Educational Choices for My Own Children: The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Class of 5755

Published: 
2021

Source: Journal of Jewish Education

 

In this paper, we present data from the most recent wave of the Longitudinal Study of Young Jews Raised in Conservative Synagogues. Participants were part of the b'nai mitzvah class of 1994–1995 (or, the year 5755 in the Hebrew calendar) and members of Conservative synagogues in the US and Canada. Approximately 400 panel members took part in this follow-up. We explore the degree to which adolescents’ educational experiences carry weight into adulthood, specifically as parents making educational choices for their own children, with particular interest in the role of gender.

Results show that respondents attribute a variety of lasting effects to their past Jewish education, particularly those receiving formal education. Correlations were stronger for females than for males. One’s past affective appraisal of one’s Jewish education appears to be associated as well, as does marital status (interfaith or not). Results are discussed in terms of the social-affective goals of Jewish education and parental decision-making.

The current analysis investigates dimensions of the educational lives of the participants in this longitudinal study, both the impact of their own education and the choices they are making for their own children. For the latter, we pay particular attention to the decisions of interfaith families.

Research Questions:

(1) How do participants retrospectively evaluate their Jewish education growing up?

(2) To what extent do adolescents’ educational experiences carry weight into adulthood, specifically as parents making educational choices for their own children?

(3) How lasting are the effects of adolescents’ enjoyment of their own Jewish education and the type of experiences they had?

(4) The 5755 Bar/Bat Mitzvah Class of 5755 was raised with similar Jewish educational possibilities for girls and boys. Is the gender of the Jewish parent important when making educational choices for her/his children in intermarried families?

The paper utilizes data both from the surveys conducted from 1995 to 2018 as well as from in-depth conversations with participants in 2003 as college students, discussing their Jewish education, and in 2019 as parents, explaining their choices for their children. Participants’ narratives augment the survey findings. The family stories illuminate how the experiences of Jewish millennials as parents have shifted when compared with their own childhood and upbringing.

Findings and discussion

On a very basic level, we were pleasantly surprised by the openness of our subjects to discussing their innermost thoughts and feelings about their Jewish journeys. Their lack of participation in synagogue life should not be mistaken for a lack of caring. They do care and they have strong, complex feelings about their own Jewishness and how to raise their children. Our findings indicate that respondents, in most cases, see the continued relevance of their past Jewish educational experience. In particular, many attribute to their past education a knowledge of Jewish holidays and rituals. Large numbers also report their past Jewish educational experiences as providing them with a sense of belonging, values, and guidelines for a meaningful life. The overall affective experience at the time seems to play an important role in mediating the perceived impact of past Jewish education. Those who found the experience to be more positive at the time are more likely to endorse its impact in the long-term.

Our findings add further support for the intertwining of the two aspects: respondents look back to their Jewish educational experiences as sources of learning about holidays and rituals, and the emotional valence of the experience shows long-term impact. As a field, we must counter our tendency toward bifurcation of education and its socio-affective context (Kress, 2014) and push for education that is engaging and engagement that is educational.

While many participating members from the bar/bat mitzvah cohort have distanced themselves from their upbringing and do not consider themselves as part of the Conservative Movement, they have not distanced themselves from Judaism. Our findings, consistent with other studies, show differences in Jewish educational choices between in-married and intermarried Jewish parents. The children of this cohort of millennials will most likely have less Jewish engagement than their parents had in their childhood and adolescence. But both survey data and personal stories show that many young parents hope in their own ways to instill Jewish values in the next generation.

Looking ahead

This rich data set provides many future pathways for research. Past research has suggested that the quality of parental relationships, as well as gender roles within those relationships, play a role in the transmission of religiosity across generations (Myers, 1996). Further research can focus on the manifestation of this trend in our cohort as well. As all respondents started out in families affiliated with Conservative synagogues, there is also room to explore issues related to denominationalism.

Many of the children of our millennial parents are still toddlers. As they mature, and as more participating members from the bar/bat mitzvah cohort become parents, there will be other educational choices to monitor and explore. Continuing the longitudinal study could be fruitful for understanding parental preferences and needs.

References

Kress, J. S. (2014). Experiential Jewish education has arrived! Now what? Journal of Jewish Education, 80(3), 319–342. https://doi.org/10.1080/15244113.2014.937202

Myers, S. M. (1996). An interactive model of religiosity inheritance: The importance of family context. American Sociological Review, 61(5), 858–866. JSTOR
 

Updated: Jul. 29, 2021
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