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Communal ties lacking for young Jewish professionals, study shows

JTA

November 10, 2010 | 10:55 am

A new survey shows that younger Jewish professionals are less committed to the Jewish collective than their elders.

The results of the survey of about 2,500 self-identified Jewish community professionals were released this week in New Orleans at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Most Jewish communal professionals grew up with two Jewish parents, had strong Jewish educational backgrounds and spent time in Israel, noted sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who did the pro bono research for the project. He called those factors “strong predictors” of later Jewish engagement.

Women make up two-thirds of all Jewish communal professionals, their median age is 48, and they are paid on average $20,000 less per year than men in comparable positions, according to the survey commissioned by the Jewish Communal Service Association of America.

Among those under 34, the survey showed 28 percent had been on Birthright programs, a higher percentage than one would expect among young Jews in general, Cohen said. That indicates a correlation between participation in Birthright and choosing a career in the Jewish community.

But despite that Israel experience and their strong Jewish backgrounds, these young professionals, like their peers not in communal work, have lower levels of commitment than their older colleagues to what he calls the “Jewish collective,” including Jewish peoplehood, Israel and a sense of Jewish “community.”

The take-away from that, Cohen said, is that the Jewish community cannot count on this generation’s continued engagement on the basis of group loyalty. Their Jewish involvement has to be earned, and Jewish professionals who understand that—their peers—will serve them better than older leaders.

“We’re going through a transition from peoplehood to purpose,” he posited. “Younger Jewish professionals are part of the purpose-driven generation.”

The survey was conducted in the fall of 2009 by the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

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