Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Different Kind of "Bucket list"

A lot of Jewish peeps out there have been posting this new infographic below and using it to make all sorts of claims.
If it says so in an infographic, it must be true!
For those who can't read the teeny tiny stick figures, the chart shows different affiliations of Judaism and statistically predicts how many Jewish offspring they will have four generations later, based on what bucket they choose to affiliate themselves with today.

As with all stats, peeps are interpreting it in all sorts of ways.

Fear: "The people will die out! We must fear the secular peeps who will make our culture extinct!"

Guilt: "See what your non-observance will do!"

Ignorance: "Proof that those black hats are going to take over the world!" 

Relief: "Phew! So glad we are on the right side of that chart and doing our part to save our future"

As an unaffiliated Jew (and therefore clearly a heathen who must be depriving our child of Jewish education and community), we've been asked by many now as to our opinion on this visual oversimplifying this study.

One might think we'd disregard it, but you would be wrong!

In fact, we are relieved to see members of the tribe split up into only 5 distinct buckets.  It makes it very difficult when meeting people to know what makes them tick.  From now on, all we have to do is ask them what kind of Jew they are, and then we will know everything there is to know about them!  It is very unsettling to not know where on the spectrum people lie.  People can be complicated and everything is so much neater when you can fit your peers into a box that will tell you everything about their values, politics, and hopes and dreams.  Judging is much, much easier.

Secondly, the buckets help everyone know where they belong.  For example, if you are in one of the buckets on the left, you will know never to go to a place of worship that is intended for people in the buckets on the right.  And vice versa.  Also, the left four buckets can be united in their disdain for all those babies on the right, and the bucket on the right can feel justified in their hatred for the others for being responsible for the extinction of their people.  And if you don't fit into any of the buckets, well, that is clearly not possible so we won't even address that one.

Next, we think about the philanthropists and educators out there.  A lot of money and time has been expended at finding ways to get those people on the left side of the chart involved in their culture in other ways.  Non-traditional schools, volunteer work around the world, trips to Israel, other ways to bring culture and spirituality into their  life in a way that is meaningful to them.  What a relief to know that all these community-building efforts were a waste of time.  Clearly, efforts must be redirected at moving people towards different buckets.  Now everyone will know where to focus their time and money.

A nice side benefit is all those matchmakers out there will know who not to mix with whom.  So that's one less decision to make.  We wouldn't want those peeps in different buckets fraternizing or anything. That could lead to disastrous results such as dialogue.  Or schizophrenic Jews.  Or horrible mutations, like.... bacon challah [shudder].

Finally, what we really like about this chart is the predictability.  Not knowing what your future holds can be scary.  Having a chart tell you how many children you can expect to have, how many grandchildren you can expect to have, etc.  is supremely reassuring.   It is comforting to know what to expect, after all.

So while others might be upset at a chart like this that oversimplifies everything and ignores so many gray areas, we are grateful for the structure.

After all, engaging in meaningful dialogue about other ways to build community and make the culture meaningful to those who would otherwise abandon it is way too complicated.

Now, as with everything, statistics are all in the interpretation of the data.  In this case we suspect that the statistics excluded the subjects in the study who did not identify with "reform", "conservative", etc..., but rather the "I have no f*cking idea" segment.  We suspect this because this is exactly what we would have done!  Including this group would have made it much harder to draw meaningful qualitative, predictable conclusions, and that would have made the analysis much more messy.  Aside from the fact that it wouldn't lead to an easy sound bite, nobody likes messy.

That said, they probably ensured they could avoid that kind of messiness by making "affiliation" a close-ended question rather than open-ended.  That would force people to select an affiliation even if it wasn't quite right, and would make it much much easy to keep the analysis down to just 5 segments, and make it easier to categorize peeps.  Of course, in full disclosure we haven't looked at the full study data, so we're just guessing here.

What we do know is this: when life is complicated, look to the infographic!  It will tell you everything you need to know.