Next year in Jerusalem?

Germany has the world's fastest-growing Jewish population.

One of Judaism's hottest schools of spiritual renewal has its roots in Argentina.

Jews in Atlanta set out to raise $25 million and ended up with $50 million, including nearly $5 million poured into the project by Coca-Cola -- a corporate pillar of the old Protestant South.

These are snapshots of modern Judaism. Get used to it.

"Obviously, when people think of Judaism they think of Israel and that's as it should be," said journalist Larry Tye, author of a provocative travelogue entitled "Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora."

"But right now, anyone who wants to see what is happening in Judaism needs to look outside of Israel. If you just focus on Israel, you can't see the big picture."

When Tye talks about the diaspora, he is referring to Jewish communities that exist and often thrive outside of Israel. While Israel remains the unique homeland, the Boston Globe veteran is convinced most Jews increasingly feel at home in a wide variety of lands. In fact, the diaspora Jewish communities have "more in common with each other than with the Jewish state as they search for spiritual and religious meaning in a largely non-Jewish world."

Nevertheless, the Passover Seders that start next week -- the season begins Wednesday at sundown -- will end with Jewish believers reciting this vow: "Next year in Jerusalem!"

"The words will stay the same, but the meaning is changing," said Tye. "Most Jews don't want to move to Jerusalem. They are doing just fine where they are."

If Tye sounds upbeat about modern Judaism, that's because he is. While researching his book, he traveled from Germany to Ukraine, from Argentina to Ireland, and from France to the United States -- the Bible-Belt South as well as the urban Northeast.

But he knows many do not share his optimism. Debates about the health of Judaism have been driven by two statistics -- soaring intermarriage rates and the falling numbers of Jews in pews. There are 20 percent fewer Jews today than when the Holocaust began. Then again, notes Tye, there are three times as many Jews right now than there were a century before the Holocaust.

"Everything I heard said that these numbers were going way down and that they would keep going down," he said, during a South Florida pilgrimage. "Yet I kept visiting Jewish communities around the world and what I was seeing with my own eyes was not jibing with what I was hearing. ... I know that the bad news stories are real. But there is good news out there, too."

Yes, an infamous 1990 survey of American Jews found that the rate of Jews marrying non-Jews had topped 50 percent. Then again, researchers found that the intermarriage rate had actually fallen 10 percent among those who openly claimed and practiced their Jewish faith.

Here's another Tye snapshot. Half of Atlanta's Jews have no ties that bind them to any Jewish institution. That's bad. But the other half of the Jewish community is so active in worship and educational activities that it seems everyone is building a new synagogue. That's good.

"Where does that leave us? The overall number of Jews probably will continue to decline, while many of those at the periphery will continue drifting away to atheism, Buddhism or nothing at all," according to Tye. Yet wherever he traveled, Jewish leaders rejoiced at the growth of their cultural and, yes, even their religious programs. When asked about the future, Jewish leaders around the world recited variations on this mantra: "Fewer Jews, but better Jews."

Tye is convinced this surge in diaspora energy and innovation will eventually lead to changes in Israel. After all, there are four times as many Israelis living in America as there are American Jews living in Israel. New ideas flow both ways, now.

"Again we see the role of the diaspora in Judaism today," he said. "Israel is increasingly looking to the diaspora to learn how to have a healthy, pluralistic Jewish community. ... For many modern Jews, Israel has come to represent hierarchy and law. Meanwhile, life in the diaspora has come to represent the freedom of the individual and a kind of creative chaos."