Forward Thinking

Help Us Find The Do-ers

By Anne Cohen

Tikkun Olam. Repair the world.

If you’re anything like me, the mere mention of the phrase is enough to make you cringe.

Not because we don’t want to do our part for a better world. But for many in my generation, brought up with the idea that you wouldn’t get into college or get a job unless you spent three months building houses in Uganda or took a selfie meditating with the Dalai Lama, the concept has all but lost its meaning.

Millenials have a bad reputation when it comes to engagement. We are “lazy,” “nihilistic,” and “apathetic.”

Unlike our parents, who came of age protesting against the Vietnam War, or working to free Jews from Soviet oppression, we don’t have a uniting cause. We’re the social media generation, who would rather casually “like” or retweet a plea to #BringBackOurGirls than actually get up and do.

In the Jewish world, the recent Pew survey showed a significant rise in Jews of no religion, who are less likely to be involved in Jewish causes or communities. Still, the same survey showed that 94% of us are proud to be Jewish.

In the end, actions speak louder than words. In an October editorial in response to the Pew survey, Jane Eisner wrote: “A Jew is what a Jew does.”

All across the country, young Jews are working to improve their communities. We want to find those people and share their stories.

We’re looking for The Do-ers.

Share Your Stories With Us

We’re looking for young Jews between the ages of 16 to 26 who are impacting their community in a significant way. This can be a geographic community, ethnic community, religious community, identity-based community, etc.

Whether it’s launching an after-school program in an underserved neighborhood, creating a Torah-themed comic strip or striving to document recipes from the Old Country, the work they’re doing must be informed by their Jewish identity. Nominations close June 7.

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Jews for Jesus Use Pew '34%' in Ad

By Hody Nemes

The Messianic Jewish movement’s new marketing tool / Hody Nemes

If you went searching for a mainstream Jewish organization that welcomed the findings of the Pew study of American Jews, which showed declining levels of Jewish affiliation and high levels of intermarriage, you’d be hard pressed to find one.

But so-called Jews for Jesus found news to celebrate: 34% of American Jews reported that a person can accept Jesus as the messiah and still be Jewish.

Now this perplexing finding of the Pew study has made its way into a storefront display in midtown Manhattan.

I’ve walked by this particular building on 31st Street several times without noticing it. But yesterday, I stopped in my tracks when I caught a glimpse of the photo in its window: a group of Hasids are seen walking in front of the Western Wall, and one of them is wearing a Photoshopped red t-shirt that reads “Jews for Jesus.”

But that’s not all.

The text printed beside the photo reads: “34% of Jewish people surveyed say you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. What do you think about Jewish people believing in Jesus?” A phone number is provided – to which you can, apparently, text your answer.

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Pew Poll Reveals How Americans View Israel

By Michael Kaplan

Pro-Israel marchers walk along Fifth Avenue on May 5, 2002 in New York City. / Getty Images

While Americans continue to hold long-time allies like Great Britain and Canada in high esteem, they are pretty divided as to how they feel about some of the government’s other key allies — like Israel.

A recently published Pew Research Center poll reveals that 61% of Americans view Israel favorably, which puts it on par with Brazil in terms of likability, but lagging behind Germany (67%), Japan (70%), Great Britain (79%) and Canada (81%) among the 12 countries surveyed.

That level of support is not incredibly low, though perhaps disconcerting for Israel’s more zealous advocates. Just over a quarter of those surveyed (26%) said that they view Israel unfavorably, and presumably the jury was still out for the rest of those surveyed.

But when accounting for political affiliation, the Pew research reveals just how starkly the partisan divide plays into the issue. Only a little over half of Democrats (55%) said that they view Israel favorably, compared to nearly three quarters of Republicans (74%). Eighty-six percent of Republicans who lean toward supporting the Tea Party said they felt favorably about Israel.

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Millennials Must Grab Keys to Jewish 'Car'

By Juliana Schnur

Juliana Schnur

As a first-year rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), I read a lot about the challenges facing “millennials.” With the recent outpouring of analysis relating to the Pew report on American Jewry, the amount of content may have quadrupled, but the number of young voices has not.

I’m often frustrated by the dearth of meaningful commentary from my generation about how we plan to transform apparent challenges (Think: dues to synagogues, intermarriage and collegiate Jewish disaffection) into our greatest opportunities. We are blessed to have so many articulate and expert Jewish leaders seeking the secret sauce for our engagement. But this is not their task — it is ours.

Recently, I was privileged to join four other millennials on a panel at the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual General Assembly in Jerusalem. Learning that I might be speaking in front of a few thousand people prompted me to spend a good chunk of time dreaming about how best to use this incredible platform to contribute to the conversation about next generation Jewishness.

My path to the rabbinate has been shaped by three vibrant themes in American Jewish life: contagious leadership, nurturing community and social justice. Dynamism and creativity defined the clergy at the synagogue of my youth, but the love for the Jewish people, the infectious excitement about the vibrancy of Jewish tradition and identity made the deepest impact throughout my years there. My role models truly loved their work.

