Monday, July 23, 2007

Think Tank: Jewish Numbers in Decline
Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2007 17:34:57 +0000
Jul 12, 2007

Think Tank: Jewish Numbers in Decline


Associated Press Writer

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Jews of the United States and Israel are growing further apart, and the schism is a contributing factor to the declining numbers of Jews outside of Israel , a Jewish think tank concluded in a report released Thursday.

The Conference on the Future of the Jewish People brought together 120 leaders to address issues facing Jews. It cited intermarriage, lack of affordable Jewish education and diminishing Jewish identity in the Diaspora as the leading factors in the decline in Jewish numbers.

According to statistics presented at the conference, the world's Jewish population stands at just over 13 million. The population remains stable thanks to Israel 's natural growth, which offsets the continuing decrease in Jews elsewhere.

Jews today represent only two out of every 1,000 people in the world, compared to a ratio of 3.5 to 1,000 in 1970, 4.7 to 1,000 in 1945, and 7.5 to 1,000 in 1938.

Israel is home to 5.4 million Jews. Last year it became the largest world Jewish community, passing the U.S. with its estimated 5.3 million Jews.

Jewish leaders have long warned that the Diaspora's identity is eroding as more Jews marry non-Jews and blend into the mainstream, a phenomenon known as "assimilation." In contrast, Israel has established its own intense Jewish character.

Participants said the main priority was to quickly bridge that gap, which threatens to divide the Jewish people, creating an Israeli nation out of touch with its heritage and a diminishing Diaspora detached from its biblical land.

Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli Cabinet minister and famed Soviet Jewish dissident, said both sides needed to recognize the strengths of the other.

"In Israel , we need to have more of an understanding of our Jewish history, and in the Diaspora there has to be a greater recognition that Israel is now the center of the Jewish world," he said.

Other participants said the first steps are already in place, with projects like "birthright Israel ," which offers Diaspora Jews between the ages of 18 and 26 who have never been to Israel a free trip to the Holy Land .

"I think we are on the way to stop the bleeding of assimilation," said Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, citing "birthright" as an example. "We don't have that much time, but we have begun."

President-elect Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers, academics and Diaspora leaders addressed the conference.

The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which organized the conference, was established in 2002 by the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency as a think tank for the future of the Jewish people. This was its first major conference.



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