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October 24, 2003 - Image 31

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-24

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Scholars to examine population study's value.

JOE BERKOFSKY
Jewish Telegraphic Agency

New York
purred by fierce debate in the
press, Jewish social scientists are
rganizing a conference on the
controversial National Jewish
Population Survey (NJPS) so they can
study it for themselves.
Beginning Monday, dozens of scholars
will gather in Boston with officials of the
NJPS 2000-01, Jewish federations and
community policy makers to scrutinize
the $6 million study.
"The discussions that have been in the
newspapers have been less than satisfy-
ing," said Leonard Saxe, director of the
Cohen Center for Modern Jewish
Studies at Brandeis University, which is
co-sponsoring the meeting.
"The hope is to get everybody togeth-
er to see if we can come to some kind of
agreement" about what the NJPS
means, he said.
The answer to that
question has been the focus of intense
debate since NJPS' release last month.
The debate was highlighted by an op-
ed column in the New York Times by J.J.
Goldberg, editor of the Forward who
accused the study's sponsors of spinning
a statistical "myth" of population
decline.
In his own paper, Goldberg called the
NJPS a "fraud" for allegedly skewing
both the population and intermarriage
rates, thereby needlessly alarming the
Jewish community over an allegedly
inflated intermarriage crisis and a nonex-
istent population decline.
His broadsides spawned dueling com-
mentaries in American Jewish newspa-
pers and in Israeli media outlets such as
Hdaretz and the Jerusalem Post.
Stephen Hoffman, CEO and presi-
dent of the UJC federation umbrella
organization, denied that his group had
manufactured fears of a population
decline.
Goldberg's criticism "stuck in my
throat," Hoffman told JTA. The Times
op-ed was akin to "slander" against the
UJC, he said.
"We had one of the leading demogra-
phers in the world respond in a letter
published in the New York Times," said
Mandell "Bill" Berman of Franklin,
chairman of the NJPS committee,
speaking at Temple Emanu-El in Oak
Park on Oct. 19. "You need to under-
stand the Forward The Forward looks

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Your inspection includes:
A
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check-up of your Hyundai engine,
t.
brakes, drivetrain, suspension and steering
onents, A'det led reportour fin in of

for headlines."
How Jews count themselves and what
conclusions they draw from those num-
bers has been a matter of debate since
Biblical times. The last NJPS, in 1990,
made headlines with its finding that 52
percent of Jews who had married in the
previous five years had married out of
the faith.

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Surveys Prompt Analysis

That survey sparked more than 200
studies and at least 11 books, and
steered a decade's worth of communal
spending on efforts to promote "conti-
nuity" among committed Jews and "out-
reach" to uninvolved Jews.
Billed as a "colloquium," the confer-
ence on the current NJPS is set for Oct.
26-27 at Hebrew College in Boston and
Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass.
But some who plan to attend said it
still is too early for serious discussion
about NJPS because few have pored
over the details.
The NJPS is no stranger to controver-
sy. After suddenly pulling the survey last
fall because of lost data, the UJC
launched an internal probe and an inde-
pendent audit, both of which found
methodological flaws and potential sta-
tistical problems. However, both reviews
largely upheld the study's value.
Since NJPS came out last month, dis-
cussions among Jewish social scientists
and demographers have focused on the
charges and countercharges surrounding
the survey.
Much of the debate has been conduct-
ed via scholarly online listservs, and
Geffen said some academics suggested a
professional gathering was in order.
One of those who plan to attend is
Sieven Cohen, a professor of sociology
at Hebrew University and chief consult-
ant to the NJPS. Cohen sparked intense
debate of the 1990 NJPS over intermar-
riage statistics he considered inflated.
"I think it's good for there to be dis-
cussions," said Cohen, who disagreed
with Goldberg's accusation that NJPS
organizers purposely inflated intermar-
riage numbers and depressed population
counts.
Lorraine Blass, NJPS' project director,
said UJC officials would attend this
month's conference in the hope of avoid-
ing yet more fireworks. "My starting
point is that this is an extraordinarily
complex project," Blass said.

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