NEW YORK (May. 16)
“If conditions in this country continue to improve as they have in recent years, the American environment favors the development of Jewish group survival to a degree never before experienced in the long and turbulent history of Jewry,” Dr. John Slawson, executive vice-president of the American Jewish Committee, told the annual meeting of his organization now taking place here.
“The American environment,” he declared, “is friendly and permissive toward a variety of identities, either creedal, communal, sacred or secular- all are in harmony with the general pattern of American group life today. Therefore, the wholesome integration of the American Jew by means of full participation in all aspects of the life of America, but with the retention of his religio-cultural identity is, all other things being equal, now a realistic expectation.”
Dr. Slawson pointed out that, while there are certain restrictive forces to the development of group identity in the United States, such as the trend to conformity characteristic of a mass and technological culture, nevertheless the permissive and hospitable forces in America for the development of Jewish group identity or, for that matter any form of acceptable group identity, is definitely a reality.
“Within the Jewish community itself today there is an increasing concern with the problem of integration but of an unassimilated nature,” he stated. “There is, as a matter of fact, today among Jewish community leaders, a greater concern with the defense against assimilation than with the defense against discrimination. A Jewish individual can no longer rely on the non-Jew to tell him what he is, he must decide and affirm the fact for himself. If he doesn’t, he will cease to exist as a Jew.”
CITES STUDIES SHOWING STRONG DESIRE FOR JEWISH IDENTITY
“In spite of certain self-hate tendencies among a minor portion of the American Jewish population, the forces within the Jewish community of America are definitely in favor of Jewish identity and Jewish group survival, when we consider the attitudes toward Jewishness,” Dr. Slawson continued. “All of our studies yield results indicating that there is definitely a will to survive, and that this will to survive as Jews is, as a matter of fact, even greater among adolescents than among their parents.
“Our studies reveal that 93 percent of those questioned in some of our communities are in favor of Jews remaining as a distinctive group; and that, when asked if they would be reborn, what religious identity they would choose, 82 percent of parents and 88 percent of adolescents replied that they would wish to be reborn as Jews.”
REPORTS INCREASE IN INTERMARRIAGE; GIVES DATA ON JEWISH BIRTHS
Demographically, Dr. Slawson went on to report, the situation takes on a different aspect. “The intermarriage rate is far greater than we had perceived,” he said. “Recent studies indicate that the rate is about twice the percentage that we had formerly assumed. And, while Jews tend to marry outside their group to a lesser extent than those of the Catholic or Protestant faiths, it should be taken into consideration that, because of the smallness of the Jewish group, a given percentage has a greater impact. The rate of intermarriage is particularly high in sparsely settled parts of the United States.”
The American Jewish Committee leader said that Jews also tend to replace themselves, that is, live births replacing deaths, to a lesser extent than is the case with Protestants and Catholics. “While it takes 2,130 live births per 1, 000 women for adequate replacement in the general American population–for Jews, only 1, 749 per 1, 000 married women are replaced,” he reported.
However, he added, another source of resistance to assimilation is residence concentration. The Jewish population, residentially, instead of dispersing itself, as was anticipated, is concentrating in definite areas, especially in suburbs where we have a “regathering” of the Jewish population.” he said.
“In summary, therefore, the American environment is permissive for Jewish group identity and Jewish group survival,” he pointed out. “The attitudes among Jews themselves are for the most part affirmative; the will to survive as a group is strong. But demographically, we may anticipate a diminution of the size of the American Jewish population in the years to come unless new factors enter into the situation.
“There is, in addition, a very important limiting factor to assimilation, namely that, as time goes on, if we can judge by the past, there is going to continue to be an expectancy that Americans become members of religious groups. In that case, the Jewish group will follow suit, so that being Jewish may become less ‘a way of life’ in the traditional sense, and more ‘a style of life’ as an associational expression,” Dr. Slawson predicted.
Considering the developing trends in the American environment, the pursuit to conform to a mythical American type is fruitless for it is, in fact, non-existent, Dr. Slawson said. “Differences are becoming more and more respected and there is increasing receptivity to them,” he pointed out. “In this free and open society walls of separation for survival purposes are useless. The most important determining factor in the preservation of the Jewish group will be the degree to which one obtains a personal satisfaction and enrichment in his Jewish identity.”