Study: US Youth Differ in Perception of Jewish Identity

October 21, 2009

Source: Ynet News


A new survey of US Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jewish youth reveals sharp differences in their perception of Jewish identity. More than seven hundred youth attending Jewish summer camps around the United States were surveyed in a study conducted by Dr. Erik Cohen, of Bar-Ilan University's School of Education


The survey consisted of a list of 132 symbols developed by Dr. Cohen covering many areas – from the talit, the Talmud, God and the Star of David to Soviet Jewry, the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen. Respondents were asked to rate which of the symbols expressed an aspect of their personal Jewish identity, and which were the most important to them.


Over three-quarters of the population identified the symbols God, bar or bat Mitzvah, and religion with Judaism. This finding is in line with the observation that American Jews, even those who are non-religious, tend to emphasize the religious aspect of Jewish identity; that is, they think of Judaism primarily as their religion, not as their culture or nationality,


In comparing the participants of three of the major streams of Judaism, Dr. Cohen found that those attending Orthodox camps were significantly more likely to select symbols related to Jewish religious practice, to the Holocaust, to Israel and to discrimination, while participants in Conservative camps were most likely to select universal values such as democracy, co-existence, tolerance, ecology, humanism and peace.


Participants in Reform camps were more likely to select items related to Jews' accomplishments in the non-Jewish world (such as wealth and success).


Similarly, the religious symbols of the Star of David and Chanukah were most likely to be selected by those at the Reform camps, indicating a different approach to the Jewish religion in comparison to those at the Orthodox camps, who were more likely to select symbols such as the Talmud and Torah study.


The study, conducted during the summers 2005-2007, included 731 participants, aged 14-16, in summer camps throughout the United

Updated: Dec. 31, 2009