A new survey of the Jewish population in the Greater New York area contradicts the conventional wisdom about the subject. It has long been assumed that any portrait of American Jews must tell us a story about an aging, liberal population that is rapidly assimilating. But, as the New York Times reports, the latest results show that the population of the largest center of Jewish life outside of Israel is actually growing. The survey’s estimate of New York City’s Jewish community pegs it at about 1.1 million, with 1.54 million being counted when you include the surrounding suburban counties on Long Island and Westchester (Jews in Northern New Jersey who would also be considered part of Greater New York were not counted). Of even greater import is that the rapid expansion of ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewry are the sole reason for this population growth. By contrast, the numbers of Jews who identity with the heretofore much larger non-Orthodox movements have declined precipitately. The only other sector that is growing is made up of those Jews who reject all the denominations or eschew religion entirely.
If, as the survey tells us, 40 percent of Jews in New York City and 74 percent of all Jewish children are Orthodox, then this must inform our conclusions not only about what American Jews believe but also about its future. When combined with the nearly one-third of Jews who are abandoning Jewish identity altogether, this paints a picture of an American Jewish population that is comprised of two ships passing each other in the night — one becoming increasingly Orthodox and the other on the brink of not being Jewish at all. Because the Orthodox have radically different views on political issues from those of the non-Orthodox as well as generally identifying more thoroughly with Israel, this will inevitably alter the political balance of the community. Though the numbers may be different elsewhere in the country, with about one-third of American Jewry located in Greater New York, there’s little doubt this means the Jewish community of the future will be far less liberal.