Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders

Here is a sense of the ideology of the leaders of the new organizations and they will someday head the established ones.
Any trends? Is it what you expected? Notice the day school graduates did not remain Orthodox, so that Orthodox who have the Avi-Chai definition of leadership remains at the 10% mark. We expected already the lack of Antisemitism as a drive and a lack of us-them relationship with the world. So this means that those of you under 40 who do have the us-them divide may feel alienated from the community’s leaders.

Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders
By Jacob Berkman · April 12, 2010

A team of six researchers studied Jews between the age of 22 and 40, who serve as Jewish leaders, which they defined as those who have spearheaded new Jewish initiatives, direct existing mainstream Jewish organizations or somehow are thought leaders or activists on Jewish endeavors.The researchers interviewed some 250 leaders across country, but claim to have identified more than 3,000 who might be considered young Jewish leaders.

Among the key findings

* They do not feel threatened by Antisemitism.
* They prefer to reject us-them relationships with non-Jews and want to be inclusive of non-Jews in their programing.
* They hold strong views on the organized Jewish community and need for new ways of organizing it and are critical of federations, traditional synagogues and agencies that engage in protective activities.
* While many believe that most young Jewish leaders totally buck the mainstream of Judaism, the report suggests that a large segment actually involve themselves in those organizations such as Jewish federations, Friends of the IDF and AIPAC. “It’s not true they want nothing to do with traditional causes, especially those who are economically secure and relate to the networking core of traditional Jewish organizations.”
* Around 40 percent of Jewish leaders attended day school, only 10-11 percent of those are Orthodox.
* Two thirds attended Jewish summer camps.
* Half have spent more than four months of study in Israel.
* They believe that Jewish peoplehood means the celebration of diaspora Jewish culture that is rich, diverse and inclusive.
* Most do not see Israel as central to Jewish identity and peoplehood, and there is a broad range of how much criticism about Israel they can tolerate.

On a similar note we have to congratulate Rabbi Ari Weiss of Uri L’Tzedek who won a Joshua Venture Grant. Uri L’Tzedek is defined as created to “engage, empower, and inspire the American Orthodox Jewish community to enact social change both within and beyond its own communal borders.” For the other 2010 winners- here. For past years- here.

6 responses to “Key findings of the Avi Chai report on young Jewish leaders

  1. Notice the day school graduates did not remain Orthodox, so that Orthodoxy’s remains at the 10% mark.

    This may or may not be correct, but I would be very wary of selection bias. Before this statistic can be considered meaningful, I would want to know whether the kind of leadership they were looking for is “naturally” more attractive – for better or for worse – to the less observant public. For example, social action has, for decades, been a focus of the more liberal institutions.

    Do these causes also disproportionally affect the less observant day school students, perhaps because despite being less observant, they have happily been conditioned for a much more intensive Jewish identity?

    And does a businessman who gives a popular shiur in his shul, but holds no clerical office, nor is he involved in a formal capacity in an organization, fall outside the definition used by Avi Chai, and may he yet be an up and coming leader? Same for a businessman who is very committed to a cause, but does so without formalities.

    I don’t dismiss the findings, I just want the statisticians to tell us about any possible selection bias.

  2. It is totally selection biased. However it is the same selection criteria used for Wexner, Dorot, and graduate school admissions. I have written lots of recommendation letters and they always ask for these criteria. The formal capacity, resume lines, and external activity is the criteria for leadership. The giver of the shiur would be at a disadvantage. Yes, it only reflects those working in the wider world and who can convert it into a resume line.

    • This reminds me of a conversation I had with a rabbi, whose wife, after years of volunteer rebbetzenry, wanted to rejoin the work force, and needed to translate her parochial activities into resume lines that are relevant in the wider world.

      However, getting back to the main point, this means that we cannot infer the likelihood of day school graduates remaining Orthodox from the Avi Chai statistic.

  3. My conjecture is these group differ from both Reform and Orthodox in a signicant way. Orthodox are trying to bring people to Orthodoxy. The rest is bells and whistles. Reform Temples have an appreciation of a diverse Jewish culture, but for them the issue is that whatever takes place should be centered around the temple, a kiruv to a bldg. as it were.

    So far this generation has shown convincingly how they can translate into practise their committment to bring about social change. And they may well believe that Jewish peoplehood means the celebration of a rich diverse Jewish culture. I agree. What I question is whether this post- denominational generation have the inner resources to create such a culture. Will they celebrate Yiddish, Hebrew, Talmudic literature, Jewish Studies or all of the above. Somehow to me a culture is more than working out a lecture series at the 92nd Street Y.I hope these young people can come up with good answers. The previous generation outside of Orthodoxy were not very successful.

    • I dont think that they will have the wide cultural palette that you describe. They will start with the self, DIY, and conscience, then work on social change. They are likely to be the start of a new American Jewry not connected to Europe anymore. They are beyond your spectral post-holocaust recursions. They have social universalism and they are light on textuality but strong on the new media. They are creating a whole new generation of liberal clergy that wants to reach people instead of worrying about their own learning. I am not sure how we are going to measure success, they are not using the old indicators.
      What are your thoughts on the Kugel-Bible issues?

  4. I fully agree with your sketch.

    This Pesach one of the Mahrits to be was mezakeh our group seder with a dvar torah on the importance of actually doing something. And in a conversation, this young women, who I have seen grow up and become an accomplished twenties something, tells me with a wink in her eye, “You know there is more to be done than blogging.” Hearing this gave me great joy. To use one of their favorite expressions, I hope she and her friends make a difference.

    A non frum friend tells me that he sees the same phenomena. He put it this way…”These kids see low lying fruit everywhere, there for the taking. The parents even when liberal and activist left much to be done. They dream of small changes at the margin.”

    Evanston is admittedly a liberal place, but it is still remarkable how many kids go into social service professions. Few MBA’s, many teachers of autistic children etc. Nachis.

    I have nothing much to add at this point to the Kugel discussions.

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