You’re right —there have been a huge amount of reactions, analyses and responses to the report, along with key data points reported throughout the Jewish and general media. As with most surveys, nothing is shockingly new, nor is it all bad or all good. Perhaps it’s time to weigh in with experts from the past who have a perspective we lack.
Our panel can speak with expertise and experience on matters even of today! Welcome to the show, guest panelists: Abraham, King David, the Baal Shem Tov and Golda Meir!
We begin our line up with our very first forefather. Father Abraham, it all started with you. You left your country, your birthplace, your father’s house on account of a promise of becoming a great nation. We might even situate our obsession with Jewish demographics squarely on your broad Biblical shoulders. What thoughts have you on Pew?
Abraham: Back when the Lord first urged me to gaze heavenward and asked me to “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, are you be able to count them” — and then promised me that my children will similarly be incalculable, though dumbfounded, I believed. I’ve got to be honest with you, 13 million descendants is incredible. This is way bigger than I counted on. For me this is good news beyond my wildest dreams. If I could help my descendants grapple with their feelings about the report, I would remind them of those tenuous moments on Mount Moriah. I stood there, knife in hand, ready to extinguish all hopes of prodigy. At that frightening moment, when all was about to be lost, I still trusted in the Almighty’s promise. My message for posterity? When things seem dire, look up. Can you count the stars? I can’t. And neither can Pew.
Thank you, Abraham. Inspirational words to live by. Now join me in welcoming King David, first king of all of Israel. Your highness, word has it you’ve had experience with a census of your own.
Oy. Better not to talk. Not one of my finer moments. I will share from my painful past, knowing that my experience might be of some help to others. It was one of the last acts of my reign. I admit, with 20-20 hindsight, it wasn’t a great decision. I ordered my general, Yoav, to conduct a full census of all the inhabitants of the land. This might not sound controversial — it seems like in your day and age doing a census is a fairly common practice. Back in the day, doing a census was not exactly sanctioned. What I learned was that in our tradition it’s better not to count people. If we do need to know, we use the half-shekel. Folks turn in half a shekel each, we count the coins — not the people.
Is it to avoid the “evil eye?” Maybe. Or perhaps we have a fear of letting our strength go to our heads; getting overconfident, cocky, sure of ourselves. You get it.
Jews? Well, we shouldn’t count. Even for a minyan. Ever get to synagogue early? Need to know if the minyan is good to go? Notice we never count one, two, three, but rather use the words from a specific 10-word Biblical verse? Say one word from the verse, point to one person, say the next word, point to person number two, until the 10-word verse gets completed, then you’ve got your minyan! But never count! I learned the lesson the hard way. What did my census get me? A lot fewer Jews to count. My advice on all things census? Avoid it like the plague.
Talk about a blast from the past. You heard it here first, folks. King David, thank you. Next up? The legendary Baal Shem Tov. That’s right, the founder of Hasidism is with us today. Tell us, rabbi, what’s your opinion on the latest research statistics on Jewish demographics?
Baal Shem Tov: Let me answer with the conclusion of a Hasidic story told by Elie Wiesel about the diminution of the generation: “We no longer have the power to go to that forest and to light the fire there, the ancient prayer has already been forgotten, and we do not even know the location of the place. But we do know what happened, we know the story, and that we can tell and it must be sufficient.”
Here’s how I see the issue at hand. The word for number in Hebrew shares a root with the word story. For we Jews, what really counts is our story. And there is none like it. We are still here. After all the expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, not to mention the most awful of horrors, the devastation of European Jewry wiping out two out of every three Jews, are the odds against us? They sure are — they always have been and they always will be. Numbers have never been our strength – our story has been our strength and if you understand that, you’ve got our number.
Now that’s a powerful thought. For our final guest, someone from the less-distant past: Put your hands together for none other than Israel’s first and only Jewish mother, Prime Minister Golda Meir! Madame Prime Minister, what say you of the Pew hullabaloo?
Golda Meir: Am I surprised? I am not surprised. In 1921 I made the dramatic decision to move to Palestine from Milwaukee. To me, the future of the Jewish people can’t ever be centered in the land of the free and the brave, the land of Mom, apple pie and baseball. The future of our people is here in the land of milk and honey.
What can I say? Pew, pew pew. Thank God here in the land of the sabra and the home of the falafel ball, where the desert blooms, and the swamps were drained, our numbers are growing! For the first time since the days of the temple there are more Jews in Israel than outside Israel. Research? You need research? The destiny of our people is here. That said, “Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.”
Folks, thanks for joining us today. We’ve been on quite the journey. Thank you to our guests for your insights — I think we got it. There is something about Jews that is and always will be countless, limitless and immeasurable. Most of all, we need to have lives that count. And as for me, your host? What counts most is counting on you — together we can beat any odds.