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The Jewish middle class is disappearing.

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Comments (38)

(30) Feigele, November 14, 2011 1:31 AM

Only the Upper-Class!

Most of the middle class can no longer afford Jewish education after having lost their jobs, homes and being deep in debts, so how can the poor class afford anything! What leaves us with only the so-called “upper-class” who can afford such luxury. I am not talking about Jewish home education but Jewish schools and Jewish temples. When I raised my three small children, I sent them to temple for one year, we had just bought a house and my husband, architect, just had lost his job. Putting my pride aside, I went to see the rabbi to explain that I could no longer afford the $1,500 per child tuition and if he could give me a discount. He replied, it would not be fair to the people who pay full tuition. Well, I really got disgusted but I was proud that I had had the chutzpa to ask. I have not turn my back on my Jewish religion, it’s instilled in me, as I was brought up this way, mainly by respect for my parents who could barely afford to send my sister and I to Jewish schools but still went out of their financial way to send us there anyway and for a Jewish home too.

(29) Kenneth H. Ryesky, November 13, 2011 4:15 PM

Gebrokts & Default Judaism

One item where your observation of the disappearing "Jewish middle class" is relevant is the eating or eschewing of gebrokts on Pesach. My mother-in-law's family always ate gebrokts during Pesach (at a recent birthday party for her, she and her sisters all confirmed, emphatically, that their mother always made matzoh ball soup on Pesach). In fact, my wife still uses her mother's recipe for matzoh meal muffins. But their brother, who moved to Israel and is now a rav in Bnei Brak, does not eat gebrokts during Pesach. And none of the bakeries that I know of in the New York area bake with matzoh meal for Pesach. My rabbi (who does not eat gebrokts) informed me that the bakers told him that they would be out of business if they proffered gebrokts to the public. It seems that everyone is trying to out-frum everyone else, taking on additional stringencies where none are required by halacha. This is leaving those who, 40 or 30 or even 20 years ago, would have fit in well with the "Jewish middle class" with no comfortable place in the Jewish community. Last Pesach I decided that someone had to be the one to call this gebrokts madness for what it is. I therefore refused invitations to eat at the homes of those who DID NOT serve gebrokts. Rebbitzin, do you serve gebrokts in your own kitchen during Pesach? And if not, then are you not part of the problem of the disappearing "Jewish middle class?" [You can reply publicly or privately.]

(28) Anonymous, November 10, 2011 10:07 PM

Middle class -- regarding economic situation or Jewish committment

When I first saw the title, I thought that htis might be referring to the disappearing Jewish middle class from an economic perspective. With the tuition crisis and the general high cost of Jewish life, the economic pressures of living a fully committed Jewish life are extreme, unless one is affluent. When I read the article, that did not seem to be the topic. Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that the two issues are related -- and the extreme economic pressures on the Jewish middle class may be part of the reason why the 'middle class' from a Jewish committment perspective do not move up the scale. Food for thought.

(27) Sandy, November 10, 2011 11:56 AM

Excellent, but think about this category of viewers...

Kol hakavod, Lori, for a very thought-provoking presentation of this issue. As I watched, though, I imagined how your video would be perceived by my less-connected Jewish friends and relations who happen to be unmarried (and some, but not all, don't have children either!). When a person doesn't see marriage -- to a Jew or anyone else -- as an important thing, how can one rebut the claim that it simply doesn't *matter* if one's children or grandchildren are Jewish... that the important thing is just to be a good person? I'm seriously asking because I've gotten into conversations about this with single friends, and felt like there was no way to bridge the gap.

(26) Steve, November 9, 2011 10:30 PM

You're not speaking of the economic JMC, but that's a factor to be considered.

I mean the socioeconomic factor--the fact that the majority of N. American Jews are solidly ensconced in upper-middle-class comfort & privilege. And, sad to say, they do not always act in a very welcoming manner to the minority of Jews who are "still" working class. If poorer Jews go to a synagogue or other Jewish venue, & experience ostracism & even insults by those financially better-off, why should they not seek out friendlier company elsewhere?

(25) Anonymous, November 9, 2011 6:22 PM

I think we are still here

As a russian immigrant I can def say that I am part of that middle class you are talking about and I am certainly not alone. There are many of us who feel that we are far beyond the reform/concervative movement, but yet still far away from being orthodox. In a way it feels as if you never belong, you didn't belong there and on some level you don't belong here because there are not that many people in the middle. Thus this should make the choice much easier, one should always look up never down when it comes to spirituality, but we still have a very long way to go. I thank G-d all the time that we have this opportunity to grow as a Jew in this country and realize what it means to have Jewish Pride.

