Responding to angst in a New York minute

Start spreading the news. New York Jewry is in trouble.

Because of its huge Jewish population, New York is the General Motors of American Jewish life. As goes New York, so go the Jews.

Our story this week on a new study of New York area Jews reveals dramatic changes taking place there, not all of them welcome.

First and foremost, an alarming increase in poverty. It is intolerable that anyone in America should live below the poverty line. For us, the Jewish community at large, it is doubly unacceptable that the number of New York Jews living in poverty has climbed 35 percent.

Moreover, the intermarriage rate of New York Jews, though considerably lower than elsewhere, is on the rise, and less than a third of the children from interfaith homes are raised Jewish.

Another startling finding: The number of Jews affiliating with the Reform and Conservative movements has markedly declined, while the numbers for Orthodox and unaffiliated have increased.

Could New York Jewry be moving toward the Israeli model of polar extremes: secular or fervently religious? That would certainly portend a sea change in the character of Jewish life. Perhaps the American Jewish community, like America itself, is growing more divided on matters of faith.

Whatever the findings, good and bad, the study hits home for American Jews because of the special place New York holds in our hearts.

We love New York.

The city was the gateway for millions of Jews who then fanned out across the continent. It would be tough to find a second- or third-generation American Jew who could not find some family connection to the Big Apple. It’s our version of “six degrees of separation.”

New York continues to be the undisputed cultural and religious center of American Jewish life. Accordingly, we need the city’s vibrant Jewish community to remain great. Not to mention the bagels.

On the upside, the study does show that New York’s Jewish communal organizations have mobilized to confront those challenges. Absorption efforts on behalf of Russian immigrants, hot meal programs, affordable housing plans all are under way.

The moral of the story: It’s not that we Jews are hit with new crises. That’s part of life. It’s how we deal with them that matters. The evidence so far indicates we are up to the task, in New York and elsewhere.

Of course we don’t want to drop our guard. To paper over these findings about New York would be a grave mistake. Yet we’re inclined to believe if we can make it there, we can make it anywhere.