Activity: Making Sense Of Numbers

The aim of this activity is to examine the trends in the Jewish world, to think about the Jewish future and to prepare the students for the next part of the program, which will deal with the place of Israel in the modern Jewish world.

Here are approximate world Jewish population figures for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The figures are given in millions, firstly for the whole world and then for each continent separately. Figures for individual countries have not been given in order to ease absorption of the material. However, a number of specifics should then be borne in mind: the State of Israel is included in Asia. The Asian numbers have therefore swelled enormously over the last half-century. However, the figures for Asia are also deceptive since there has been substantial internal emigration inside Asia from different countries to the State of Israel. This internal migration is not reflected in the figures. The postwar decline in Europe’s Jewish population is caused substantially by the emigration of very large numbers of Jews from the lands of the former Soviet Union, to Israel, Europe and the English speaking world. The dip in the mid-twentieth century is of course the result of the Holocaust.

1800 3.28 2.73 0.3 0.24 0.01 0.0005
1850 4.7 4.1 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.002
1880 7.66 6.8 0.3 0.3 0.25 0.01
1914 13.52 9.1 0.5 0.4 3.5 0.018
1939 16.62 9.5 1.0 0.6 5.5 0.02
1948 11.53 3.7 1.3 0.7 5.8 0.03
1967 13.57 3.5 2.9 0.2 6.9 0.07
2000 13.29 1.6 5.0 0.1 6.5 0.09
  • Give the students these figures. Tell that they have been invited to prepare a presentation on the modern Jewish world for the forthcoming conference of the World Jewish Congress, which has decided to devote itself to an examination of long-term trends in the Jewish world.
  • Working in pairs or small groups, they must prepare the following things:
  1. a graphical presentation of the above statistical material. The presentation may be in the form of pie charts or any alternative form of display. Its goal is to make the main demographic developments in the Jewish world as clear and as striking as possible,. It does not have to display all of the above material, but should focus on the material necessary to emphasize the most important and dramatic changes, both long-term and more recent.
  2. The above material is necessary to support the main part of the presentation, which is an assessment of the three or four most important developments that the material reveals. What are the most important trends that the World Jewish Congress must be made aware of in its attempt to understand changes and developments? How can these trends be explained?
  3. The students must also try to predict the main demographic developments that they expect to occur in the Jewish world over the next fifty years. What do they think will happen to the numbers of Jews in the different centers? Once again, they are being asked here to isolate the most important trends, as they see them.
  • Give the students time to work on their presentations. This is not an easy exercise: it demands thought (and possibly extra research). Finally, they should bring their presentations to a class meeting at which each group should give a brief five-to-seven-minute presentation on the first two points. List and discuss the trends; suggest and examine explanations for these trends.
  • Finally the groups should present their scenarios for the developments of the next generation. Discuss and assess them. What do they consider the most important Jewish demographic trend at present? What are its implications? If there are any Jewish professionals or academics in the community with the knowledge and background to assess the students’ analyses and predictions, it would be very valuable for them to be present and to respond to the students’ findings.



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10 Dec 2006 / 19 Kislev 5767 0