The View Along the Way: A Longitudinal Study of Jewish Lives

Published: 
2021

Source: Journal of Jewish Education

 

In 2011 we started following a cohort of 1,000 Jewish 11-year-olds as they entered Jewish and non-Jewish secondary schools in Britain. We were interested in finding out about their Jewish behaviors, attitudes and identity, milestones, and significant events. What follows in this article is an analysis of six family stories, which show how we have been charting change over time in three ways—through themes that develop within a single family over time, themes that develop across the sample of six families over time, and themes that resonate with all six families at one moment in time.

With respect to the sample of families whose stories are told in this article, we have charted change in three ways—through themes that develop within a single family over time, themes that develop across the sample of six families over time, and themes that resonate with all six families at one moment in time. We are capturing change as it happens. Where appropriate, we contextualize our comments within the broader picture of the wider data we have collected.

Always incomplete

These last reflections highlight what makes longitudinal research of this kind so important and so magical. Our findings are always contingent, our conclusions tentative. The story is never complete; at most we only know the outcome of another chapter in a book of indeterminate length. And yet with each round of data, we are able to discern new insights and gain new wisdom. Much like a car slowly making its way up a steep and winding road into the mountains, with each bend in the road, a new vista comes into view. Each of these panoramas is true at any moment, but none is ever complete. And even at the highest point in the road when we can see the fullest scope of the horizon, what we see then is an optical illusion in which the undulations below, the valleys and the ravines previously traversed, are lost from sight, the distances between them occluded. If we only look back from the top of the road, we could not imagine what we were able to see along the way. It is that special view along the way that we are granted by multiphase longitudinal research.

And what have we learned when it comes to the evolving Jewish lives of the young people who were 11 years old when we first met them and 18 when we last interviewed them? Until now, these lives have played out on a limited canvas, albeit one that expanded to a considerable degree during the two most recent years of the study, the last two years of high school. It’s not surprising that in Jewish terms most members of our sample can be located close to where we first found them, notwithstanding a few twists and turns along the way. Most currently hope to locate themselves in later years in these same places; their parents serve as a template in this respect. Concomitantly, it’s not surprising that both school and family loom so large in the Jewish stories of this sample. Those two institutions have been primary, even primal, influences—although perhaps the ways in which remote family exerts influence has perhaps been unexpected. How long this will continue to be the case, we don’t yet know. We can’t wait to open the next chapter of these stories.
   

Updated: Aug. 01, 2021
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