Young unmarried Jews are just as interested in Judaism as their married peers, a surprising new study shows. What’s different, say co-authors Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, is that they avoid affiliating with synagogues, federations and JCCs in part because those institutions are so focused on the traditional family unit.
Uncoupled: How Our Singles Are Reshaping Jewish Engagement, conducted as part of the Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, with the support of Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, looked at more than 1,700 non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 25 and 39 from the 2007 National Survey of American Jews. The authors compared their behaviors and attitudes to the behaviors and attitudes of inmarried non-Orthodox couples. Say Cohen and Kelman:
As many as 67% of these non-Orthodox singles agree, “I am proud to be a Jew,” slightly surpassing the 66% of in-married Jews who agree. More broadly, single Jews express Jewish pride in many different ways, they are widely and deeply connected to Jewish friends, and they express keen interest in self-directed ways of expressing and exploring their Jewish identities.
Like their married counterparts, single Jews share similar interests in connecting Jewishly. …lack of visible involvement in Jewish life by single young adults ought not to be construed as distancing from being Jewish. Their relatively low levels of measurable Jewish behavior have more to do with the available options for expressing engagement than with the putative absence of interest in things Jewish.
Given the high level of Jewish interest and low rate of communal and ritual involvement among young adult, single Jews, this uncoupled population represents the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk to Judaism in the United States. Single Jews are akin to “swing voters”–they can go either way. How they “vote,” how they make Jewish (or non-Jewish) choices, will determine the future of Jews, Judaism and Jewishness in the United States.
Sue Fishkoff of JTA talked to Cohen:
Because, however, the singles are not seeking out Jewish involvement along traditional institutional lines nearly as often as their married counterparts, that presents a programmatic challenge to the Jewish community, Cohen says.
“Instead of thinking how to bring young Jews to our institutions, we should be thinking how to support young Jews in creating their Jewish lives,” he says.
Another bit of recent news suggests that some in the established Jewish community “get it.” With financial support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the seminaries of the Reform and Conservative movements are joining forces to create a fellowship for eight rabbinical students (four from each movement’s main seminary) to develop strategies to appeal to unaffiliated Jews, including the intermarried and singles.
“Younger Jews are motivated by questions of spiritual journey and personal meaning and less by Jewish continuity and communal identity,” explained Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of JTS.
“They are motivated by ‘universal concerns,'” such as the environment and social justice, he added. “The congregations that are thriving are ones which have learned how to speak and teach in this vocabulary.”
It’s not that young unmarried Jews (like myself) are uninterested in Judaism, they’re just uninterested in Judaism as we know it.
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