(24) Jennifer, November 9, 2011 5:43 PM

I liked what Lori said about the Middle Class Jews, but it should also be noted that it's the Middle Class Jews who sometimes must make the difficult decision of removing their children from a Jewish school beacuse they can no longer afford it. The Jewish community and schools have to make a Jewish education it's number one priority. My son is in a Jewish school , I cannot afford it any more and an seriously considering removing him and sending him to public school. We are recieving financial help, but it is not enough and when all your credit cards are maxed, line of credit used up and no more trick up my sleeve, we are forced to make this very difficult decision. I just hope and pray that my son will stay on the path of being Jewish and marry Jewish. Any advice is welcomed. We are the true Middle class Jews that are falling between the cracks. I feel rejected and dissapointed in the communities that do not help families that are in the middle class. We are not poor nor rich, just trying to survive as mibble class orthodox Jews.

(23) smb, November 9, 2011 6:32 AM

The only way we Jews will continue with our heritage is through education. We need to educate our children so they continue it on. And if we need to know more, we should educate ourselves so we can give it over to them. Education can be expensive, but it should be a priority that's put before other things, like unnecessary luxuries. Maybe the community can make a fund that's for the day schools. But they also need to learn it from home too

(22) Jodi Marchese, November 9, 2011 3:35 AM

Very True

It is very sad I see this all the time. I have seen it with my friends. I've had to tell a few of my friends that they had to light Yutzka candles for their parents that had passed a year from the unveiling, they had no idea of what I was talking about. These are people who had their sons Bar Mitzvida, have a Passover meal not a Sedar but they have moved away from the faith. I see amongst other Jews of my generation, what is to become of their children who are grown and have no ides about Judiasm. It is very sad and sadder for me to see it before my eyes.

(21) mintzi bickel, November 9, 2011 3:23 AM

I agree!!

I agree. How very sad but true. Many of us have taken our Judiasm for granted. We did not teach our children tthe importance of not assimilating. We can still be good Americans and also retain our Jewish identity and values.

(20) Linda, November 9, 2011 3:16 AM

It is not just the Jewish middle class that is disappearing. It is Middle Class America that is.

(19) Anonymous, November 9, 2011 12:22 AM

decline of middle class Judaism

It is rather ironic that after all the centuries of persecution of the Jewish people that living in a country with freedom of religion, the United States, may prove to be the biggest challange to our survival. A major part of the blame is with the parents who are unobservant and only practice their Judaism during the High Holy Days and a Passover Seder and Chanuka and hence know little about it. Another problem is that the Bar/ Bat Mitzvah is seen as and endpoint or emancipation( the end of having to attend Hebrew school) rather than as the beginning of being a Jewish adult. I think that Synagogues need to be more responsive, less judgemental and more more welcoming to new members. Finally, I think that organiztions such as AISH, Partners in Torah and Chabad have done a great deal to help promote Judaism with its beauty and rich tradition.

Anonymous, November 11, 2011 8:28 AM

wise email

You are so right! Very well put! Your idea of being less judgmental is very important point. I see this as a tragedy that reform/conservative despise orthodox and orthodox are judgmental or careless to "other" Jews.

(18) Anonymous, November 8, 2011 5:44 PM

It has been said that nobody can do everything but everybody can do something. Here is my something: My child had his Bar Mitzvah in a Conservative Synagogue seven years ago. He has high functioning autism and I had to work hard to get the right teachers for him, but I did it. He did an excellent job as well. Today he sees me going to Shul on Shabbat and the holidays, and knows how important Judaism is to me. Yes, my husband is Jewish but is not as observant as I am. However, we both want our child to marry a Jewish woman and have Jewish children. Nobody can predict the future of course, but in our household my husband and I are working to keep Judaism alive. This was a very poignant essay which I listened to twice. Thank you for speaking about this crucial topic.

(17) Shoshannah, November 8, 2011 5:13 PM

poor Jew living in the South

I was not always poor and did not always live in the South but I have always been Jewish. Now I have 3 grandchildren - 2 are growing up in a Jewish home. The most recent one will not grow up in a Jewish home. Now retired/disabled my joy is going to services every Shabbat, teaching Hebrew in the Religious school, teaching K and the Jewish Care Committee. It is amazing how bonded this tiny Jewish community is. I base what I teach on the Torah I was taught when I grew up. Thank you Lori for this video and all your videos.

(16) Henry, November 8, 2011 5:10 PM

We are the product of what we read, hear, and watch.