The other day I overheard someone quip: “No one in the history of the world ever washed a rented car.”

A car, like a religious community, only sparkles when people take ownership of it. I was inspired to pursue a position of leadership in the Jewish community because I was taught from childhood that it is mine to lead. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the former spiritual leader of my synagogue (and now the president of the Union for Reform Judaism), told me so many times that I would make a great rabbi that I actually began to believe him. He turned my responsibility to my community into my own great opportunity.

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Editor's Choice: Millennials Speak on Pew

By Forward Staff

The Forward is partnering with other Jewish newspapers to offer our readers a peek at some of the best stories from around the country, as selected by the editors at those papers.

We will offer a selection of unedited links with brief introductions from the editors of the papers.

From the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

The Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project issued its “Portrait of Jewish Americans” on Oct. 1, setting off alarms throughout the Jewish community about the future of Jewish life.

Among the greatest concerns is this statement: “Among Jews in the youngest generation of U.S. adults — the Millennials — 68% identify as Jews by religion, while 32% describe themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.”

To hear the voices behind the statistics, the Journal invited Millennials to speak for themselves about what it means to them to be American Jews.

Click here for the full story

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We Are the 94%!

By Forward Staff

Ever since Pew published its new study of American Jews last week, we’ve been hearing a lot about what Jews aren’t.

Jews aren’t as religious as they used to be. They don’t go to synagogue as often. Jews aren’t marrying other Jews or raising their kids Jewish or affiliating with the Conservative movement.

Here at the Forward, we think that what’s been missing from the conversation is an exploration of what Jews are. Ninety-four percent of all Jews are proud of being Jewish. Even among demographic groups that don’t send their kids to Jewish summer camps or attend Passover Seders in overwhelming numbers, the vast majority says they’re proud of their Judaism. Only 24% of Jewish 18 to 29 year olds say they always or usually light Shabbat candles; 96% of that young demographic say they are proud to be Jewish.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

So what does it mean to be proud to be Jewish if you don’t light Shabbat candles? You tell us.

We’re looking for Jews who have their own real connection with Jewish life.

The mom who struggles to bring her kids up Jewish in the age of Miley Cyrus. The guy who doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah, but plays Klezmer-influenced hip-hop at a go-go bar in Queens. The woman who sees her Palestinian solidarity activism as an extension of her Jewish background. The old-timer whose Texan synagogue needs him to make a minyan. For the teenager obsessed with artisanal gefilte fish even though she’s never set foot on Orchard Street.

Help us find the 94%. Tell us the stories of today’s proud American Jews. Tell us who they are, describe what they do that’s important to all of us and we may feature them in an upcoming issue of the Forward.

Let us know your name, your email, and the name and story of the person you are submitting in the form below.

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Who Do Jewish Leaders Really Represent?

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

getty images
Abe Foxman is embraced by Vice President Joe Biden at the ADL’s centenary gala.

Asked about stats in the new Pew survey suggesting that many Jews disagree with them on Israel, leaders of Jewish organizations told me yesterday that they don’t represent every single Jew.

I decided to figure out who they do represent.

The Pew survey interviewed 3,500 Jewish people across the country, many of whom have little to do with the Jewish community. Most of them said that they are skeptical of the Israeli government, but Jewish leaders asserted that they don’t answer to unengaged Jews.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

“Part of Jewish leadership is leadership,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told me. “We lead.”

So who chooses who leads? Mostly wealthy donors and local activists. Below, I identified the electors who picked six of the men heading the core Jewish establishment advocacy groups.

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What Makes a Jew? It's What You Do.

By Jane Eisner

nate lavey

There’s a classic story in my family about the time many years ago when we sat around the table at Aunt Sarah’s house loudly debating what it meant to be a Jew in America. Bubbe Esther, my husband’s grandmother, sat quietly in the corner until someone thought to ask her.

How do you define being a Jew, Bubbe?

I’ll never forget her answer: A Jew is what a Jew does.

For the religiously observant, Yiddish-speaking immigrants of her generation, the outlines of what “doing Jewish” meant were clear and defined. But no such clarity existed for my generation, and my children’s. Ever since I became editor of the Forward in 2008, I became more and more convinced that too many people claimed to speak for American Jews politically, religiously and culturally without much proof for their assertions. The surveys that existed were suspect. The last major one, the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, was so rife with problems that the version expected in 2010 was cancelled.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

There’s a reason why this was a long, complicated and expensive undertaking: Jews comprise such a small percentage of the American population but are so diverse and dispersed that surveyors must reach out to an incredible number of people just to ascertain a representative sample. An even larger task was deciding how to categorize Jews. Are we a religion? An ethnic group? A modern tribe? All of the above?

That’s when I approached some folks I knew at the Pew Research Center with the idea of conducting one of their trademark national surveys on a group they’d never researched in the past in such detail — American Jews. Or, as Pew refers to us, Jewish Americans.

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