Article Library / 2015

2014-2015 Annual Assessment

In the publication “2030: Alternative Futures for the Jewish People,” JPPI proposed a population projection for 2020. This projection, based on the work of DellaPergola, Rebhun, and Tolts,26 postulated that if recently observed patterns of fertility continue, world Jewry should have increased from 13.3 million in 2009 to 13.8 million in 2020. In practice, already in 2015, before the end of the projection period, the world Jewish population has surpassed this number by approximately half a million people (14.3 million). Thus, it achieved the number of Jews in the world that was expected only in the year 2030 (or what was expected in 2015 under assumptions of fertility increase). This is especially due to the increase in the number of Jews in the United States and Israel. Notably, the number exceeds those projected in Canada too; and in Australia, there has been a recent increase despite a projected decline in the number of Jews.

The increase of the world’s Jewish population, along with the tendency to concentrate in a limited number of developed countries, should be seen as an enhancement of Jewish demography and spatial density with important and positive implications for Jewish identification. Along with the population affiliated unequivocally and clearly as Jewish, a growing number of people conceptualize their Jewish identity as one part in a multi-dimensional, complex and fluid identity. Although Jewishness is not the only component of their identity, it does not compete with another faith and apparently complements social, cultural, or political components of self-identity, and/or is indicative of the weak role religion plays in the individual’s identity. Still, the fact that these people, about a million in the U.S. alone, are of Jewish background with most claiming that they are proud to be Jewish, puts this group as a foremost policy target. Since this is a newly identified group, unknown until recently, it is necessary to go beyond the Pew statistics and conduct an in-depth study of face-to-face qualitative interviews in order to better understand the meaning of their Judaism, and whether and what are the trajectories along which they may wish to strengthen their Jewish identification.

It seems, at least in the American case, that the drift toward intermarriage continues. However, the demographic implications of this phenomenon have changed somewhat. In particular, there has been an increase in the number of children of mixed couples that are raised, or if already grown, identify as Jewish. It is imperative to understand the causes of this change in order to ensure its continuation.

Finally, there was an increase in the number of immigrants to Israel. Although in relative terms (percentage of growth relative to previous years) this is a significant change, the absolute numbers are not dramatic. Nevertheless, to the extent that the condition of Jews in Europe in general, and particularly in France, may deteriorate, appropriate infrastructure and resources to attract Jews from these places to Israel should be in place. The number of FSU immigrants, many from Ukraine, has also increased slightly over the past year. Although they are of limited financial means, their numbers need not shock or significantly alter existing absorption infrastructure. Still, the escalation of anti-Semitism in Western Europe and the unstable political situation in Ukraine ripen conditions favorable to immigration to Israel.

We should add that in another context of Jewish migration, that of Israelis abroad, there have been recent attempts to create organizations, especially in the U.S., to specifically serve this population. These autonomous frameworks are separated from local or national Jewish institutions. Such frameworks can be utilized to facilitate communal activities for Israelis abroad, and to strengthen their social and cultural cohesion. They may eventually contribute to reinforcing ties between Israel expats and Israel. Yet, from a demographic point of view, these processes may anchor their settlement abroad thus diminishing the likelihood of returning to Israel.