Lori is right on target. To be Jewish we need to read from the Word of Hashem regularly. like daily and then meditate on those words. Spend time in the Word. Deuteronomy 6v6-9 tells us to apply the word to our daily dealings and to our thoughts. We might be better Jews if we did.

(15) EdwinS, November 8, 2011 3:57 PM

I'm one of those Jewish grandpas - my heart is broken....

(14) elliot, November 8, 2011 2:36 PM

"Be and Think Like Me" - What a Turn-off!

Me thinks the Rebbetzin doth protest too much. I'm guessing that, if every jew was a member of a rabbi's home, she'd find some practice of their's to object to. And i'm surprised that she can't warm to the real and infinite number of jewish, if not human, types of souls and belief states the Lord has provided. This is the challenge of our generation. Because once you can accept the infinite variety, then you can accept and embrace the Lord's work. The folly of anguish over other people's evolution - let alone the expectation that they live as you live- is i'm sorry to say too much ego. ("The Jewish Middle Class" as an extent of practice descriptor was the first clue. The Rebbitzin's horse is too high.)

Leah, November 8, 2011 3:11 PM

Responding to Elliot

IWhen I read your reply I decided to respond. I knew that I did not want to respond to "put you in your place" or to embarass you into thinking differently or any of the other emotional tactics that are uncalled for when responding to a comment that one does not agree with. I do think that as I read your comment that I heard between the lines, so to speak, that there is hurt or insult in your voice. I think what Mrs. Palatnik is trying to say is that what is going on is sad and that we must reverse the trend as Judaism is important. I don't think she is trying to come off as or is coming off as "holier than thou" or any other type of lording over behavior. I used to be in the Conservative movement as a teen and found it to be cyclical, yet not growing in it's spiritual endeavors. Kids had their bar and bas mitzvahs and then stopped going. Reform just died of it's Jews as soon as it started because there was no adherance to the laws etc... I found that authentic Judaism not only kept my attention, It helped me to grow. It may not be where your mind is in your observance or desire, yet I believe that Mrs. Palatnik brings up a point. Unfortunately I see this in my nieces and nephews and it is sad. As a result, my family is taught (our kids) to live and lead by example and to never look down their noses at anyone who does not observe the way we do. Just try to teach them and show them your happiness in your ways. Be well.

elliot, November 11, 2011 3:16 PM

comfortable in my place

Yes, leah, you're right. I was responding to the Rebbetzin's commentary with some disappointment from it's "holier than thou" aspect. I believe that a greater problem than limitations on religous practice among jews is the lack of "brotherhood and community" between jews , based upon the extent of their practice, as if this truly indicates the level of their faith and adherence to Torah teachings. I do not davin with the reform, but i know many reform jews (let alone "non-affiliated",) who are holier than i in their everyday faith and spirituality. And i'm sure that they're path is no less righteous than any other jew's. And i was disappointed, when a nice and learned rabbi with whom i was studying Tanya would not davin with me in a conservative congregation because he said it would lend his impramateur to that congregation.That your practice and lifestyle comforts you is great, but be assurred that there's only one "spiritual authority." Best to you and yours as well.

Meir, November 8, 2011 9:19 PM

"Doth Protest too much"=Elliot

Elliot, whether you accept some of what Lori is saying is one thing-but even an anecdotal observation of North American Jewry will tell you all you need to know. Jews are marrying 'out' at alarming numbers. Other than the Orthodox (even they are not 'safe') it is now unusual for a Jew to marry a Jew. How to correct that tend? Lori offers one approach. Perhaps there are others-though I don't know of any.

Anonymous, November 11, 2011 3:34 PM

the "marrying out" phenomena

Meir - You're right about the "marrying out" phenomena- it's as if jews are turning away from their jewish identity and faith. And my experience here in america is that that's not at all necessarily so. Many who i've met are no less "G-d fearing" but limited in their practice because of feelings of ostracization from more orthodox jews. And i believe that both better "brotherhood and community" among jews, as well as the commentary about jewish education from the anonymous writer in the comment below mine may address this. But when all is said and done, i believe nothing happens without HaShem's providence, and that accordingly, the phenomena may be a positive indication. So, i'm not sure about the need to correct the trend. Maybe acceptance and illumination of teachings is a good approach.

(13) Anonymous, November 8, 2011 2:29 PM

The central problem is education

The very sad irony of the Jewish experience in America is that Jews place an incredibly high value on education but, unfortunately, not on Jewish education. The central problem with the Reform and Conservative movements is a lack of knowledge. The focus of these two branches of Judaism is on the holidays and festivals, not on Torah. The core of Judaism is Torah and study of Torah has been the core that has held the Jewish people together for millenia. I am sad to say that most of us non-Orthodox have never been taught anything about Torah. So it is very hard to live a Jewish life if you haven't been provided the tools to lead this type of life. This poor education leads to a lack of connectedness and, as we've seen through the striking numbers of intermarriage and assimilation, of Jews losing their Jewishness.

