25 June 2012

How many Jews are real Jews after all?

The Survey says a lot. Last August across Australia, we were all required to fill out the national census from which much is derived. Of note for us Jewish people is this.

Australia's official Jewish population rose by about 10 percent in the last five years to nearly 100,000, according to new census data. The findings of the 2011 census, released last week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, showed the Jewish population to be 97,335 -- about 0.5 percent of Australia's total population of 22.5 million.

Jewish demographers, however, have long believed the unofficial number of Jews to be between 10,000 and 20,000 more than the census figure for several reasons: 1) the religion question is the only optional question in the census; 2) the question about religion does not list Judaism as a tickle box, so Jews who want to be counted must check "other"; 3) some Holocaust survivors are believed to be less likely to identify themselves; and 4) some unaffiliated Jewish-born people feel it unnecessary to identify their religion.

Australia isn't the only place of Jewish surveying.

Susan Katz Miller wrote today on her blog, picked up by the Huffington Post, "In a new study of the Jewish population of New York, researchers recently acknowledged the existence of the growing cohort of people with complex identities drawing on more than one religion. The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011 found that rising numbers of people report unconventional identity configurations. They may consider themselves "partially Jewish," or may identify as Jews even while identifying with Christianity or another non-Jewish religion (many more do so now than who so reported in 2002). Of such people with unconventional configurations, 70 percent have a non-Jewish parent (or two)."

"As someone who was born into an interfaith family, and who embraces my interfaith identity, it is gratifying to finally receive recognition from demographers. To learn more about how those of us with interfaith identities think and behave, I hope these researchers will visit my blog On Being Both. Interfaith Parent, Interfaith Child: Notes from a Hybrid Universe."

Miller continues, "The study notes, ... we also see more hybridity -- that is, the confluence of multiple traditions not only in households but even within individuals. Today, more and more individuals feel comfortable adopting elements from multiple religious traditions, and even identifying with several traditions at once. As one of our respondents declared, "I am two religions." In another case, our interviewer noted that the respondent derives from mixed upbringing and "identifies with both.""

From the Huffington Post article again, "Not to seem ungrateful, but I do want to point out that I am not partial to the term "partial." I do not consider myself a "partial" anything. I have never heard anyone describe themselves as "partially Jewish." (The term has unfortunate associations, from partial mastectomy to partial abortion). I am a self-defined full Jew, who also insists on my right to celebrate my birth into an interfaith family. I revel in my hybridity, in my fluid and yet deeply satisfying spiritual practice, and in my participation in an intentional and independent interfaith families community. I raised my children within this community, where they learned about both of their ancestral religions and took pride in their interfaith background. Next year, my book on how and why parents are choosing to educate interfaith children in more than one religion, and how those children feel about it when they grow up, will be published by Beacon Press."

So what about you… are you Jewish? Or even partially Jewish and do you still identify? Or are you like those survivors who don't put ink to paper to self-identify, because of the ink on their arms?

No comments: