Monday, October 23, 2006

Know Your Jewish Community: Losing Our Boys

According to Friday's Jewish Week, the Jewish community is facing a crisis. We are losing our boys. The trend appears to be following that of college attendance. Women attend in larger numbers, the percentages shift, and boys/men are slipping away. This becomes a vicious circle: the more women that attend, the higher the percentage of women, the fewer men who wish to attend, and so on. In the article Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin suggests this as a reason, that "men are retreating from active engagement in Jewish life because women now dominate it." This trend has been pretty clearly documented in Jewish communal life; while men are at the head of many organizations they are staffed by women. Events are overwhelmingly attended by women, and women comprise the majority of the membership.

Rachel Mosteller at Blogging Baby is understandably very concerned about this phenomenon. She wonders "What can we do to make sure that our kids keep an interest in their religion and religious heritage?"

I remember from my own brief tenure in Jewish youth organizations (B'nei Akiva and USY) that they tended to be female-heavy. Or female-dominated, yet in my region we always had a male president. In fact, I don't think that there has ever been a female USY International President. My father thinks that these boys are, as he so diplomatically phrased it, "idiots." When he picked me up from a B'nei Akiva event early in high school we had the following conversation on the way home:

Dad: Boys must be idiots. (He says this on a fairly regular basis)
Me: Um, what?
Dad: There were what, five girls there?
Me: Yeah, I guess.
Dad: Five attractive Jewish girls. What are these boys thinking? It's like shooting fish in a barrel.
Me: Thanks, Dad, that is a really flattering assessment.


BZ said...

Yawn to the Jewish Week, the people they quote, and their zero-sum framing. The organized Jewish community does so much to alienate Jews of both sexes, and if they fix those things, they'll get more participants of both sexes. If they're going to be focused on numbers (which I don't advocate anyway), then better they should be focused on overall numbers than on ratios -- isn't it better to have 100 men and 300 women (unbalanced though that may be) than 50 men and 50 women?

AnnieGetYour said...

BZ- while I agree in principle, I think that in practice it is problematic. There are two discrete problems:

1) that programs suck, and are underattended
2) that those who DO attend are predominantly female, and that turns off males from attending

The solution needs to be a subtle one, and we know how good the organized Jewish Community is at subtlety.