I guess figuring out precisely how many Jews there are in the USA serves an important purpose for funding organizations, bakers of hamantaschen and antisemites… but as important as determining that final number is the fighting that ensues around whether that final number is correct.

The JFNA gracefully dropped out of the internecine fighting bean counting business in November, 2011 … and now, as J.J. Goldberg reports, the American Jewish Yearbook is having a go at it.

Not for use with Cholent.

Not for use with Cholent.

His piece is VERY worth reading for the detailed analysis of the numbers and the meanings derived (and mis-derived) from them.   Such as…

… Nearly 4% of respondents deny their semitic origins when asked directly by strangers.  As Goldberg reports, a simple reordering of questions (leaving, say, “Hey, are you a Jew?” toward the middle)  results in higher population numbers!

… Or children of intermarried families identifying increasingly as Jewish because of the perception in Washington DC and Hollywood that Jews are perceived as hip!

… Or Jews who do not identify as believers (and are thus discounted, or should I say “miscounted”?) but do identify themselves as secular or cultural Jews.

Goldberg also capably identifies what is at stake for Previous Jews who not only determine funding priorities but also need to demonstrate that intermarriage threatens the Jewish future.  And then there are the Old School Zionists need to demonstrate that more Jews live in Israel as fulfillment of the Zionist vision.

What does this mean for Next Jews?

As I have written here at The Next Jew (and in End Of The Jews and yadda yadda yadda), new, discrete research tools need to be developed to measure identification as opposed to identity.  How many candles get lit in my house each Erev Shabbat (FYI, 5!) tells me much less than how much I want to take part in the future of the Jewish people.  (Which, incidentally, is also a 5.)  It might take a little bit longer to compile data and might require (Previous) Jewish researchers and their personal notions of what a Jew is and does to set those biases aside and be open to the differing and diverse facets of Next Judaism.

The bigger question is: How many more of these kerfuffles arguments disputes disagreements conversations will establishment Previous Jews have about counting before all the folks that are supposed to be counted (read: Next Jews) run out of patience, move on and go off the grid?  For many Next Jews, these conversations are symptomatic of much of what is wrong with establishment Previous Judaism – its tendentiousness, top-down decision making and judgmental finger-wagging.  And besides, census-taking has never been prominent in the Jewish wheelhouse.  In fact, counting (as was the case in 2 Samuel 24) has been a downright disaster…

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