Understanding How Under-Engaged Jewish Teens Self-Articulate and Self-Express Jewish Identity and Jewish Identification

May, 2020

Source: Northeastern University


This study was inspired by the abundance of literature regarding the withdrawal of non-Orthodox American Jewish teenagers from an active Jewish life. This situation has been called an “epidemic that threatens the future of American Jewry". Practitioners and scholars in the field of Jewish education have studied Jewish identity and spiritual development for decades, including the impact of various Jewish education experiences, the ongoing Jewish behaviors of adults in the community, and why many teenagers disengage post-Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Prior studies have not explored the information about Judaism that has been embedded in these under-engaged teenagers and how this information impacts how Jewish teenagers talk about their Jewishness.

This study sought to answer the primary research question: How do under-engaged Jewish teens self-articulate and self-express Jewish identity and Jewish identification? Portraiture methodology was used to capture how three Atlanta-suburb teenagers articulated and expressed their Jewish identity and Jewish identification. Each of the study participants grew up attending supplemental Jewish education programs and celebrated their Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, but then disengaged from organized communal Jewish education or social experiences. As current high school junior and seniors, the study participants reflected on how Judaism has shaped who they are, their interactions with Judaism in their daily lives, and the ongoing meaning they derive from being a part of the Jewish people.

Major findings included a) a unanimous belief that Jewish values (sometimes expressed as mitzvot) shaped their innate desire to “be a good person;” b) meaning-making occurs through nostalgic memories of Jewish holidays celebrated with their families as children; c) Jewish individuals aspire to pass some aspect of Judaism on to future generations; and d) individuals have a sense of belonging to a large group (i.e. the Jewish people). The theoretical framework of the self-concept theory was used to assess the solidification (or lack thereof) of a Jewish self-schema in each study participant.


Updated: Jun. 02, 2020