Archive for the ‘Puerto Rico’ Category

Democracy in America Revisited– Defining America’s Current Political Identity [Seventh of a Series]


You can’t stretch a shared political identity so far that it becomes overly abstract and therefore impossible for people to articulate in a way that everyone can easily understand it.

Think of this statement in the context of the Presidential debates in the current election. Why is the media obsessively focused on candidate mis-statements regarding their exposure to ‘sniper fire’ or commenting on how social alienation can lead to ‘clinging to guns and religion’. Why does it take 43 minutes into a debate for George Stephanopolous to ask the Democratic Party candidates the first substantive question on the economy, which he acknowledges as the most important issue in the election? Should candidate gaffes be defining elements of campaign momentum and qualifications for Presidential leadership? Not in my view.

American citizens span the spectrum from evangelical Christians to ardent atheists; from observant Muslims to secular and orthodox Jews. Ethnically, American citizens include Mexican Americans, African Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, European Americans, Russian Americans, and many other ethnicities. The definition of family in America now includes traditional marriages, same sex marriages, and no marriages. It is uneasy for societies to live with a complex narrative of citizenship forged from the richness of diversity that has made the melting pot of America historically great.

The rise of Evangelical Christian religious fundamentalism in America and Muslim fundamentalism in the rapidly modernizing societies of the Third World each share a reactive thread in opposition to the forced acknowledgement of diversity highlighted to all of us by the Internet. These movements, which are organized attempts to re-assert a single identity and to fight social complexity, trigger equally negative reactions form those that are left out of the picture. A complex world where differences are heightened because everyone is aware of everyone else requires nations to grapple with a complex narrative of citizenship. America’s great historical achievement as a pluralistic society stems from its immigrant melting pot roots and from the strong democratic institutions that have evolved over 232 years to embrace this complexity. Let’s not forget this in the 21st century.

More Jewish Geography– Israel vs. the San Francisco Bay Area

When people talk about Jews and Israel, many appear to view the Jews as a monolithic group. This would be a mistake. My previous post shows that, as a percentage of the world’s population, the Jews are barely a rounding error at approximately 13.3 million out of a global population of 6.6 billion, or 0.20%. Further, there are more Jews in the United States than in Israel, and the Jews in the United States account for approximately 1.9% of the 295 million Americans.

So how are the Jews divided between themselves? First, most people who identify themselves as Jews do not observe their own religion—either in Israel or in the United States. Second, in Israel, a monopoly on Jewish ritual observance has been granted by the government to the ultra-orthodox or haredim, who account for only about 6% of the Jewish population, in return for their support of the majority governing coalition in the Knesset (Jewish Parliament). Wikipedia provides us with some important statistics about Israel’s divided Jewish population:

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2004, 76.2% of Israelis were Jews by religion. Muslims made up 16.1% of Israelis, 2.1% were Christian, 1.6% were Druze and the remaining 3.9% (including Russian immigrants and some Jews) were not classified by religion.[2]

Official figures do not exist as to the number of atheists or otherwise non-affiliated individuals, who may comprise up to a quarter of the population referred to as Jewish.

According to one study, 6% of Israeli Jews define themselves as haredim (or Ultra-Orthodox); an additional 9% are "religious" (predominantly orthodox, also known in Israel as: Zionist-religious, national-religious and Kepot Srogot); 34% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish Halakha); and 51% are "secular". Among the seculars, 53% say they believe in God(s).

I have also reviewed the 2004 Jewish Community Study published by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties, which reveals very interesting demographic information about the Bay Area Jewish community. Since 1984, the Bay Area Jewish population has increased by a whopping 91% to approximately 228,000 people. Recognizing that the Bay Area may is more liberal than the rest of the United States and that Northern California Jews may be among the most liberal people in the world, a side by side comparison of the religious identification between Bay Area Jews and Israel’s Jews is very interesting:

2004 Data



SF Bay Area



















Jewish Renewal




At most, 15% of Israeli Jews are Orthodox, compared to 3% in the Bay Area. By any standard, this represents a very small minority.

Why are there no Conservative or Reform Jews in Israel? Because, according to the State of Israel, Reform and Conservative Judaism do not officially exist. (There are Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel, with active congregations, but they receive no State funding, whereas the Orthodox synagogues are richly supported by the State.)

