Study Looks Beyond Shul – The Forward - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
Skip to main content

Study Looks Beyond Shul – The Forward

Main Content
Monday, December 3, 2007

A new study of independent Jewish communities has found that their members tend to be both younger than synagogue members and more strongly connected to Judaism. 

According to a study of 80 spiritual communities across North America, 74% of participants in these groups are young adults, compared with 29% of synagogue members. This figure is particularly significant, given ongoing concerns about declining levels of Jewish affiliation among young Jews. The study, which was conducted by an independent prayer group in New York and by Synagogue 3000, a not-for-profit dedicated to innovative approaches to worship, examined Jewish groups that have been founded since 1996 and that are not affiliated with a synagogue or a larger Jewish organization. 

The study estimated the overall number of such groups, but it does not give an estimate of how many people are involved with them. 

Sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who led the study, argued that even without being able to gauge the total number of participants in these groups, the demographic profile of the participants themselves was significant. 

"These are young, nonmarried adults. They don't join synagogues," he said. "So the fact that they're showing up at all is surprising." 

Cohen told the Forward that the independent groups were dispersed across the entire country. 

The study found that participants in these groups are more likely than synagogue members to attend services regularly. They are also more likely to have had intensive Jewish experiences, such as attendance at a day school or at a Jewish camp. 

The vast majority of participants in the independent communities identified as either unaffiliated or Conservative Jews, and 65% of participants are women. 

Anthony Weiss
Wed. Dec 05, 2007

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.