NEW YORK -- Today, Benenson Strategy Group, supported by Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, released Connecting the Dots: American Jews and Civic Engagement, a new report about the ways American Jews' attitudes, behaviors, and values relate to their civic engagement and participation in democracy.
The new research fills a gap in knowledge around American Jews and their motivations for participating in civic activities such as volunteering, sitting on boards, charitable donations, and voting. The research finds that American Jews are highly engaged with community and democratic institutions and that they identify a wide range of reasons for engaging civically. American Jews frequently point to what they perceive as universal values and societal goals as their motivation for civic engagement, typified by statements such as “it’s the right thing to do,” “I want to make my country a better place,” or “I want to make a difference on issues I care about.” But many also emphasize the extent to which being Jewish motivates them. About six in 10 American Jews who participate in civic life said that, “As someone who is Jewish, I have a responsibility to engage.”
“Our research shows that while being Jewish is one factor in how and why American Jews are getting involved in democracy and their communities, their reasons for engaging civically are diverse, and being Jewish is not always central,” said Tobin Marcus, Senior Vice President at the Benenson Strategy Group. “But American Jews who draw stronger links between being Jewish and engaging civically are more likely to engage broadly in civic life, and this relationship deserves more exploration.”
Key findings from the report include:
- American Jews are highly civically engaged and in a wide variety of forms.
- In the past year, 72% voted in a national, state or local election, 54% donated to or raised money for a non-profit or political organization, and 46% signed a petition.
- Overall, 60% of American Jews said that, during the previous year, they took part in at least four of the 14 civic activities included in the survey.
- Most American Jews (68%) said that being Jewish has at least some influence on how and why they engage in democracy and their communities, although many hesitate to define their civic engagement as driven solely or primarily by being Jewish.
- The research found that nearly nine in 10 American Jews agree that they engage, or would engage, in their community because it is the right thing to do, not because they are Jewish.
- But when presented with the idea that Jewish tradition encourages civic engagement, a large majority of Jews agree. A full 87% of respondents agreed that, “Jewish wisdom encourages us to engage in democracy and our communities,” and 81% agreed that “My values come from the way I was raised, and my Jewish upbringing and identity is a big part of why I have the values that I do.”
- American Jews who said that “being Jewish has a lot of influence on how and why I choose to participate in democracy and engage with my community” engaged in almost twice as many civic activities in the past year (6.7) than those who said being Jewish has no influence (3.4). The nature of this relationship requires further exploration.
- American Jews respond when the connection is drawn between being Jewish and civic engagement. This research explored three motivators for civic engagement – Self-Preservation, Fighting Oppression, and Jewish Wisdom – all of which had strong appeal, with 45% to 50% of American Jews finding them to be very convincing reasons to engage.
- But the research showed that there is no one right way to make this connection, as younger Jews responded more strongly to the calls to action that were focused on creating change and repairing the world, while the more traditional call for self-preservation resonated with older Jews.
“How we engage civically is one of the biggest, most important questions on people’s minds today,” said Aaron Dorfman, President of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah. “Civic engagement is essential to ensure that our democracy is truly defined by government of, by, and for the people. For years, our Foundation has been working on the hypothesis that Jewish wisdom can help people be better citizens. These findings will allow us and our partners to better navigate the current landscape of where and how American Jews are engaging, as well as the role that Jewish wisdom currently plays, and could play, in those decisions.”
“We believe civic activities such as service, volunteerism and philanthropy are critical ways to live out our Jewish values,” said Lisa Eisen, Co-President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “With this research, our partners, including Jewish organizations and community leaders, will be better able to engage American Jews around the issues that are most important to them—and strengthen the connection between Jewish tradition and the important work young Jews are already doing to repair the world.”
The research was conducted through a mix of in-depth interviews, focus groups, and a nationwide survey in the spring and summer of 2019. It includes a representative cross-section of American Jews from a mix of genders, ages, racial backgrounds, regions of residence, political affiliations, and ways of identifying as Jewish.
The full report and an executive summary are available here.
Benenson Strategy Group (BSG) is a strategic research consultancy with offices in New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Denver. BSG’s research focuses on uncovering deeply-held attitudes, values, and beliefs to help their clients understand and communicate with their target audiences. BSG advises foundations, political leaders, and global corporations and has developed a unique understanding of the American Jewish mindset from years of working with Jewish organizations. For more information, please visit www.BSGCO.com.
Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah helps people apply particular Jewish wisdom to universal human questions in the here and now, and cultivate Judaism’s evolving wisdom tradition as an enduring source of value for human civilization over the long term. For more information, visit www.lkflt.org.
The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (Schusterman) is a global organization that seeks to improve lives, strengthen communities and advance equity. Our philanthropic vision is grounded in a commitment to pursue justice, repair the world and treat all people with dignity and civility. We invest in efforts to improve public education in the United States, strengthen the Jewish people and Israel, and address the needs of marginalized individuals and communities. For more information, visit www.schusterman.org.