A new report based on surveys commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation over the last two years demonstrates the prevailing challenges and opportunities that the American Jewish community faces in regard to its institutions, safety, unity, and more.
The report released today, “The American Jewish Community: Trends and Changes in Engagement and Perceptions,” analyzes two surveys conducted by the Mellman Group — which polled 2,500 Jewish American adults in December 2019, and then returned to survey 1,000 Jewish adults from the same group in November of 2021. According to the Foundation, this recontact research method is rarely used when it comes to the Jewish community.
Thirty-two percent of respondents said that between work, family, and other obligations, they simply do not have time to be involved with Jewish organizations and institutions.
Twenty-eight percent said that Jewish organizations were simply not a high priority for them. Among respondents who are unengaged with Jewish organizations, 36% said that being involved was not a priority, and 34% said they did not have the time. Lack of time was also the top obstacle (29%) to involvement for those respondents who do maintain some level of engagement with those organizations.
Political partisanship “here and in Israel” was a very important reason for not being involved with Jewish organizations for 23% of the engaged and 21% of the unengaged respondents.
Further, 36% of those who are engaged with Jewish organizations and 49% of the unengaged did not have any opinion about their local Jewish Federation, while 28% of the engaged and 39% of the unengaged had no impression of their local Jewish Community Center (JCC).
"This comprehensive report reviews multiple facets of the current experience of American Jews and suggests, among others, that a large portion of the Jewish population currently is not engaged in Jewish organizations, nor has strong aspirations to be," said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. "We hope the findings act as a catalyst to minimize these future gaps and find solutions together as one collective community."
In a more encouraging development for Jewish institutions and organizations, a majority of respondents reported that COVID-19 has not hurt them financially. Only 8% of American Jews reported that their charitable giving to those entities has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nine percent of all respondents, and nearly one in five of respondents who are engaged with Jewish organizations, gave more than they did before the pandemic. More than 66% said that there was no change in their scope or frequency of giving.
With the issue of antisemitism taking center stage in the public eye amid the controversies surrounding the rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West) and basketball star Kyrie Irving, findings from the survey that were released earlier this year have gained renewed relevance.
Prior to today’s release of the full report, the Ruderman Family Foundation had revealed in January that in this survey, 93% of American Jews expressed concern with the current levels of antisemitism in the U.S. Additionally, nearly half of respondents (42%) said that they have experienced antisemitism either directly or through family and friends over the past five years alone.
Also gaining relevance amid recent developments was the survey’s revelation that the primary reasons behind American Jews’ declining attachment to Israel revolve around perceptions about former U.S. President Donald Trump as well as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now slated to return to the premiership if he can build a governing coalition.
A 60% majority of respondents in 2019 said that “Netanyahu’s support for President Trump and his policies” was a very important reason for feeling less connected to Israel. In the next tier of reasons were policy concerns surrounding the treatment of Palestinians (deemed very important by 45% of respondents) and settlements (47%).
In 2021, with both Trump and Netanyahu having lost their reelection bids, the most important reasons for feeling less connected were the “right-wing or ultra-religious parties'' (53% very important) followed by “settlement policies'' (49%) and “treatment of the Palestinians'' (46%).