Diana, Princess of Wales, and Mother Teresa, now known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, died within a few days of each other in the summer of 1997. Princess Diana was certainly more well-known although Mother Teresa had much more real world impact in the lives of people not only in India but in the many other countries where the Missionaries of Charity, the order of nuns she founded, serve. In the glare of publicity surrounding the death of the Princess and the scandals surrounding how she died and the perceived lack of reaction from the Queen and Royal Family, much less attention was paid to Mother Teresa’s death than would probably have been paid had she not died so soon after the Princess.
I mentioned the confluence of the death dates of these two famous women during my “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” class this past Thursday night to explain why, in my opinion, the recently released Pew Forum demographic study of Jewish Americans did not receive the attention it otherwise would have. Certainly there were news stories and analyses but nothing like the scale of attention received by the previous Pew study in 2013. If you are a news story of major Jewish significance and you want the press and the public to pay attention, it’s probably best not to be released on the same day that a war starts between Hamas and Israel.
As someone who has studied American Jewish history quite seriously for several decades, it’s interesting to note that a non-Jewish research center, the Pew Forum, has become the best and most reliable source of data on the American Jewish community -- not only in terms of numbers but behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. Doing Jewish demographic studies is a complicated business including the difficult task of finding Jews in a country that does not collect data on the religious identification of its citizens, and the perhaps even more difficult task of determining “who is a Jew” for the purpose of being included in the data. Most previous demographic studies were done by the Jewish Federations of North America or its predecessor organizations, but the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey aand its 1990 precursor, were so roundly criticized for their methodology that the Federation system decided to get out of the demography business altogether.
On Thursday night after minyan the “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” class will take a look at the results of the 2020 Pew survey and what we can learn from them about the evolution of the American Jewish Community. If you want to take a look at the survey results they are available at this link: https://www.pewforum.org/2021/05/11/jewish-americans-in-2020/
I want to remind you also that on Wednesday evening June 2, one week from today, the local office of the American Jewish Committee will be making a special presentation about their research into antisemitism in America today. This presentation will take place on our Zoom link right after minyan and I hope that you will want to attend.
As always, if you need to talk or I can do anything for you, please contact me via email at email@example.com or via phone at 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office as at the moment I continue to work mostly from home, although having been vaccinated I am available for in-person meetings in my synagogue office by request.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian