A Study of Young Jewish Leaders

This report, conducted by Dr. Jack Wertheimer, gives a glimpse of young Jewish leaders and their views on the American Jewish community. Hope for the future?

Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish Leaders
By Jacob Berkman · April 12, 2010
Sociologist Jack Wertheimer this morning released some preliminary fidinings of a report that the Avi Chai Foundation has commissioned of young Jewish leaders.

A team of six researchers studied Jews between the age of 22 and 40, who serve as Jewish leaders, which they defined as those who have spearheaded new Jewish initiatives, direct existing mainstream Jewish organizations or somehow are thought leaders or activists on Jewish endeavors.

The researchers interviewed some 250 leaders across country, but claim to have identified more than 3,000 who might be considered young Jewish leaders.

The complete report, which is part of the research that Avi Chai, which some estimate at around a $700 million foundation, is conducting as it endeavors to spend down all of its assets by 2020. The full study will be released sometime this summer.

Among the key findings that Wertheimer released:

They do not feel threatened by anti-Semitism.
They prefer to reject us-them relationships with non-Jews and want to be inclusive of non-Jews in their programming.
They hold strong veiws on the organized Jewish community and need for new ways of organizing it and are critical of federations, traditional synagogues and agencies that engage in protective activities.
While many believe that most young Jewish leaders totally buck the mainstream of Judaism, the report suggests that a large segment acutally involve themselves in those organizations such as Jewish federations, Friends of the IDF and AIPAC. "It's not true they want nothing to do with traditonal causes, especially those who are economically secure and relate to the networking core of traditional Jewish organizations."
Around 40 percent of Jewish leaders atended day school, only 10-11 percent of those are Orthodox.
Two thirds attended Jewish summer camps.
Half have spent more than four months of study in Israel.
They believe that Jewish peoplehood means the celebration of diaspora Jewish culture that is rich, diverse and inclusive.
While many assume that progressive young Jews are hostile to Israel, Werthemimer says that also is not the case, according to what he and his researchers found. Though it is true that most do not see Israel as central to Jewish identity and peoplehood, and there is a broad range of how much criticism about Israel they can tolerate.
Wertheimer is looking at the report as proof of several ideas. Many on the Israeli side of the Jewish world have asserted in recent years that the North American Jewish community has a real paucity in committed Jews.

"It is not true that the American Jewish Community is suffering from a dearth of knowledgeable and committed leaders coming out of the young community, he said. "We have young leaders who involve themselves in mainstream jewish world."

But, he said that some of this data is really very hard to evaluate because the Jewish community has abandonded its National Jewish Population Survey, the census of the Jewish community that the federation system has conductd every decade or so.

"The absence of up to date national data on the American jewish population, and its failure to launch in 2010 leaves a gaping information vaccum for anyone who wants to formulate opinons or philosophies," he said. "We are flying blind."