Rick, November 8, 2011 4:17 PM

While I don't disagree with your criticism of the Reform and Conservative movements, it's precisely those Jews who are the "middle class" Lori spoke of in this blog posting. There are two ways that the middle class disappears, one is to become educated, practicing Jews - which is the goal of Aish. The other is become completely disconnected - which is where the vast majority of the middle class has gone. Unfortunately, I think the Orthodox community has to take some of the blame for that. They have spend 50 years systematically discrediting Conservative and Reform Judaism to the point that the middle class no longer sees value in maintaining their middle class status.

(12) ej, November 8, 2011 1:47 PM

you get what you wish for when U run Judaism like a private country club

I have read that there are about 5 million jews in the USA but only 3.5 practicing genuine Judaism. I have also read that only half of those born in Jewish homes go on to live Jewish lives, and marry Jews. This trend is never going to stop. The solution is a debate on whether we will accept mix marriages and make it easy for those to convert who wish to. So far, the Jewish community & leadership largely seems to have said no we will not. You get what you wish for and 2)the road to heck is paved with good intentions. The end result, frankly we are facing a decline in the Jewish population worldwide. The Jewish religion has the ability to grow - to become a world force, but you must welcome outsiders and accept half Jews...without stupid rude questions like are both your parents Jews? Who is Jew debate and not welcoming outsiders who marry within or wish to convert is decimating the our chances to rise to the top and increase our numbers.

(11) Anonymous, November 8, 2011 12:51 PM

Lori, you are not telling us anything new. As a young adult, I recognized this trend in America 35 years ago. I understood then that within a few generations, only orthodox Jews would remain in America, and even the orthodox were not completely safe. The feeble foundations of Reform and Conservative Judaism could not withstand the overwhelming tsunami of American culture. That was one of the primary reasons that I made aliya to Israel. I couldn’t become religious (it is hard for me to live with intellectual dissonance), but I could live in Israel where the concentration of Jews was sufficient to preserve cultural Judaism. Now, a generation later, I have come to recognize that even Israel is not a bulwark that guarantees a continuation of secular Judaism. That leaves me, a committed agnostic and Jewish stalwart, in a precarious position. Perhaps I have guaranteed the Jewish identity of my own children, but the next generation is still an open question. In any case, it is beyond my control, so I have ceased to worry about it.

Alex, November 9, 2011 4:18 AM

Its never too late to set an example

Do you honestly believe that you have no influence over your kids and how they act? It's never too late to set an example for your kids and grandkids. Keep Shabbat and keep kosher if you can. They will take notice and may even do it themselves.

(10) Rachel, November 8, 2011 11:43 AM

I thought you were going to speak about financial matters

I truly thought this was going to be about people's financial difficulties in this rotten economy, and I remember learning that Rabbi Salanter had said we need to be concerned about our neighbor's material well being and our own spiritual well being. Most of us fret about our material well being and our neighbors' moral and spiritual deficiencies. The best thing serious Jews can do to reach out to less observant Jews is to set a good example and show our caring and concern for them. As an ambassador from God, I don't want to nit-pick over how kosher my friend is, but to make sure I'm there when she needs me. I want my clients to know I fear God and will give them honest advice. I actually want my Seder to be fun and my guests to feel lifted up because they attended. Finally, if the Jews are turning away from God and Torah, perhaps it's time for God to end our long exile and do something to bring us all back. I honestly think many Jews feel that God is irrelevant or some remote Big Bully in the Sky. Those of us who disagree need to demonstrate to the contrary.

(9) Lewis Loflin, November 8, 2011 10:04 AM

Stick to Judaism

Sadly many Jews seem to follow the religion of Leftism, not Judaism. And not all Jews are rich, etc.

(8) Mychal, November 7, 2011 2:49 PM

As a convert, I can tell you that there are many, many wonderful things about Judaism, but you have to teach it to your children. You need to have them in synagogue every week--not just in the year leading up to their b'nai mitzvah.

