Poll: Among young Jews, activism driven more by universal values than religion
June 23rd, 2011
10:03 AM ET

Poll: Among young Jews, activism driven more by universal values than religion

By Joe Sterling, CNN

(CNN) - The fervent instinct for social action that energized Jewish-Americans when they fought for workers' rights and civil rights, rallied for the creation of a Jewish state, and battled all sorts of bigotry throughout the 20th century still percolates.

But the fire is burning more sporadically, is not necessarily connected to Judaism, and it doesn't "significantly embrace" Israel, according to a poll released Thursday by Repair the World, a group that promotes volunteering among Jews.

The survey is a snapshot of preferences and habits of young Jewish adult volunteers. And many will be surprised by its findings, which shows that those volunteers tend to be motivated by universal rather than Jewish values.

Only 27% say their volunteering is be based on Jewish values, the survey found. And 78% say it doesn't matter whether they volunteer with a Jewish or a non-Jewish organization.

Most "do not participate in a volunteer activity under Jewish auspices," with just 18% reporting a preference for giving time to Jewish organizations or synagogues over other non-profits.

A new generation of American Jews are compelled by issues in their own backyard - like poverty and illiteracy - rather than the faraway flashpoint of Israel, the survey found.

Nine percent are animated by Israel and Middle East peace, while 36% are stimulated by material assistance to the needy, 30% to education and literacy and 29% to the environment.

Young Jewish adults "are primarily drawn to service through universal values rather than Jewish-based values or identity," the polling analysis found. Only "a very small portion of Jewish young adults volunteer as a means to represent the Jewish community to the larger society," the analysis said.

Young Jewish volunteers are frustrated by a perceived lack of satisfying volunteer opportunities in the Jewish world, the survey found.

"Much of the volunteer work of Jewish young adults is comprised of local efforts to ameliorate disparities in economic resources and educational opportunity and often entails activities such as collecting, sorting, and distributing goods," the polling analysis said.

The survey was produced to help shape strategies to generate interest among young Jews in volunteering, an activity that should become a "normative Jewish rite of passage," says Jon Rosenberg, chief executive officer of the New York-based Repair the World.

This snapshot of the volunteer behavior and thinking of young Jewish adults - "Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young" - is based on the responses of 951 Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 35.

It was conducted as a collaborative effort with the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein Agne Strategic Communications.

Most of the sample is drawn from the applicant pool of Taglit-Birthright Israel, the group that sponsors free trips to Israel for young Jews.

The study says it's likely that Orthodox respondents, non-college graduates, and children of intermarried parents are under-represented. At the same time, Repair the World’s poll analysis says that the sample is diverse and "in many ways resembles known characteristics of the U.S. Jewish population."

The picture drawn by the survey is of a busy community trying to juggle its schooling and work life with volunteering.

Many of these respondents can only be politically and civically involved in a tangential way because of time and economic constraints, the survey found. As people focus on getting their degrees and developing their careers, they can only devote so much time to volunteer work.

The majority of Jewish young adults "participate in some form of volunteer work but many do so only sporadically," the poll findings say.

"Only 45% report civic behaviors that require an active effort, such as participating in demonstrations or attending a government meeting."

Volunteerism tends to run in the family. Young Jewish adults who volunteer are most likely to have participated in high school volunteering and lived in a household where their parents volunteered, the poll showed.

"Women and those who come from homes with one non-Jewish parent are also more likely to volunteer, although not more likely to become regular volunteers," the study said.

Israel and the Middle East and issues involving conflict resolution generate some but not as much inspiration for Jewish-Americans seeking volunteer opportunities.

The issue with that has the largest focus of primary volunteer work is "material assistance to the needy" at 16%. Service to the Jewish community comes in fifth at 8% and Israel/Middle East peace stands at 1% in this category.

"I was very surprised where Israel ranked," Rosenberg said. "That's an area where a lot of work can be done."

But, it said, they do not know what opportunities exist and "of greater concern, they do not perceive Jewish volunteer options as addressing their most deeply held concerns."

Rosenberg said he was also surprised by the survey’s finding that young Jews do not think there are Jewish volunteer options that speak to their deepest concerns.

Rosenberg said, the poll "charts a path" to help deal with what is an "idealistic" and engaged" population.

"Although there is certainly an important role for Jewish organizations to play, and it is critical for them to do a better job of contacting Jewish young adults and connecting them to service, it is also imperative to understand that participation through Jewish organizations is unlikely to form the conduit toward volunteering for most," the poll said.

The survey called for a number of strategies to "more effectively engage Jewish young adults in service."

They include starting early to build the "habit of volunteering," expanding "volunteer options that relate to core concerns," such as helping the poor, and working with non-Jewish organizations.

One significant strategy is framing the act of volunteering as a Jewish act, according to Repair the World, whose name is based on the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, or repairing the world, a concept in Judaism referring to social action and community service.

Ironically, many of the people who enthusiastically volunteer but see their inspiration as universal might not realize that their interest in public service passed down from their parents and passed along by their friends could stem from the Jewish values that their parents and grandparents imbibed.

