Last October, when the Pew Research Center released its Portrait of Jewish Americans study, all hell broke loose. Pew’s results found that while “American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish,” one if five described themselves as having no religion. Overnight, rabbis, Jewish professionals and media all began weighing in on everything ranging for reasons for this loss of identity to accusing Pew of skewing and misrepresenting the results. Basically, it was full-blown crisis mode.
One of the most intriguing results of the survey was the implication that Jewish identity can be divorced from religion, which on the face of it seems illogical. We decided to open a poll asking: “What’s your primary connection to your Jewish identity?” And from the results, it seems that for IJN users, there is no disconnect between being Jewish and Judaism: 56% of you said that ritual – such as Shabbat, synagogue and holidays – is at the center of your Jewish identity. Working on our Community Calendar, we’re often amazed and always impressed by the plethora and diversity of synagogue services, classes and communal events taking place in the Denver-Boulder area. That Colorado Jews identify closely with religious life came as no surprise.
Jewish History at 18% and Israel at 14% shared almost a similar spot in the ranking, but neither was close to ritual. And dragging way behind in fourth and fifth places were Culture (6%) and Humor (4.9%). We included humor as its own category only because it seems that whenever these discussion happen, someone always mentions humor as fundamental to secular Jewish identity. Our survey did not reflect that point of view, and we assume that those with a strong secular Jewish identity would be more likely to identify with history or culture than humor.
A comment on an earlier blog posting posed an interesting challenge, and one that we’d like to get your take on: Was spirituality missing from our poll? Craig wrote that, “All of these are valid reasons to consider one’s self Jewish but where is the question identifying spirituality as the reason to identify as being Jewish?” Were we missing an option? Our response to Craig was: “The idea is that people can access ‘spirituality’ through various means, although ritual would probably be the one most closely tied to spirituality.”
Is our answer sufficient? Or did we miss the boat in omitting spirituality as a primary connection to Jewish identity?