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Five key facts about Jewish identity in the UK today

Rising concerns about antisemitism are distorting our Jewish identities, the moral dimension of Jewishness matters to all of us, and we’re happier together. Here are a few takeaways from our National Jewish Identity Survey.

Dr Jonathan Boyd

Last month, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research published its landmark report, ‘Jews in the UK today’, based on the responses of nearly 5,000 adult British Jews who are members of the JPR research panel. At over 120 pages in length, the report covers a great deal from values and morals to our relations with Israel and how we respond to antisemitism. There’s much to chew on in this landmark study of Jewish identity, and we will be doing that in multiple ways over the coming months, starting with our new podcast series with JW3, ‘Jews Do Count’.

But to help begin that conversation, here are five findings that have jumped out at me as I have started to share the results across the community:

The more attached to the community we feel, the happier we tend to be

Whilst correlation isn’t causation, there is a considerable amount of sociological literature on the relationship between being embedded in strong social networks and people’s wellbeing, that strongly suggests community involvement is good for us. Given the significant mental health crisis going on today that particularly affects young people, it seems to me that community frameworks could play a more deliberate role in helping to offset some of these challenges and become more significant mechanisms to help people become part of supportive communal networks.

The connections between informal Jewish educational activities are as important as the activities themselves

The more informal Jewish educational activities we participate in (such as youth summer camps, Israel tours, gap year programmes, etc.), the more likely we are to be embedded in Jewish social networks and to feel attached to the Jewish community. There is something significant about these means of engagement that helps to fuel this, and it merits more attention, development and investment. Jewish community organisations clearly aspire to strengthen Jewish life; our findings suggest that they not only need to work hard on strengthening the quality of these types of experiences, but also on the connections that link one educational experience to the next. There is no ‘silver bullet’ experience that will make the critical difference between community involvement and not; what matters most is supporting every individual to find the next experience that will help to maintain and strengthen their connection.

We are three times as likely to move in a more secular direction over the course of our lives, than in a more religious one

While about six in ten of us will stay in approximately the same denominational place throughout our lives irrespective of the Jewish denominational context in which we grow up, about one in ten will move religiously ‘rightwards’ (i.e. in a more religiously orthodox, or frum, direction), and about three in ten will move religiously ‘leftwards’ (i.e. in a more religiously progressive or secular direction). This ‘6-1-3 rule,’ which we have also seen in research we have conducted on Jews across Europe, suggests to me that the overarching secular culture in which we live impacts all of us, irrespective of the type of Jewishness we inherit or grow up with. Seeing this pattern has prompted me to think about Jewish denominational life somewhat differently – whilst there are important denominational differences between Jews that influence our Jewishness in many significant ways, we all have to grapple with the larger question of how to sustain our Jewishness in a secular context that affects all of us similarly. The exception is Charedim – they are notably less likely than others to be pulled in a leftwards direction.

Marching against antisemitism in London

London, Whitehall, UK, 26th November 2023. Antisemitism march and rally in support of Jews and against hate and discrimination

Concern about antisemitism is changing the nature of our Jewish identities

Levels of anxiety about antisemitism have been rising among British Jews for some time now. But antisemitism is not simply about what is happening ‘out there’ on the streets of the UK or online. It is also affecting our inner sense of Jewishness – our survey results show that both ‘combating antisemitism’ and ‘remembering the Holocaust’ have become significantly more important parts of our Jewish identities over the past decade, more so than other more positive dimensions of Jewishness such as celebrating festivals with our families, charitable giving or learning. We ought to be mindful of this; Jewish identities grounded predominantly in concern about antisemitism miss much of what Jewishness is fundamentally about, and are difficult to sustain in the long-term

The moral dimension of Jewishness could be key to strengthening the ties that bind us together

The element of Jewishness that appears to unite Jews across the denominational spectrum more than any other is ‘moral and ethical behaviour’. More or less all Jews, from the most secular to the most orthodox, buy into the idea that being Jewish comes with a moral code or imperative. Of course, how they define precisely what that moral code is, and what behaviours are associated with it, vary. Still, it seems to me that there is something in this moral dimension of Jewishness might serve as the basis for building a stronger sense of commonality across the Jewish community going forward.

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Dr Jonathan Boyd

Executive Director

Dr Jonathan Boyd

Executive Director

Jonathan has been Executive Director of JPR since 2010, having previously held research and policy positions at the JDC International Centre for Community Development in...

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