"With limited Jewish background and few current connections to religious life, most contemporary Jewish young adults are simply unaware of the deep roots of social justice and helping in Jewish tradition and text," the poll analysis says.

"Even when they know that these values exist, Jewish young adults who identify as non-Orthodox or are not religiously involved may be uncomfortable taking on the mantle of a Jewish perspective,” the analysis says.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Judaism • Polls

soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Mark Rosen

    Hi Everyone,
    As you all know Passover is near I found a very soulful and great video filmed in Israel. Give it a try its really worth watching, please do have a look at it.

    April 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  2. Brett Walkow


    This is a Video I did, that you must see.

    October 4, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  3. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    @Zelda - Just so that you and other know, there are no "Judeo-Christian" values. Each religious group has its own set of values. Look at the religious law and history. That should be enough to stop people thinking that there are "Judeo-Christian values." Also, please be honest as to where you are coming from; are you a missionary trying to convert Jews? I would hope not.

    June 24, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Zelda

      Stein, ??? America is all about Judeo-Christian values, though now she is morally deteriorating. Why can't I be a missionary to Jews? To me all nationals are the same – all precious in God's sight. I'm glad CNN is not Russian news. I know about USA more than Russia. I don't want to tell you my home countries then all the atheists here would hate those countries.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Zelda

      Every atheist should love and support N. Korea – atheists' insane utopia.

      June 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  4. Zelda

    The Jews should concentrate on N. Korea and abortion clinics. The entire nation is like a Nazi concentration camp and millions of unborn humans are being ripped apart today. "Never again"? But we are neglecting too many victims today, as usual. Thinking of Holocaust, please remember unborn humans and North Koreans.

    June 24, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  5. Benjamin Washington Hilton

    We really should take religion out of political debates. Keep it in your home and place of worship.

    June 24, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Zelda

      Villains don't want Truth in public places. It's been that way, always. Atheistic opinions must get banned first.

      June 24, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  6. eduardo

    Looking for help and support?..come to http://www.wpray4u.com and you will find it

    June 24, 2011 at 3:47 am |
  7. j rey

    Zelda, you're wrong. Not enough Americans bash religion.

    June 24, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • Zelda

      @Jrey, really? The news and everything else from America tell us it has become a land of religion-haters and perverts.

      June 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  8. Zelda

    Universal values? When they are promoting all kinds of sick perversion, killing unborn babies and cannot stop exploitation of a billion people, what are the earthlings talking about? Non-christians are living in total fantasies. There will be vengeance for blood on earth soon. This planet is waiuting for Judgment Day; it's been told from the beginning.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Mycology

      How are Jews responsible for abortion? As if there aren't people of other religions / no religion who support abortion... and its some sort of "jew invention" ...

      typical "blame the jews" individual.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Ian

      You are a truly sick individual and you need psychological help.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Zelda

      @Mycology, I'm not refering to the Jews. "They" in my previous comment refers to earthlings in general. Sorry for causing misunderstanding. Jews must never be blamed. The entire human race is sick but only Christians acknowledge the fact as it is.

      June 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  9. Zelda

    The Jews need Jesus. Universal values are as good as communists' determination for prosperity or the pre-war Germans' national dream for glory. Or the ancient Israel's godless autonomy. When will these Jews get reality? Are the young Jews reading the Old Testament Bible yet? They need the Gospels, too.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Mycology

      I think you need to save yourself and your soul first, I promise you it is in danger of being consumed by the devil.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Zelda

      @Mycology, what's wrong with encouraging the Jews to read the Bible, their own history and universal Truth? Americans don't read on US history and look what happens.

      June 24, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  10. blessedgeek

    "Young Jewish volunteers are frustrated by a perceived lack of satisfying volunteer opportunities in the Jewish world, the survey found."

    When a Christian/Muslim youth gets frustrated with lack of opportunities of volunteerism in a Christian/Muslim context, he/she would band together with others of like-mind to found such an organisation.

    However, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews do not like to found aid volunteer organisations based on their own respective religions. The very fact that this article says that Jewish youth's activism is driven due to motives far away from their religion. They do not wish to advertise their religious affiliation with their activism.

    So if you are one of the Jewish youths who are frustrated with lack of volunteer opportunities within Jewish organisations, then that fault is yours because your very nature and motivation prevents you those who came before you to found volunteer aid organisations that would advertise their Jewishness. However, this fault is a good fault. The same fault that caused G-d to love yakov more than esav.

    There is a christian scripture that says, "when you give let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Even though we do not adhere to christian beliefs, we adhere to this christian principle more than Christians do. While they advertise their Christianity in every good that they do – we do not let people know that we are Jewish when we give. Frequently, we even prevent fellow Jews from knowing we are Jews we give.

    June 23, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Chris

      Oh, come on, there are plenty of satisfying volunteer opportunities for Jewish youth. Why, right now, they could be volunteering to bulldoze a Palestinian neighborhood in the West Bank to make way for an Israeli settlement! How fulfilling!

      June 24, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  11. kevin

    Most jews do not believe in G-d. 77% of jews voted for Barack Obama driven by the teachings of Karl Marx, himself a jew. They are culturally far left wing who want a weak USA and hawkish on israel. They want a strong israel to control the middle east.

