Pew Research Center to release new Jewish population study

Leading Jewish organizations are hosting events to discuss and dissect the findings

Tomorrow, the Pew Research Center will release “Jewish Americans in 2020,” the follow-up to its first-ever comprehensive survey of the American Jewish community, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” released in 2013.

Like the 2013 report, the new one will provide information about the population’s size and ethnic makeup, in addition to attitudes about religious practice and Jewish identity. While the Jewish community does its own studies at the local level by federations and nationally by such academic centers as Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Pew’s survey is the biggest in terms of the number of people surveyed, and the number of questions asked.

The last report had an impact on the behavior of Jewish philanthropists, spurring a more open approach to intermarried families and investments in diverse sources of Jewish identity, such as arts and culture, Andres Spokoiny, CEO of the Jewish Funders Network, told eJewishPhilanthropy, adding that such studies are valuable tools, but should be used carefully: “Studies shouldn’t be taken in isolation,” he said. “One has to consider the limitations of every survey-based study.”

The Pew studies shape Jewish understanding of communal needs and preferences and are used by professionals and funders to set strategy and make decisions. It is itself the product of philanthropic support, made possible by the Pew Charitable Trusts with a contribution by the Philadelphia-based Neubauer Family Foundation.

“I’m always eager to have reliable quantitative data, especially from well-respected sources. The more that Jewish communal decision-making can be based on empirical evidence, the better,” said Felicia Herman, director of the JCRIF Aligned Grant Program, the consortium of foundations created at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic for the purposes of rapid response.

Several major Jewish organizations are holding webinars to discuss and analyze the findings, starting with the Jewish Federations of North America, whose web event tomorrow will be held in partnership with the Pew Research Center. Alan Cooperman, Pew’s director of religion research, will moderate a discussion on Wednesday for the Jewish People Policy Institute. 

The Jewish Funders Network will hold a program next week, as will the Orthodox Union. The Cohen Center at Brandeis University will hold a series of briefings for federations, organizations and funders to help them draw out the report’s implications for policy and program planning in the Jewish community.