The Jewish superstition that you should not tempt the evil eye is ingrained deep within me. No one apart from my husband and I knew our children’s names before they were born. I would not allow a single baby item into the house before my eldest’s birth.
My speech is littered with “God willing” or its Abrahamic cousins “knock on wood” and “inshallah.” While I haven’t taken to spitting pu pu pu or uttering “kinehora,” I understand the impulse.
As I start this series about the Pew Research Center’s 2020 Study of American Jew, I am feeling a deep inner-conflict with my superstitious Jewish self. The superstition in me wants to pull out any possible negative details and make those the headlines so the evil eye does not notice us.
But following multiple readings of the 247-page report, the headline of “American Jews Flourishing” is accurate – even if it causes me anxiety to write the words.
For those of you that glaze over at statistics, donut fear! (Author's note: Thank you to Ben Falik for the dad joke). Overall, American Jews are satisfied with our family life, our physical health, our social life:
- When asked to rate their life in general, 85% of Jews said that it was either excellent or good.
- 90% think that their community is either an excellent or good place to live, compared with 81% of U.S. adults.
- 28% of us hold a postgraduate degree and 23% of us live in households that make $200,000 or more.
Tl;dr: Jewish life in America in 2020 is pretty great.
For those of you that disagree, I would ask this question, posed to me by a friend several years back: If you could pick any time and place to live as a Jew, when and where would you pick? While I might like to travel via Delorean back to a time before Charlottesville and Pittsburgh and Poway, living as a Jew in 21st-century America is, indeed, pretty great.
There are of course caveats to the flourishing headline which will be dealt with later in this series – most notably a clear indication that the community feels a rise in antisemitism. But even the fears related to antisemitism need to be placed in the context of the larger American experience, where high numbers of Jews also perceive discrimination against Blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, as well gays and lesbians. Antisemitism exists; it just does not exist by itself (more on this in a later column).
But returning to the beginning, how do I push past superstition? As much as superstitious customs are part of how I experience Judaism, gratitude is also integral to my Judaism.
Pirkei Avot (teachings of our fathers) states that one is rich who rejoices in their own lot. So it is equally Jewish for me to kvell at this moment and be happy about the Jewish community that we have created collectively here in America.
But just to be safe, here’s an alternate headline to distract the evil eye:
Jewish Mother Fails to Reapply Children’s Sunscreen While Reading Pew Report Poolside
Alicia Chandler is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Wayne State University studying intermarriage in the American Jewish community. This article is part of an ongoing series about Pew Research Center's "Jewish Americans in 2020". And yes, Alicia loves putting things in three-ring binders.