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Recessionary Judaism

Is the economy affecting religious participation?

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Via Shmuel Rosner, a new Newsweek article argues that the recession could be threatening Jewish participation in religious life, because—all inevitable kidding aside—being a religious Jew is expensive. Columnist Lisa Miller analogizes a Jack Wertheimer piece earlier this year in Commentary, which sounded the alarm on the rising costs and declining incomes of Orthodox Jews (who are more likely to be poor), to Peter Beinart’s essay in terms of their respective shockwaves. (Last month, staff writer Marissa Brostoff reported on how tightened budgets had led to unprecedented sharing of funds among the Jewish denominations.)

Wertheimer’s point is that poor Orthodox Jews are going to be increasingly reliant on outside philanthropy, which in turn may be increasingly scarce. But Miller proposes an alternative:

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? Costly barriers to entry need to be taken away, or, at least, reimagined. “We have this very bizarre pay-to-play philosophy,” says Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Christian churches, Sanderson points out, begin with an invitation to prayer; they ask for money later. “The Jewish community’s first instinct is ‘give us money,’ instead of ‘come in.’”

Those black-clad Chabad volunteers who have no doubt approached you—first asking, always, “Are you Jewish?” (since Jews don’t proselytize outside the faith)—and then invited you to come to Shabbat dinner at the local house, without asking you for money? According to Miller, they represent the future of Jewish growth, if there is a future of Jewish growth.

The Cost of Being Jewish [Newsweek]
The High Cost of Jewish Living [Commentary]
Related: Teachable Moment

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David says:

This is quite true. Look at the news reports from JTA this week. Several federations have announced layoffs and cutbacks.

Not only that, people like me are giving to the New Israel Fund instead.

Lots of places do engaging work for free–not just Chabad. I heard that Lisa Miller’s synagogue in Brooklyn offers free programming all the time. Having said that, it would be awesome if Jay Sanderson had the LA Federation support some of that programming in Brooklyn! It would be a small recompense for taking the Dodgers 53 years ago.

David says: “Not only that, people like me are giving to the New Israel Fund instead.”

How is this going to help.

Give to your local Jewish shull or Hebrew school.

The “New Israel Fund” is an anti-Israel organization. They are a bunch of meshugeneh people.

Marissa also wrote a piece on the high cost of High Holiday tickets and how many people were struggling to afford the cost of the tickets and synagogue dues.

Up in Westchester County, the choice for a Conservative/Reform family to be Jewishly active is to (i) pay nearly $4000 a year for synagogue membership (people always “forget” to include the building fund, high holy tix and/or kol nidre appeal, etc. when they say it’s only(!) $3000), (ii) find one of these mythological alternative/shtiebel type minyanim for the “conservadox” crowd which welcome young children, (iii) decide to approach the mega-shul membership committee (who are quite often neighbors) with the ultra-humuliating appeal that your family just “can’t afford” the membership this year and suffer their merciful consideration to “pay what you can”, (iv) decide to ignore the nuttiness and hyprocasy to start segue-ing in the Chabad-land – which is essentially free finanically, or (v) forget the membership and scramble for high holy tix each year from family members). Of course in the Jewish community where “money talks…,” it is assumed that $4,000 is just pocket change and without wealth you are just a nobody anyway.. so who cares?

46. Thanks for another magnificent article. Where else could anybody get that type of info in such a perfect way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such information.

Mary Howitt~ For visions come not to polluted eyes.


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Recessionary Judaism

Is the economy affecting religious participation?

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