There is a religion story that has haunted me for years. It was based on an idea I picked up during a weeklong Gralla Fellowship at Brandeis University. A story I started working on when I was at the LA Daily News, one that I pitched soon after I joined The Jewish Journal, and one that in the end I was never really able to execute. I thought I had mentioned the story here, but it doesn't look like it. The gist of the story was essentially this:
Intermarriage isn't the only phenomenon leading to a Jewish population crisis. A death rate that outpaces the birthrate is also taking a toll. Compounding the situation is the reality that Jews tend to be more highly educated, which leads to being more career-oriented, than members of other religions. That, in turn, means higher numbers of Jewish women are not trying to start a family until their biological clocks are working against them. Being that Jews have a religious obligation to be fruitful and multiply, how do thirtysomething Jewish couples cope with, or push back against, infertility?
Religion News Service recently picked up where my theoretical news feature -- i.e. the one I never wrote -- left off with "International adoptions changing face, identity of American Judaism." It starts by talking about Anne Suissa, who when she was in her late 30s adopted two children from Guatemala after doctors told her fertility treatment likely would not succeed.
The general track of Suissa's life is not unusual among Jewish American women. As a group, they're highly educated -- a fact demographers say contributes to their relatively low fertility rates.
Still longing to be mothers, they often adopt, and frequently, their children are of Latino, Asian or African descent. And that, in turn, is slowly changing the face of American Judaism.
Those who study American Jewish families can't point to formal surveys to document the trend, but clergy and congregants say they are noticing more of these children.
But if the idea of an increasingly diverse community is embraced by American Jews, a key reason for it is not: the relatively low fertility rate.
The number of childless Jewish women in their early 30s is 54 percent, compared to 28 percent for American women in general, according to the most recent National Jewish Population Survey.
The survey also shows about 5 percent of American Jewish households with children include adopted children, compared to the national rate of 3.7 percent. But unlike Americans in general, the survey notes, Jewish Americans are not having enough children to replace themselves.
Those NJPS numbers are the same decade-long stats that I noted in this post about a story on intermarriage. But, to be sure, Suissa is no anomaly.
A story like this requires a real strong human hook, which is why I was never able to deliver. In the RNS piece, I would have liked a deeper exploration of how Suissa and her husband coped with the news that even IVF likely would not make her fertile. But RNS, like the AP, is constrained by limited space.
Overall, I thought this was a good story that did a nice job putting the issue of Jewish child rearing in a religious and sociodemographic context.
One question that I would have like to have had explicitly answered was the religious implications of adopting non-Jewish children. My understanding is that the parents would still be doing their Jewish duty to grow the Jewish people so long as any adopted child converted to Judaism. But I'm not certain about that.