Jewish Survey Question Bank: A Much-Needed Resource for Jewish Professionals

When I wrote my first survey several years ago, I felt lost… If I had only waited until 2013, my experience would have been completely different. I would have had access to the Jewish Survey Question Bank of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, a treasure trove of questions from Jewish surveys of various types.

by Sarah Bunin Benor

When I wrote my first survey several years ago, one about Jewish language and identity, I felt lost. I did not know how to word questions about Jewish education, denomination, and observance. I drafted some questions and turned to experienced survey writers for help. It took a lot of pre-testing and tweaking before I finally found clear, concise wordings and the most inclusive and appropriate sets of responses.

If I had only waited until 2013, my experience would have been completely different. I would have had access to the Jewish Survey Question Bank of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, a treasure trove of questions from Jewish surveys of various types.

When Steven M. Cohen, the mastermind behind this exciting project, first told me about his plan for a Jewish survey question bank, I thought, “What a great idea. Why hasn’t this been done before?” So many Jewish professionals write their own surveys, often for program evaluation and needs assessment. The JSQB enables them to search for questions that have been tested in the field and tailor them to their needs. This will lead to more professional surveys and ultimately help our organizations to serve the Jewish people more effectively.

Many Jewish organizations want to know the Jewish backgrounds and current practices of their constituents or prospective constituents, as a way of informing their grant applications, programming, and policy decisions. But how should they phrase these questions to get accurate answers? What options should they give in multiple choice questions?

A key component of the JSQB is that users can find surveys and questions tailored to their particular needs. For example, I tried various keyword searches in the JSQB and found several questions about synagogue attendance. If my target population included many Orthodox Jews, I might use this wording, from the 2011 Greater Cleveland Population Survey:

“During the past 12 months, about how often did you personally attend any type of synagogue, temple, or organized Jewish religious service? Not at all; Once or twice a year; Only on special occasions, e.g. Bar Mitzvah, wedding; Only on High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur); A few times a year (3+) in addition to High Holidays; About once a month; Several times a month; About once a week; Several times a week; Daily; Don’t know/not sure; Refused.”

If my target population included few Orthodox Jews, I might use this wording instead, from an impact survey by Blue Star Camps:

“How frequently do you attend synagogue services? Never; Only high holidays; A few times a year; About once a month; A few times a month; Once a week; Several times a week or more.”

Similarly, a professional searching for the appropriate wording for a question about denomination would search for surveys of a population with demographics similar to their community. When I searched for surveys about this topic, I found several ways to ask about denomination, including:

  • “How would you describe your Jewish affiliation?” from a Limmud survey, and
  • “Referring to Jewish religious denominations, what do you consider yourself, if any?”

from a Workmen’s Circle survey.

I also found several sets of options for answers, including:

  • “Orthodox; Conservative; Reconstructionist; Reform; Just Jewish” from an American Jewish Committee survey,
  • “Secular Jewish; Just Jewish/not affiliated with a denomination; Reform; Reconstructionist; Conservative; Orthodox; Interfaith; Not Jewish; Other” from a Jewish Service Learning survey,
  • and this hefty list from the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York: “Orthodox Jew; Conservative Jew; Reform Jew; Reconstructionist Jew; Secular-Humanist Jew; No denomination – Just Jewish; A Messianic Jew (e.g., a Jew for Jesus – a Christian Hebrew – a Completed Jew); Something else (Specify); Conservadox (Conservative and Orthodox); Traditional (Jewish); Sephardic; Jewish Renewal; Hasidic Jew (vol: Satmar, Lubavitch, Chabad, Bobov, Belz); Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox, Agudah); Buddhist Jew; Modern Orthodox; Post-denominational, trans-denominational; Cultural or Cultural Jew; Spanish- Portuguese Jew; Don’t know; Refused.”

I have already seen the benefits of the question bank. In my class “Jewish Social Research: Trends and Analysis” at the HUC-JIR School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, I introduced a beta version of the question bank to my students as I was teaching them how to write questionnaires. They were happy to find that they could search for questions with specific words and browse entire surveys. When they turned in their survey assignments, I found that some of them used questions from a specific survey and explained that they planned to compare their results to those of the surveys that inspired them. As my students proceed to conduct original research for their master’s theses, I expect that some of them will turn to the Question Bank again. And when they go on to work as professionals in Jewish nonprofits around the country, they will remember this resource and recommend it to their colleagues.

There’s no question about it: the Jewish Survey Question Bank will be of great use to students, researchers, and Jewish professionals. Steven Cohen, Seth Chalmer, and others have put a lot of time and effort into making it useful, and I’m happy to see that it’s finally available to the public.

Sarah Bunin Benor is Associate Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College. She is the author of “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism” and the creator of the “Jewish English Lexicon“. She serves on the Academic Oversight Committee for the Jewish Survey Question Bank.

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  1. scott aaron says:

    I am in complete agreement about the benefit this will provide Jewish communal professionals in their work in evaluation and service provision. One of the toughest nuts to crack in Jewish education evaluation in my experience has been the reliance on surveymonkey and similar tools to gather information on how programs are doing. The accessible technology is a boon but the lack of training on what questions to ask by most Jewish education professionals using it has been a bust. We’ve ended up with a lot of information that really doesn’t inform anything and misleads decision-makers like parents and lay leaders about what really is and is not working in their programs. I hope that the JQSB folks (who deserve lots of kavod for doing this) will think about how to teach people who are not trained researchers/evaluators who want to use the databank which questions to ask so they know how to make the best choices from the offered options. Perhaps a video tutorial of some kind on the site? Annotated sample surveys? Otherwise I worry it will be helpful only to those of us trained in this kind of social research and be as unhelpful as surveymonkey to the rest. In the era of DIY, making this type of data-gathering accessible to more people is a real gift to the community.

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