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U.S. Jews Losing Their Political Edge

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American Jews are losing their political strength due to a declining Jewish population and a mass exodus from the urban northeast to smaller cities and suburbs around the country, according to Herbert Bienstock, a senior expert in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bienstock spoke at the 14th annual America-Israel Dialogue at Van Leer Institute here. He explained that the Jewish “political edge” is growing duller, because Jews have less votes and money to offer would-be candidates.

The sharp decline in the Jewish population (from 2.1 million in New York City in 1957 to 1.2 million in 1974) coupled with a movement among young American Jews to find employment in the free professions rather than in business, plus a Jewish migration to suburbs, which is abandoning the more established Jewish religious, cultural and social institutions, is making the Jews slowly “disappear” from the scene, at least in terms of numbers and influence they enjoyed in the past, Bienstock said. He urged that greater efforts be made on the educational scene to prevent total Jewish disappearance.

DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS OFFERED

But another participant at the dialogue reached totally different conclusions. Prof. Fred Massarik, of the University of California, Los Angeles, claimed that although the declining Jewish birthrate poses a great threat to Jewish population growth in the U.S., the rising rate of intermarriage among U.S. Jews could lead to a net gain in the country’s Jewish population.

Massarik assailed the widespread assumption that American Jews are marrying themselves out of existence. Rather, he claimed, there is “a drift toward Jewishness among intermarried Jews, and a drift away from Jewishness among in-married Jew.” He said the quality of Jewish life among “some intermarried families may be as rich as among many of the in-married.”

Massarik cited studies indicating that where the husband in an intermarriage was Jewish, nearly two-thirds of the children were raised as Jews; where the wife was Jewish, more than 95 percent of the children were raised as Jews. He suggested avoiding the “temptation to leap to doomsday conclusions. Intermarriage need not imply Jewish population loss.”

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