Short read

It’s time to focus on our strengths and get building

When I look at who we are from my vantage point as a researcher and analyst of contemporary Jewish life, I can see that we have a tremendous amount to be proud of, and indeed to fight for.

Dr Jonathan Boyd

About 300,000 Jews live in the UK today – a small number compared to the seven million in Israel and sixmillion in the United States – and a tiny minority in Britain, comprising less than half a percent of the population of the country as a whole. At the same time, the UK is home to the fifth largest Jewish population in the world, and London houses the fourteenth largest urban Jewish population globally.

So, our perceptions of size are relative. The British Jewish community is both large and small – large enough to have built a vibrant and dynamic Jewish life in the country with numerous synagogues, Jewish schools, youth movements, cultural centres, festivals and events, but small enough to see many regional communities struggling to maintain their infrastructure, and for individual Jews to sometimes feel vulnerable and isolated in the face of an antisemitic threat that appears to be growing. British Jews continue to grapple with the tension between being out and proud in multicultural Britain and toning down or hiding their Jewishness for fear of falling victim to hostility.

At the same time, when one scratches beneath the surface of the Jewish population, one quickly finds tremendous diversity. At one end of the spectrum is the rapidly growing haredi community, living intensely religious Jewish lives informed by unfailing belief in God and extensive study of Jewish religious texts. At the other, is a large proportion of self-identifying Jews who are entirely secular, rarely, if ever, setting foot in a synagogue, but nonetheless finding significant meaning and pride in some of the cultural aspects of Jewish life and history. In between these poles are numerous shades of Jewishness: Jews seeking to strike their preferred balance between their Jewish and British identities, their spiritual and rational beliefs, and their commitments to the community and the wider world.

New data, new stories

All this can be seen in the new Institute for Jewish Policy Research report on British Jewish identity. But what that report does not and cannot do is tell us what the future holds. That chapter remains to be written. Yet amidst all the data in this first major study of Jewish identity here for a decade, several stories provide hints of where we may be heading, some of which should concern us deeply. We see evidence of our struggles to retain our Jewishness in a secular society, of our weakening connection with Israel, and of our common inclination to build our identities on the foundations of antisemitism and the Holocaust, more than on Jewish values, ideas and traditions.

We cannot avoid these issues. But right now, when our collective sense of hope has been shattered by the October 7 attacks, perhaps it is more important to focus on the positive stories within the report. And there are many. Alongside the challenges, the data also reveal a portrait of a community guided by moral principles, deeply committed to giving to others, and remarkably engaged in maintaining and building Jewish communal life. We see clear evidence of widespread community engagement, continued participation in educational and cultural activities, and a profound sense that our Jewishness really matters to us.

So, however desperate our times may be, however anxious we may be about our future both here and in Israel, when I look at who we are from my vantage point as a researcher and analyst of contemporary Jewish life, I can see that we have a tremendous amount to be proud of, and indeed to fight for. These new data tell that story, and if we use the findings judiciously to guide communal planning in the years to come, we are more than capable of securing our future, both here and in Israel.

There are many contrasting ways to see who we are. It’s time, I think, to focus on our many strengths and get building.

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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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