Millennials and Jewish Life

Posted on Dec 07, 2020

What was the impact on Jewish millennials of growing up in Conservative Jewish homes? What are their attitudes and feelings about Judaism today? What Jewish rituals do they observe? How do they connect with Israel? Those are some of the questions answered in a fascinating study released earlier this year that was sponsored by JTS’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and overseen by the school’s Dr. Jeffrey S. Kress, Bernard Heller Professor of Jewish Education. 

The study, colloquially named “20-Up” after a famous British documentary series, offers an unprecedented look at the Jewish connections and choices of a group of 400 Conservative Jews more than two decades after they became b’nei mitzvah in 1995. Now in their 30s, the group was previously contacted during their high school years and again in college, in “Four-Up” and “Eight-Up” reports.

The authors and co-principal investigators of the study are Dr. Ariela Keysar, senior fellow at the Public Policy and Law Program at Trinity College, and Dr. Barry A. Kosmin, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. (2005-19), both internationally known experts in social survey research, Jewish sociology, and demography. 

The longitudinal nature of the new study is significant, says Dr. Kress, because “development is a lifelong process. This project provides both statistical data and rich narratives to help us understand the Jewish life course of millennials.” 

Some high-level findings of the study include:

  • The group has maintained a strong sense of connection to Judaism, with 86 percent saying that being Jewish is important to them.
  • Family is pivotal to Jewish connections: When asked to describe what connects them to Judaism, respondents most frequently named family, followed by holidays, Shabbat, and synagogue.
  • Forty-three percent have maintained their original Conservative identity, while 57 percent identify with another or no synagogue denomination.
  • Similar to young American Jews in general, almost one-third specify no Jewish denomination, or consider themselves as cultural Jews.
  • The presence of children in respondents’ households has very significant positive effects on religious involvement and celebrations of all kinds.
  • Overall religious practices and rituals have declined considerably since earlier surveys, with regular synagogue attendees (monthly or more) comprising only 19 percent of respondents. Still, 38 percent were currently members of a synagogue and 23 percent expressed the intent to join in the future.
  • Those who continue to identify as Conservative exhibit significantly higher normative religious behaviors and Jewish attitudes than others. For instance, 65 percent of Conservative respondents said that being Jewish is “very important” in their life compared with 35 percent of those of other denominations.

Read the entire 20-Up study