Unorthodox, the world’s leading Jewish podcast, takes questions from its listeners about all aspects of Jewish life, from the religiously profound to the utterly inconsequential. Every week, we discuss one of these questions in “Ask Unorthodox.” If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I come from a family that listens to Unorthodox religiously,” writes Shoshana, whom we like already. “Our group chat every week usually has at least one announcement to check out the newest episode followed by an enthusiastic bitmoji from one of my ‘hip’ parents. The podcast has truly been a gift to our already close-knit family.”
So far, so good—so what’s troubling you?
“I am currently studying abroad in Tanzania and am the only Jew on my trip,” Shosh (if we may call you that) continues. “It has been a bit of a shock to be the only practicing Jew in every situation I am in. But nothing shocked me more than when I forgot Rosh Hashanah and had to admit that to my chipper Dad on FaceTime … Forgetting such an important holiday made me realize just how strong my love for Judaism is—and how rare that is for students, especially those at a liberal arts college, where many people are atheists and many people are Jewish by heritage but do not identify as such. It reminds me of a question my parents and I posed this summer thinking it would be an interesting topic for the podcast: What will the next generation of Judaism look like?”
The most obvious, true answer to your question, Shoshie (may we call you that?) is: you. You are what the next generation of Judaism looks like. Modern, world-traveling, mom-and-dad-adoring, always with a sense of identity. But we sense that you are asking more, ’Shana (may we call you that?). Comparing yourself to your classmates at a liberal arts college that shall remain nameless, you suggest that many of them are Jews by heritage but without your sense of identity. And you are troubled.
Yes, the kind of Jew who attends liberal arts colleges—which includes most all of us at Unorthodox, and at Tablet—is statistically likely to grow up to be less attached to Judaism, or Jewishness, than her parents were. Some of these young Jews will disaffiliate entirely. Some will retain some affection for the tradition. Some will swing back toward more affiliation or observance later in life. But the trend among non-Orthodox Jews is to get less Jewish, in one way or another, through the generations.
That said, Orthodox Jews are reproducing rather quickly, and not all of their children and grandchildren will stay Orthodox. Some of them will downshift a bit and land in secular, Reform, Conservative, Renewal, vegan, Jew-gan, Reconstructionist, or bark mitzvah–celebrating circles that you might frequent. They will know Talmud and Tanzania. And they will help you remember when Rosh Hashanah falls.
Or here’s another way to look at it: Judaism has always been a minority religion. We’re coming off a century where being Jewish in America felt, despite our tiny numbers, more comfortable than was historically normal. We lived in big cities and in small towns, we faced relatively little discrimination, we could be as distinct or as assimilated as we wanted. Maybe that golden age is ending, and we’re becoming a small, minority tribe again. In the future, most college trips abroad may have several students with Jewish ancestry, but maybe only one of them will care. So I guess that will one Jew will have to derive comfort, and sustenance, from within. Or from Dad, on FaceTime.