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The Pew Webinar: Dr. Jonathan Woocher’s Notes

This is an outline of Dr. Jonathan Woocher’s presentation in yesterday’s webinar – The Pew Research Study: Implications for Jewish Education Webinar. Dr. Woocher covered five big ideas:

1. Importance and limits of survey data

a. big picture, but static

b. only asks about a limited range of behaviors – can’t interpret what wasn’t asked

c. can see what they said, but not what they meant

d. in a diverse and dynamic community, what is happening in front of us may be more important than any survey results


2. Survey shows persistence and resilience of a positive disposition to Jewishness among a large majority of American Jews, including many in the categories associated with low levels of Jewish activity

a. Pride in Jewishness (97JR, 83JNR, 89I), strong sense of belonging to Jewish people (85, 42, 59), Jewishness very or somewhat important (90, 46, 67)

b. Accept that there are some Jews uninterested in Jewish involvement or expression

c. But, if reservoir of positive feeling is there, are there ways to activate it that we are not employing?


3. Clear that most Jews get that the category of “religion” is not an ideal fit for what Jewishness means

a. Even JRs choose ancestry/culture over religion by 55 – 17 (26 both)

b. Clear also in what respondents consider important in being Jewish


What’s Essential to Being Jewish?
% saying ____ is an essential part of what being Jewish means to them NET Jewish Jews by religion Jews of no religion
% % %
Remembering the Holocaust 73 76 60
Leading an ethical and moral life 69 73 55
Working for justice/equality 56 60 46
Being intellectually curious 49 51 42
Caring about Israel 43 49 23
Having good sense of humor 42 43 40
Being part of a Jewish community 28 33 10
Observing Jewish law 19 23 7
Eating traditional Jewish foods 14 16 9
Source: Pew Research Center 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews, Feb. 20-June 13, 2013.

4. Big question is whether the Jewish education we offer is in fact helping them pursue what they consider important in being Jewish in ways that deepen their connection to Jewish wisdom, historical experience, and contemporary community

5. Need more diverse options (including “non-religious”) – and are seeing the appeal of such options in areas like outdoor, food, and environmental ed, etc.

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