BOB ABERNETHY: Here's another statistic, not as scientific, but it intrigued us. It seems as many as one third of American Buddhists are Jews. Some of you noticed this connection as well. Last fall, after our stories on American Buddhism were aired, several people called asking about these ties between Jews and Buddhism. So what is it about Buddhism that attracts so many Jews? And what does this mean for Judaism? We asked our chief correspondent, Maureen Bunyan, to find out.
MAUREEN BUNYAN: They've come to be known as Jew-Bus, a nickname for the surprising high number of Jews exploring Buddhism. Although Jews make up almost slightly more than two percent of the total American population, as many as 30 percent of American Buddhists are Jewish.
Rabbi ALAN LEW (Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco): Buddhism and Judaism are both mindfulness practices. They are both based on the direct experience of this world. And I think this makes them different from other religions.
BUNYAN: Whatever the similarities, the fact remains that some Jews are looking to Buddhism rather than Judaism for the answers they seek.
Rabbi LEW: Judaism is a deep, profound, rich spiritual path. But you would hardly know that from what you saw in the American synagogue.
BUNYAN: For many Jews, the heart of that profound and rich spiritual path was lost in the Holocaust. Among the millions of European Jews murdered were some 80 percent of its rabbis and spiritual teachers.
RODGER KAMENETZ (Author, THE JEW IN THE LOTUS): After the shock of the Holocaust, there was a kind of emphasis on survival, on building things up, building synagogues and institutions. And that was necessary.
SYLVIA BOORSTEIN (Author, THAT'S FUNNY, YOU DON'T LOOK BUDDHIST): What's been increasingly left has been the ritual of the forum and in the face of modernity.
BUNYAN: Another reason Jews are looking beyond their own religion is the tolerant, progressive nature of Judaism itself.
Ms. BOORSTEIN: Intellectual inquiry was very much emphasized. People were encouraged to respect other religious traditions, actually, to look at them or to study them. So I think people felt empowered to go and look.
Rabbi Z. SCHACTER- SHALOMI (Professor Emeritus of Religion, Temple University): Christianity, for many Jews, has the sense that you're leaving Judaism, you're betraying your heritage and so on. Somehow, with Buddhism, it didn't feel that way.
BUNYAN: That's because being a Buddhist doesn't require a formal break from Judaism.
Ms. BOORSTEIN: You don't have to take a vow. You don't have to leave anything or join anything or sign up for anything. All you have to do is come and see.
NORMAN FISCHER: And historically, at this moment, Buddhism is extremely accessible, because people find that -- never mind all the Asian trappings, just sit down, cross your legs, breathe, and don't move for a half an hour, and something happens.
BUNYAN: Something happened for Norman Fischer when he embraced Buddhism in 1970. Raised as a conservative Jew, today Fischer is Co-Abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center.
Mr. FISCHER: For many years I practiced Buddhism and did not have anything to do with Judaism at all, but the illness and death of my parents, to honor them, brought me back, and also just my karma, to have a dear, dear friend, who is a fellow dharma student, who became a rabbi.