Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Are there really as many Jews as 


By Ken Spiro

I travel around the world quite a lot on speaking tours and being the outgoing person that I am; I often try and engage my fellow passengers in conversation.  When they find out that I am from Israel the conversation often gets quite interesting. One of my favorite questions that I like to ask people is: “How many Jews do you think there are in the world?”

The answers I get are fascinating and what’s most fascinating is that almost everyone overestimates the numbers and often by a huge amount.  Over the years I have had at least a half a dozen people tell me that there must be as many Jews in the world as Chinese. This is amazing given the fact that there are 1.3 billion Chinese in the world and they are the most populous nation on the planet.

The reality is very different.  It’s estimated that the total world Jewish population is somewhere between 12.5- to 13 million and that the Jewish people are only .2% of the world’s population.  (An interesting little factoid: In the Chinese census in 1995, when their population reached 1.2 billion, the margin of error in the census was +/- 48 million people.  This means that 4 times more Chinese where missing from their census than there are Jews on the planet earth!!)  When I tell people how many Jews are really in the world they often react with shock and disbelief.

The real question is why do people think that there are so many more Jews than there really are?  The answer is twofold:

 One reason people think there are so many Jews is the Diaspora (which is a Greek word meaning “scattering.”).  The fact is that for the last 2,500 years the vast majority of the Jewish people have lived outside their national homeland, scattered around the globe.  I often say that the three most ubiquitous products on the planet earth (you find them everywhere) are Jews, McDonalds and Coca Cola.  Some places have Jews, Burger King and Pepsi, but everyone has Jews. This for sure is one of the big reasons why people so overestimate the world’s Jewish population.  There may be only a few of them, but no matter where you go you always seem to bump into them.

The other reason is that Jews are so disproportionately impactful.  For a tiny people they make a huge noise. Whatever Jews do, for better or for worse, they tend to do it BIG.  The statistics on Jewish impact on the world are quite amazing: 

-The fact that Jews are 1.7% of the U.S. population but comprise about 10% of the professionals and 10% of university students. (In the Ivy League schools the proportion is far higher than 10%)

-The fact that Jews are .2% of the world’s population but have won about 23% of all Nobel prizes since 1901

-The fact that if you take pretty much any cause to make the world a better place in the last 100 years: socialism, communism, feminism, black civil rights, anti-apartheid, labor unions, Doctors without Borders; Amnesty International etc.,  you will find that if it isn’t founded by a Jew, it’s overwhelming and disproportionately run by Jews

And so on and so on…..

There’s no question that the combination of these two factors is responsible for the impression that there are so many more Jews in the world then there really are.
The weirdest part of all of this is these two factors are really quite contradictory-a tiny people, scattered around the world should barely be noticed but when it comes the Jews, the opposite is true. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best when he wrote:

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of smoke lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought Hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of Proportion to the smallness of his bulk.

His contributions to the world's list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning, are also way out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all ages: and has done it with his hands tied behind him.                                                        
All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

This is just one of the many fascinating and mysterious aspects of the Jewish people and their amazing, almost supernatural history. As to why this is so, I’ll have to save that for a later blog.

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