million in 1990. Wouldn’t the central challenge of American Jewry be to encourage the broadest range of people (including the intermarried, like me) to identify as Jewish and to raise Jewish kids?
focused mostly on the plight of the Orthodox, more likely to be poor than Conservative or Reform Jews, and who, because of their strong commitment, often pay more. According to his calculations, an Orthodox Jewish family with three children could expect to spend between $50,000 and $110,000 a year on school fees, synagogue dues, summer camps, and kosher food. He argued that the fate of American Jewry rested on increased and enthusiastic support from philanthropists and activists to enable these families to live, as he would say, “Jewishly.”
The Orthodox seem to find the money. Among the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), to be sure, the quality of yeshiva education in secular subjects is notoriously poor, but that is a different matter.
Lightly-affiliated Jews, it appears, are less likely to pay for synagogue membership than observant Jews. Two thousand dollars is a lot to pay for Jews who might attend services on the High Holy Days, if at all. That leads to a vicious circle in declining congregations, where a smaller number of active congregants must absorb the fixed costs of operating a synagogue. Outreach surely is a good thing, and Jews surely should encourage the intermarried to raise Jewish children. But all the demographic evidence weighs against the notion that a superficial commitment to Judaism has much staying power.