    June 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Bannister

      Yes, yes and yes.

      June 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Ian

      Site your sources or it's just you being an anti-semitic nutjob.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @kevin- I think you are a bit confused.

      June 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  12. Nonimus

    I'm not sure why this report is focused on Jewish volunteers. Has there been some significant change in the volunteerism of Jews? Is there some significant difference in volunteerism rates between Jews and non-Jews?
    We don't know, since the article didn't say.
    It sounds like the group doing this survey found a lot of volunteerism in young Jews and wants to find a way to co-op that volunteerism as a Jewish attribute instead of what it is, a human attribute, compassion. IMHO.

    June 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  13. Reality

    The real reason:

    origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument. "

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DELUSION" about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

    June 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  14. John Stefanyszyn

    ...driven more by universal values than religion.

    These words clearly show that the core belief of universal values is preeminent to people's "religious beliefs".

    This has important significance, especially in view that the Jews claim to be the chosen people of the God of Abraham, the One and Only God. This means that they should be living only according to the way of life / values as taught by the Creator and that he is to be acknowledged as the Only Truth.

    However, in living their lives according to universal values they also accept the value that says that all religions and their "gods" are as valid.

    This belief in universal values is preeminent in all peoples and religions. This is the belief / desire that gives them the right to serve their own interest first and foremost. It is a "world religion" in itself, except that it has not been labeled as such. Their traditional religion is secondary. This is true for Christians, Muslims, Jews, and others. They all embrace this, defend this, and promote this.

    If one is honest with himself, in a situation of conflict, the first words will be "this is against my rights", whether it be freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom for happiness...the freedom to serve one's own interests.

    However, the truth is that there is Only One Truth to Creation, One Creator God....and Only Way of life to Him...through His Holy Son The Christ. When Christ returns, there will not be any desire for religious freedom since there will only be God's Way and Christ will be the ruler of all nations.

    I pray that the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews, and all of mankind will realize this and change.

    June 23, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • blessedgeek

      Jesus is not, has never been and never will be the king of Jews.

      June 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  15. myweightinwords

    Volunteering, as a whole in this society, is in a sad state among young people. Even where they have a desire to volunteer and a cause they care about, doing the actual work that needs doing seems to consistently fall to those who are forty and older.

    We need to engage children earlier in life and provide them opportunities to serve, and we need to instill in our teenagers and young adults that service is a good and desirable thing. And it has nothing to do with religion, though often religious organizations are where we find the opportunities.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Jason

      It simply isn't true that young people volunteer less than older Americans do. The credible research on the topic shows that Americans under 30 volunteer more and more frequently than Americans aged 30-60, and that they volunteer more than older Americans did when they were under 30. Your personal experience to the contrary, young Americans are raising the bar in terms of service.

      June 23, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Cig

      That claim makes me giggle. I've worked full-time at a homeless shelter and now at a refugee center, and BY FAR the largest percentage of volunteers comes from under-30's. The second largest may be the 60-and-up crowd who are now retired. There are so few volunteers from other age groups that I've seen men and women around the age of 30 leading their organizations. I think you just want to throw around falsehoods in order to make yourself feel better and not have to accept the truth, which is that you aren't doing enough to help your community.

      June 23, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  16. Rainer Braendlein

    First, I want to apologise for our (the Germans) crimes against the Jewish people. Please take in account that we (the Germans) were misled by two corrupt Churches (DEK and RCC). Some noble Germans like Dietrich Bonhoeffer protected Jewish people.

    I would appreciate when Jewish Americans would volunteer in their homeland. Israel is still God's chosen people (according to Epistle to the Romans Chapter 11, Verse 28). It is only that they hesitate to accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah. However Israel and the Christian Church are siblings. May our brother Isreal realize his Messiah soon.

    June 23, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Rainer Braendlein

      "May our brother Isreal realize his Messiah soon."

      If they do, doesn't that in some way mean that your 'end of days' prophecies are being fulfilled (according to the believers of this doctrine)...?



      June 23, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      By the way German people are still misled by two corrupt Churches, called EKD (former DEK) and RCC (Roman Catholic Church). One could say, it is just a matter of time that we (the Germans) will get up to any nonsense, because our minds are kept in darkness by two Churches, not worthy of the name Church.

      June 23, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein


      "End of days" is not my concern, but Israel's salvation.

      June 23, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Drew

      Thanks for your comments. I've been to Germany several times, and its a nice country. The bulk of its people are quite nice, and never had prejudice towards Jews, and Hitler was actually an Austrian. Germany has 3 state supported religions: Lutheran (Protestant), Catholic and Judaism.

      June 23, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Currently the Turks want to refurbish their image and put out news about their friendly handling of Christians. However, during the last decades the Turkey has banished nearly all Christians out of their country. Now, of course, it is easy to say, we handle kindly the Christians, because there are almost no more Christians in Turkey.

      The same situation we have in Germany. We have killed and banished nearly all Jews and now we may claim: "no prejudice towards Jews". That is easy, because there are nearly no more Jews in Germany.

      June 24, 2011 at 8:25 am |
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.