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Top takeaways from the new Pew study: Chabad, Israel, Jewish food and more

The Pew Research Center’s new report, “Jewish Americans in 2020,” is nearly 250-pages long and asked 4,718 respondents about a wide range of topics. Do they watch Jewish television shows? Would they prefer their grandchildren marry a Jew or share their political beliefs? How closely do they follow news about Israel? You can read our full write-up of the report, and we’ll be rolling out more coverage in coming days — but here are five of the most interesting takeaways from the study, Pew’s first broad look at American Jews since 2013.

1. There’s less middleground for young Jews

Young Jews are far more likely to be very observant — with 17% of those 18 to 29 identifying as Orthodox — or not very observant, with Reform Jews and those affiliated with no particular branch making up a combined 70% of young Jewish adults. Both the Reform and Conservative movements are losing young adherents as the Orthodox and those with no affiliation make gains. This underscores what Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, who is part of a progressive modern Orthodox movement, says is a case of religious polarization at a time of upheaval for Americans torn between multiculturalism and tribalism. “There’s very little middleground there,” Yanklowitz said.

Meanwhile, the Reform movement appears to be doing a better job of holding onto young Jews than the Conservatives. Twenty-nine percent of Jews 18 to 29 identify as Reform, compared to just 8 percent who consider themselves Conservative. Amy Asin, vice president for congregations at the Union for Reform Judaism, credited the movement’s robust camping program and youth groups and said they are always look for ways to bring more young Jews into the fold. “It’s a two-way street,” Asin said. “There’s a whole segment of youth who are out there doing incredible things that we want to connect to.”

2. Chabad draws a diverse — but limited — following of American Jews

For the first time in its surveys of Jews, Pew asked about Chabad, the Orthodox movement that offers Jewish programming across the United States. Researchers found that 16% of American Jews participate in Chabad’s activities “often” or “sometimes,” including services. But of those who participate “often” or “sometimes,” 27% are Reform, 26% are Conservative and 16% are unaffiliated. Another 21% of U.S. Jews said they “rarely” attended Chabad activities, for a total of 37% who have participated in some kind of Chabad programming at least once.

3. Jewish support for Israel remains high, but lower among young Jews

Eighty percent of American Jews say “caring about Israel is an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them,” according to the Pew survey. But that topline number buries some nuance: 41% of Jews say they are not very, or at all, emotionally attached to Israel and 42% say they don’t closely follow news about the Jewish state. When it comes to the movement to boycott Israel, 43% of American Jews oppose it while 10% are strongly or somewhat in favor. Young Jews 18 to 29 are more likely to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — with 13% in favor and 34% opposed — but Jews who do not identify as Jewish in a religious sense, and those who are unaffiliated with any particular branch, had the highest levels of support at 18% and 17%, respectively.

4. Intermarriage is increasing, but most children are being raised Jewish

The Pew study found that an increasing number of Jews are marrying non-Jewish spouses. While 58% of all Jews have a Jewish spouse, only 39% of those married since 2010 are married to a Jew. However, 70% of interfaith couples are raising their children Jewish in some way — either “by religion,” “Jewish but not by religion,” “partly Jewish by religion” or “some mix.” In comparison, 99% of Jewish married couples are raising their children as at least partly Jewish and 93% report raising them “Jewish by religion.” Most Jews — 64% overall — say rabbis should perform interfaith marriage ceremonies while another 25% say it depends and 9% are completely opposed. Those numbers don’t vary much by age, although Orthodox Jews and Republican Jews are most opposed to rabbis performing intermarriage ceremonies, with 73% and 26% opposed, respectively.

5. Food unites us

The most common Jewish practice for American Jews is cooking or eating traditional Jewish foods, which 72% of all Jews say they do. That’s significantly higher than the number who held or attended a Seder last year — 62% — and dwarfs the 20% who say they attend synagogue at least once a month. Other popular Jewish activities include sharing culture and holidays with non-Jewish (62% report doing this), visiting Jewish sites while traveling (57%) and reading Jewish books (44%).

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