Millennials embrace “more or less Jewish” mindset—non-Jews invited

A study of American Jews shows that younger Jews are moving toward a “more or less Jewish” mentality that embraces self-autonomy and openness to non-Jews to a greater extent than that of their parents’ generation, said sociologist Steven Cohen in a talk he gave at the Committee on Religion at the City University of New York in early November, attended by RW. The preliminary study by Cohen, which is based on qualitative interviews of Jewish young adults, finds that Jewish Millennials embrace the individualism and search for meaning of the older Baby Boomers, but with less guilt and judgmentalism. But the second “move” the younger generation makes is more specific to them: “they believe that they shouldn’t exclude non-Jews from their communities. Synagogues are not just for Jews but places for people who want to do Jewish stuff,” Cohen said. This tendency is clearest in the Reform and Conservative Jewish worlds but can also be seen even in such places as the Orthodox-sponsored Jewish student unions in high schools, where as much as 10 percent of the members are not Jewish.

Cohen links these attitudes to the sharp growth in intermarried families in the U.S. He cited surveys among younger Jews showing that today 60 percent of identified Jews have a non-Jewish parent, and two-thirds have a close family member who is non-Jewish. He compared those figures to the 1970s when 22 percent of Jewish families were intermarried. Cohen sees a transformation from collective identity to a “Protestant-individualist ethic of being Jewish.” Apart from the Orthodox community, Cohen concludes that the loss of norms for many American Jews will translate into less organizational vitality. When asked by RW about the alternative Jewish communities established by Baby Boomers, such as in the Jewish Renewal movement, and how they might attract such “more or less Jewish” young adults, he said that many of these older groups have aged and declined along with established ones. He added that there are also Jewish “small start-ups” that have been started by some Millennial Jews and have found a following, but that they are not measuring up to significant new growth.