Last week, the Steinhardt Social Research Institute hosted a conference on the Socio-demography of American Jewry. It was an extraordinary gathering. More than 60 researchers and policy analysts came to Brandeis for two days of intense discussion. It was a rare and important opportunity for dialogue and debate amongst leading scholars. I was grateful for the co-sponsorship of a half dozen academic and research organizations and the support of a number of private philanthropies.
Although the background materials posted on the conference website do not capture the dynamism of the discussion, I encourage you to review them. From issues concerning the religious landscape in the United States to community studies of large and small populations, researchers discussed and debated the best approaches to understanding American Jewry. New methods were showcased and old questions, in particular those regarding the question "Who is Jewish?" resurfaced. The last session allowed us to take a step outside of the purely academic perspective and discuss the ways in which our research is viewed and used by the media and policymakers.
In this week's Forward, I have an op-ed which describes my reactions to the conference and what we accomplished. The issues related to the study of the American Jewish community are complex and, as I make clear, social scientists may not be able to provide the kind of simple answers that policymakers seek. Nevertheless, systematic research about the Jewish community is essential, both for understanding the contemporary Jewish community and helping to ensure its vibrant future.
Over the coming months, we will be collaborating with conference participants to publish key findings from the conference. We look forward to sharing these with you as they become available.
Leonard Saxe, Ph.D., Director
Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies
Steinhardt Social Research Institute