Jewish Identity Among My Generation (of Ladies) in the U.S.
by Vicki Boykis
Here’s a study Peter Beinart can use in his next article. Pete, call me!
I was recently asked by a friend to participate in a study conducted by Ariella Goldfein of JTS on Jewish identity among Jewish women of North America. She writes in the results,
Over 400 women participated in the study, which yielded more data than my initial analysis was able to incorporate. My focus for this first analysis was childhood and adolescent synagogue experiences and perceptions as a factor in self-defined Jewish identity among Conservative, Conservadox and Modern Orthodox emerging adult Jewish women. As there is much more that can be gleaned from the high number of responses, I hope to utilize this data for future study.
As a little bit of preface, almost three quarters of the women who took the study were single, all were in the 18-30 age group, almost half had bachelors’ degrees, and the greatest proportion described themselves as having been raised Conservative, followed by Reform, Conservadox, MO, and then little dangly groups like me who had a menorah next to a New Year’s Tree next to a picture of Golda Meir next to a Russian Orthodox icon at home.
I wish someone smarter than me in both Jewish American life and survey design would analyze these results and tell me what it all means. There is lots and lots of interesting stuff. Unfortunately, I can’t share all of the data, but what seems to have come out of this survey is that most of the women who took the survey had some kind of Jewish upbringing, regardless of denomination, and that more than half of participants observed Shabbat in their homes once a week. Additionally, almost 70% of the women in the study were strongly encouraged by their families to be involved in Jewish life.
What’s most encouraging is that, as a result, almost 75% of all participants strongly agree that they feel strongly identified as a Jew; however, the number of women that went on a Birthright trip is extremely low (less than 30%).
The survey, in general, tends to affirm that women that are raised in more religious households with a positive attitude towards Judaism and in institutions that support women’s active role in Judaism, will continue to practice Judaism and connection to Jewish community in their own homes. But support for Israel is not as evident as support for Jewish rituals, at least with respect to studying in Israel, going on Birthright, and participating in non-religious, non-denominational but Israel-oriented organizations such as Friends of the IDF, AIPAC, etc. However, most of the respondents did reply that a large part of being Jewish for them did involve supporting Israel.
It’s apparent that Jewish traditions and religious observances still continue to be an important of our lives. But, how does my generation of women feel about Israel? Still not a clue from either this study or Beinart’s article.
For instance, this study doesn’t focus on unaffiliated Jewish ladies such as myself, you know the Russian Jews. We don’t go to services, don’t observe Shabbat, and aren’t always even aware of all the cultural/religious Jewish community options available to us. Hagshama, JNF, AIPAC, and ROI are a weird jumble of acronyms that have nothing to do with us. Yet, due to the strong influence of our parents, we are enormously pro-Israel. We go on special Russian Birthrights, talk to our relatives in Israel on Skype, and many of us watch Fox News solely for information about Israel. We are a huge untapped demographic that no one in the Israel-oriented community discusses. Yes, we look, dress, and talk exactly like all other American Jewish women, but our attitudes about Israel are different and passionate. Does anyone study at young Persian Jewish women, etc., in the United States? I’m betting the results will be similar.
What constitutes interest in Israel and support in Israel? How can pundits or studies nail down how an entire generation or gender feels about a country? The short answer is that they can, and they can’t. Every study and every opinion needs to be pored over people like Ariella who understand the results and implications.
It’s clear that studies can provide evidence either way depending on how you’d like to frame your latest editorial piece.
Vicki Boykis is an international trade analyst and product manager in Washington, D.C.
This post originally appeared in Jewlicious; reprinted with permission.