Stanley T, November 8, 2011 2:45 PM

Thank you

Thank you for helping to strengthen the Jewish people by joining us. Unfortunately, this is one of the saddest videos I have ever seen - precisely because the "Jewish MIddle Class" is not doing what you say. My Jewish friends have a single child, a son who had his Bar Mitzvah last year. They did the bare minimum leading up to the event, resenting everything their Reform congregation demanded of them. The kid didn't fast this Yom Kippur, and his parents didn't care, leaving the choice up to him. They've done their duty. I will be truly surprised if this kid marries Jewish. His cousins are all the products of mixed marriages and I really don't believe there's any hope for him. Where and how did we go so wrong?

(7) Anonymous, November 7, 2011 1:36 PM

Never as Simple at It Seems

Thank you for your insightful video blog. I too was raised( I am 44) with the notion your Jewish just because...However some of the reasons for intermarriage,conversion or just simply disappearing is the indirect result of real obtuse issues. I wanted to have a kosher home,Yeshiva Education for my kids and a Jewish neighborhood. However having children with special needs,a husband with health problems we are grateful for our beautiful home in a rural gentile neighborhood. Yet we still often struggle to put food on the table,could never afford to live in a Jewish neighborhood(we live in the south in outlying suburb) or day school even if we'd had it near to us. However we still provide kiddush,challah and shabbos dinner each week,we have mezzuahs etc. My feeling is if outreach included getting programs that helped families whose incomes are more modest it may encourage people that being connected isn't too expensive. It matters being Jewish just sometimes it seems too hard or at least too expensive. Thank you.

(6) BT in Austria, November 7, 2011 12:12 PM

polish survivor's son intermarries

My Uncle Mendel survived the holocause from a small town in Poland, kept alive over the Russian border, weighing less than 100 lbs. He came to New Jersey married Sophie, and had 3 nice kids. He was always so Jewish, with that European accent and the good Seder. 1 daughter became very religious, but the 2 sons did not. Now his son, my 2nd cousin, over 40, married a Catholic, hispanic woman. In today's world Jews must be strongly committed, or face spiritual depletion.

(5) Anonymous, November 7, 2011 6:05 AM

Continuation of my previous comment

There is a missionary on every corner! Today there is no middle ground. One has to decide, am I committed or not?

(4) Anonymous, November 7, 2011 6:02 AM

Very important principal

This was a wonderful lecture, Lori. It is something that I have thought about many, many times. I was born in '49 so I grew up in the 50's-60's in a major American city. The "Jewish Middle Class" was in its heyday then; just as you said: marry Jewish, have friends who are what the results of all of this is. Just to give you one example: There was a neighborhood near me that was almost entirely Jewish, not religious, but "Jewish Middle Class". I made Aliyah in the 70's, but someone told me today that in this particular neighborhood today there is a missionry on almost every corner!

(3) Sky, November 6, 2011 6:15 PM

Can take what you are saying in two respective ways. The middle class is not in the synagogues, it's all upper class. The middle class being known as the down to earth, God, Country, and Family Values, has slipped away from Judaism get-together worship in synagogues. The middle class bar-bat mitzvah were about God, Country, and Family Values, a serious look into Judaism from an inward perspective to Judaism. What it means to be Jewish. The middle class turned off of "show" without the mitzvah values. I have never been to an Aish Center, but I expect it to be centered around mitzvah, God, Country, and Family Values. People from all classes, having one purpose of attending, to grow in doing mitzvah's. Other Judaism outlets, the attending class may have other priorities for purpose of attending. The middle class wants to keep the focus on what really matters in being Jewish. The middle class(either way of taking it) are welcome at Aish Centers, that is what Aish is all about, growing more Jewish. I can tell by your website, even in a secular setting, God is not omitted. May Aish continue to be a candle in the darkness. That way, the middle class has somewhere to go.

(2) Rosen, November 6, 2011 11:23 AM

Functioning middle class

When thinking of the middle class, it's a matter of determining how well they are functioning and making ends meet. I attended a Moishe House discussion on unions, where we were discussing the importance of unions when working and why many rabbis favor collective bargaining. After all, if it weren't for unions, the middle/working class wouldn't have any weekends, thus why weekends go hand-in-hand with observing Shabbas...As for me personally, while I am not (yet) married, I expect to either marry a Jew or no one at all. Ultimately (or eventually), I would like to marry a Jew and bring up a traditional or middle class Jewish home. It's all a matter of mutual interest if or whenever I find the right (or good enough) Jew to marry.

(1) Alan S., November 6, 2011 9:55 AM

A thought provoking essay. But context is missing. What would define, as close to words can put it, the 'middle class'? Is there a Jewish 'poor' class, or a Jewish 'upper class'? Does it go by the more traditional denominational designations of Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative, or Reform? Or, is it a generational thing, as Rebbitzin Palatnik implied?


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