Meanwhile, 55% of Bay Area Jews are either Reform or Conservative (I grew up as a Conservative Jew in Puerto Rico and now belong to one of the largest Reform congregations in the United States, San Francisco’s Temple Emanu El). Approximately 1.5 million, or 26%, of American Jews are Reform out of 5.7 million Jews in the U.S.

34% of Israeli Jews are “traditionalist”. I don’t know what that means, but I am guessing that it means they would be either Reform or Conservative if that option existed in Israel. (Reform and Conservative Judaism have emerged over different intepretations of Halakha.)

And a whopping 51% of Israeli Jews are “secular”, meaning non-observant. This means that 85% of Israeli Jews operate OUTSIDE of the only recognized Jewish religious practice—orthodoxy.And this is a Jewish state that is a democracy?

According to the Federation Survey, between 53% and 80% of Bay Area Jews, divided by age group and family unit, belong to “NOTHING”. This means that, while they may describe themselves as Reform or Conservative or Reconstructionist or Orthodox, they are, for all intents and purposes, unaffiliated with an organized Jewish religious organization.

So there are many similarities between the San Francisco Bay Area’s Jews and the Jews of the State of Israel—most of them are unaffiliated, very few are orthodox, and the majority in both countries are not recognized by the Jewish State as being eligible for official recognition and support.

To be clear, I am an active supporter of Israel in both business and in my philanthropy, and I feel great solidarity with the people of Israel during these times of extreme angst and turmoil. But one might think that, with all of the tragedy we have endured as a people for thousands of years, with our dwindling numbers, and with the increasing trend of anti-Semitism in this world, we Jews could find more reasons to come together than to remain fragmented in the Diaspora.

Where are the World’s Jews?

I often hear wild estimates about the number of Jews in the world, so I decided to get to some reliable facts about how many Jews there are in the world and reveal where they live.  Below is some demographic information about the world’s Jewish population that is very interesting. 

Data as of 2002

Global Jewish Population
Country Population
Israel       5,025,000
United States       5,700,000
France          519,000
Canada          364,000
United Kingdom          273,500
Russia          265,000
Argentina          195,000
Germany          103,000
Ukraine          100,000
Australia            99,000
All Other          652,600
Global Total     13,296,100

Source: The Jewish Agency for Israel

To the extent that the number of Jews in Israel has increased since 2002, I believe that this would be largely attributable to immigration from the former Soviet Union (principally Russia and the Ukraine) and, more recently, from Argentina.  I do not believe that there has been a major change in the absolute number of Jews in the world, so we can consider this data to be pretty accurate.

With the exception of the countries listed above, there are far fewer than 100,000 Jews in every other country in the world.

For example, Spain, the former booming Iberian center of Jewish intellectual and commercial activity until all of the Jews were expelled in August 1492– currently hosts approximately 12,000 Jews out of a total population of 40 million people.  When I was in Spain last summer, I was told by a Jewish guide in Cordoba that, if you ask random Spaniards how many Jews live in the country, estimates will range from 100,000 to 1 million.

When I arrived in Argentina last December, our driver who met us at the airport, as part of his guided driving commentary on the way to our hotel, informed us matter of factly that, of course, the Jews of Buenos Aires control the country’s economy.  There are only 195,000 of these dominant Jews out of 37 million Argentinians. Sadly, a prominent Jewish businessman that I visited in Argentina regretted that he and his buddies do not control the country.  This blew my driver’s credibility– we didn’t use him again.

And, of course, there are 1,500 Jews in Puerto Rico out of 3.9 million people living on the island.

By these 2002 statistics, 77% of all Israeli citizens are Jews, with the balance breaking down into roughly 20% Arabs (both Muslim and Christian), and about 3% other faiths. 

Not only are there more Jews in the United States than in Israel, but 79% of American Jews are found in the following cities:

U.S. City Jewish Population
New York City            2,051,000
Los Angeles               668,000
SE Florida               498,000
Philadelphia               285,000
Chicago               265,000
Boston               254,000
San Francisco               218,000
Washington               166,000
Baltimore               106,000
Total            4,511,000

Now that we have a handle on exactly how many Jews there are in the world, more information will follow on the religious affiliations of these American Jews to get some insight into the percentages of Jews that are orthodox, reform, conservative, reconstructionist, and, of course, non-observant and unaffiliated, or, as they say in Tel Aviv, secular.

