1M American Jews Seek Identity Outside Shul

One in Six Seek Alternatives to Synagogue: Poll

By JTA

Published October 10, 2012.
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Some 1 million American Jews – or one in 6 – are actively seeking Jewish expression and engagement outside of synagogue life, according to a new study.

The results of a study released by the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring break down the notion that American Jews either are affiliated with synagogues or have a Jewish identity that revolves around Jewish humor and food with little active connection to Jewish ritual and living.

The poll was conducted between April 19 and May 3 by IPSOS, with Steven M. Cohen and Samuel J. Abrams as the leading researchers. Results were weighted to reflect the American Jewish population by factors such as age, gender, geography and marital status. Among the respondents were 1,000 by Internet.

The respondents overall tended to describe themselves as “cultural” and “spiritual.” Many said they believed in God and still prayed but shied away from congregational life. They showed numerous signs of Jewish engagement, tended to be attached to Israel and placed particular emphasis on economic justice and social equality, according to the study.

As many as 40 percent of the respondents were under the age of 35, nearly three in five fasted on Yom Kippur (approximately three in four of those congregationally affiliated do so) and 46 percent “at least sometimes” have a Friday night Shabbat meal with family and friends. Also, 56 percent said they were “very attached to Israel,” which is larger than any other non-Orthodox group.

Nearly half of the respondents – 49 percent – are married; 18 percent are intermarried. About half, 51 percent, identified as liberals.

In the past, self-defined cultural Jews had a “very passive approach” to Jewish life, Ann Toback, national director of the Workmen’s Circle, said in a news release. The study’s results, she added, show them to be “engaged with Jewish values” and wanting to be part of the Jewish community, “although often outside of a congregation.”

Madelon Braun, president of the Workmen’s Circle, said the poll demonstrates “a real need for a Jewish home for those who do not seek a congregational affiliation.”


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