Sociologist Jack Wertheimer released some preliminary findings Monday morning of a report that the Avi Chai Foundation has commissioned into young Jewish leaders.
A team of six researchers studied Jews aged 22 to 40 who serve as Jewish leaders — defined as those who have spearheaded new Jewish initiatives, direct existing mainstream Jewish organizations or are thought to be leaders or activists on Jewish endeavors.
The researchers interviewed some 250 leaders across the United States, but claim to have identified more than 3,000 who might be considered young Jewish leaders. The complete report, which is part of the research that Avi Chai — a $700 million foundation, according to some estimates — is conducting as it endeavors to spend down all of its assets by 2020. The full study will be released sometime this summer.
Among the key findings released by Wertheimer:
- The Jewish leaders do not feel threatened by anti-Semitism.
- They prefer to reject us-them relationships with non-Jews and want to be inclusive of non-Jews in their programming.
- They hold strong views on the organized Jewish community and need for new ways of organizing it and are critical of federations, traditional synagogues and agencies that engage in protective activities.
- While many believe that most young Jewish leaders totally buck the mainstream of Judaism, the report suggests that a large segment actually is involved in organizations such as Jewish federations, Friends of the IDF and AIPAC. "It’s not true they want nothing to do with traditional causes, especially those who are economically secure and relate to the networking core of traditional Jewish organizations.”
- Approximately 40 percent of Jewish leaders attended day school; only 10-11 percent of those are Orthodox.
- Two-thirds attended Jewish summer camps.
- Half have spent more than four months studying in Israel.
- They believe that Jewish peoplehood means the celebration of Diaspora Jewish culture that is rich, diverse and inclusive.
- While many assume that progressive young Jews are hostile to Israel, Wertheimer says that also is not the case, according to what he and his researchers found, though it is true that most do not see Israel as central to Jewish identity and peoplehood, and there is a broad range of how much criticism about Israel they can tolerate.
Wertheimer is looking at the report as proof — or refutation — of several ideas. Many on the Israeli side of the Jewish world have asserted in recent years that the North American Jewish community suffers from a paucity of committed Jews.
But the survey results say otherwise, according to Wertheimer.
"It is not true that the American Jewish community is suffering from a dearth of knowledgeable and committed leaders coming out of the young community," he said. "We have young leaders who involve themselves in the mainstream Jewish world."
But Wertheimer said that some of this data is difficult to evaluate because the Jewish community has abandoned its National Jewish Population Survey, the census of the Jewish community that the federation system use to conduct every decade or so.
"The absence of up-to-date national data on the American Jewish population and its failure to launch in 2010 leaves a gaping information vacuum for anyone who wants to formulate opinions or philosophies," he said. "We are flying blind."