Puerto Ricans Meet at Masada

We had been walking around the forbidding Masada Plateau for about half an hour in the 105 degree heat.  I felt a little dazed, but would really be dazed in a moment,

Looking at a group of spanish speakers about 20 yards away,  I said to my wife, "Isn’t that a Puerto Rican flag they are carrying over there?"

"Are you crazy, of course not." she asserted.

But there it was, and there they were– 26 Puerto Ricans on a college trip led by Universidad del Sagrado Corazon Professor of Theology Jose Lazaro– my kinsmen from the home island, and I had to travel to Masada, deep in the heart of a mineralized baking oven known as the Dead Sea, to meet them.

We talked about old times– (donde viven ustedes en la isla?), and new times (como van las cosas, tan mal como dicen en los periodicos?)–

I haven’t been back to Puerto Rico since 1989. Professor Lazaro didn’t know about blogs before our conversation– now he does and hopefully he will look mine up and see all of us together.

What a delightful surprise– something tells me we were all meant to be at Masada together today.


He said the economic problems of the island are not as bad as they have been reported to be. "On an island, when people talk, small pebbles become boulders and an insect bite becomes a pain in the …"

What Happened to Puerto Rico?

When I grew up on the island of Puerto Rico in the 1960’s, little did I know that I was living through the brief "heyday" of Puerto Rico’s over 100 year history as part of the United States. 

Both The New York Times and The Economist have devoted some recent ink to the sorry tale of "la isla del encanto". The bottom line is resoundingly bad, and the most interesting thing about the recent press coverage is that Puerto Rico’s current plight is the result of decades of poorly conceived investment subsidies and welfare transfer payments.

As a child, I knew that being born in Puerto Rico made me an American citizen, but our family could not vote for the President of the United States.  We also did not pay federal income taxes.  U.S. companies such as the one that employed my father– the Harwood Corporation based in New York City– a then-publicly-held textile manufacturing concern, took advantage of tax breaks– the most advantageous and best known being Section 936, which was only finally phased out in 2005.

Another thing I knew about Puerto Rico in the 60’s and early 70’s was that a lot of people were on welfare and found it more attractive to hang out, receive monthly checks from Uncle Sam, and maybe earn a little money working off-the-books in the "grey" economy, while avoiding the "stress" of serious work–  and guess what?  Having the option to do nothing and get paid seems to be at the root of the crisis in unemployment and the underutilization of a well-educated workforce that cripples Puerto Rico today.

So how bad are things in Puerto Rico?

Acccording to The Economist

*Puerto Rico’s annual income per person in 2004 was around $12,000, less than half that of Mississippi, which is the poorest state in the U.S.

*Over 48% of the people on the island live below the federally defined poverty line– this is 4x the national average and 2x the misery in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

* Best estimates of unemployemnt on the island range from 45% to 55%.

* Federal transfer payments (welfare) to the island still make up over 20% of the island’s personal income.

*Despite Puerto Rico’s beautiful beaches (and great sailing and surfing and diving) jobs in tourism engage a lower share of the workforce in Puerto Rico than in any of the 50 states.

*Around 30% of the island’s jobs are in the public sector, so Puerto Rico can boast of a bloated bureaucracy.

The Economist concludes the following:

"… Most important, however, is that the United States government assumed too big a role in the Puerto Rican economiy, and its largess enabled the commonwealth’s government to do the same.  Through hubris, clumsiness, and sheer size, these governments knocked Puerto Rico off the promising path that it was following, and the island’s economy is now lost in a thicket of bad incentives.  Two federal intrusions stand out: an oversized welfare state, and misguided rules on business investment…. Manuel Reyes, of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, also sees little hope that the government’s role will shrink. ‘There is no light at the end of the tunnel,’, he says, ‘because we are still in denial’."

My father was the President of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association before his death in 1974.  Because he was an optimist, I know he would not have accepted "being in denial" as an answer.  I also know he would be saddened to see where the road has led for this beautiful place that, ironically, remains left behind as a commonwealth that is part of the United States.

Que lastima!