Volunteering + Values: What’s Motivating the Jewish Young Folk?Posted: June 29, 2011
Repair the World, has just released “Volunteering+Values,” a report commissioned “to understand the full extent of Jewish young adults’ volunteer habits and preferences.” I’d say its findings/recommendations contain implications that North American Jewish communal institutions would do well to heed.
Conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis
University and Gerstein|Agne Strategic Communications, V+V surveyed a sample of Jewish young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and investigated their volunteer commitments and attitudes.
Among the findings I found notable:
Only a small portion of Jewish young adults prefer to or actually do volunteer with Jewish organizations … The minority of Jewish young adults who volunteer through Jewish organizations do so to support their own people and community. By contrast, the vast majority of Jewish young adults say it does not matter if they volunteer with a Jewish or non-Jewish organization.
Hand in hand with this finding, the report noted a growing universalist identity among Jewish young people:
Jewish young adults are primarily drawn to service through universal rather than Jewish-based values or identity … Only a very small portion of Jewish young adults volunteer as a means to represent the Jewish community to the larger society.
Not surprisingly to me, many Jewish young people seem to be turned off by what they perceive as the overly tribal concerns of the organized Jewish community:
Today’s Jewish young adults have grown up amidst and are at home with ethnic and religious diversity … As a result, most are concerned for all victims of poverty or injustice, not just those who are Jewish. It appears that they do not believe that Jewish organizations share this concern for universal causes.
I was particularly struck that Israel ranked consistently at the bottom of the list of priorities of young Jews. According to one graph, only 1% of those surveyed cited Israel/Middle East Peace as an “issue focus of primary volunteer work” (at the top of the list: “Material Assistance to the Needy.”) Another graph charted the geographic focus of primary volunteer work thus: 79%: Local Community, 13%: Domestic Non-Local, 4%: Developing World, 3%: Israel. (This trend is particularly noteworthy since the primary sample used by V+V was the Birthright applicant pool – a data base of 300,000 young Jews who either participated or applied for a Birthright Israel trip between 2001 and 2010.)
Among the many strategic implications identified by the study, this one resonated for me in particular:
Efforts are needed to educate Jewish young adults of the deep connection between Jewish thought and volunteering without implying that it is an exclusively Jewish perspective or only pertains to support of the Jewish community. Jewish young adults, regardless of denomination or level of religious involvement, should be encouraged to “own” a Jewish perspective on service. Widespread efforts are needed that draw attention to and link the universal and Jewish values that Jewish young adults already hold with the causes about which they care most deeply.
As always, I’d love to hear reactions.