More US Jews 'flying solo'

"Uncoupled Jews greatest opportunity and greatest risk for US Judaism."

By MICHAL LANDO, JERUSALEM POST CORESPONDENT
June 17, 2008 02:00
2 minute read.
More US Jews 'flying solo'

golfer 63. (photo credit: )

More US Jews today are "uncoupled" in two senses of the term -unmarried and unconnected to organized Jewry - according to the latest study by researchers Steven Cohen and Ari Kelman, who call this data "disturbing," though not for the reasons one might expect. In 1990, 33 percent of non-Orthodox Jews aged 25-39 were single. By 2000-01, the number had grown to 50%. In fact "never in Jewish demographic history have we seen so many young adults unmarried, or 'uncoupled,'" the study says. That in itself is not surprising, because Americans as a whole are getting married much later. The good news is that single Jews are as interested as ever in connecting Jewishly. The bad news is that they shy away from available Jewish institutions in part because synagogues, Jewish community centers and federations "remain geared to the conventional family unit," the study claims. As many as 67 percent of non-Orthodox singles say they are "proud to be a Jew," slightly surpassing the 66% of in-married (Jews married to Jews) who agree. Given the high level of Jewish interest and low rate of communal and ritual involvement among young adult, single Jews, this uncoupled population represents the "greatest opportunity and the greatest risk" of Judaism in the United States, the study claims. "Single Jews are akin to 'swing voters'- they can go either way," the two sociologists suggest. "How they 'vote,' how they make Jewish (or non-Jewish) choices, will determine the future of Jews, Judaism and Jewishness in the United States." Important to note is that single Jews practice religion in lower numbers than in-married Jewish couples: Just 19% of singles belong to synagogues as opposed to 51% of the in-married, and only one-third of singles are "somewhat attached" to synagogues. A total of 20% of singles visit Jewish community centers, as opposed to 44% of in-married; 15% of singles contribute to UJA/Federation campaigns compared to 32% of in-married; and 8% of singles volunteer with a Jewish organization compared to 28% of in-married. On the surface, the unmarried appear "fairly distant" from Jewish life, the study suggests. But other markers point to single Jews still being connected. Of single Jews aged 25-39, 42% claim that half or more of their friends are Jewish, and of those making that claim, 51% said they talk to their friends about "Jewish matters." They read Jewish-oriented books in higher numbers than the in-married, are more eager to learn more Jewishly, and more regularly read Jewish blogs. When it comes to Israel, 79% agreed that "Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew," compared to 83% of the in-married. And 67% of singles said they feel "proud" of Israel, compared to 62% of in-married. The challenge facing Jewish leaders today was to find ways to foster and build opportunities for engagement that speak to this population of Jews in America, the study urges. Given the new demographic reality, Jewish organizations such as synagogues and JCCs that cater primarily to families would not be able to draw younger Jews, the study warns. Instead, Cohen and Kelman urge leaders to focus on creating and supporting organizations created by and for this younger demographic.


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