Repair the World is pleased to present the first-ever comprehensive study of contemporary Jewish young adults and their attitudes and behaviors towards community service. Entitled “Volunteering +Values: A Repair the World Report of Jewish Young Adults,” the study was commissioned by Repair the World and conducted as a collaborative effort between the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications. Prior to this study, little was known about the full extent of Jewish young adults’ service commitments as national surveys of volunteering either did not include information about the religious identity of respondents or contained too small a sample of Jewish young adults to permit meaningful analysis.

The study reveals that Jewish millennials believe their service can make a difference in the world and in the lives of others. While the majority of these young adults currently do not connect their service with Jewish values and identity, the findings provide a path forward for Jewish leaders who believe that making this connection is important for strengthening the Jewish community.

Jon Rosenberg, CEO of Repair the World, was joined by the key members of the research team for a web-based presentation on Monday, June 27 at 1:30PM ET. Watch the webinar below. Download the Powerpoint presentation here.

The study’s key findings:

  • The majority of contemporary Jewish young adults engage in volunteer work, with volunteer rates ranging from 63% to 86% depending on denomination/identity. Over three-quarters, 78%, also engage in some form of civic activity, such as participating in the political process, publicly expressing their opinions, or financially supporting causes. Motivation tends to be rooted in a desire to make a difference in the lives of others and working on issues that have personal meaning with the volunteer.
  • Most volunteering is an infrequent and episodic activity. Almost one-third of respondents have made volunteering an integral part of their lives and engage in a service activity at least once a month. But, only 21% have participated, at some point in their lives, in an intensive program of one to 12 weeks, such as an alternative college spring break (“Alternative Break”) or immersive summer experience. More than 50% of respondents said that in a typical week they don’t volunteer.
  • Much of the volunteer work is local, as cited by nearly 80% of respondents, and focuses on efforts to ameliorate disparities in economic resources and educational opportunity. Indeed, as it relates to the focus of respondents’ primary volunteer work, the three most cited are material assistance to the needy, health care/medical research, and education/literacy. Conversely, only 1% of respondents cited Israel/Middle East Peace as the primary focus of their volunteer work.
  • The most commonly cited volunteer activities included teaching and mentoring, as well as collecting, sorting and distributing goods such as food and clothing, event planning, and providing manual labor for building construction and revitalization or repairs.
  • Gender is a significant predictor of volunteerism, with 78% of females, compared to 63% of males, volunteering within the past 12 months.
  • Religious involvement also influences volunteer habits. Jewish young adults with the highest levels of Jewish religious involvement, including but not restricted to Orthodox young adults, are the most likely to engage in volunteering, to do so regularly, and to volunteer under Jewish auspices.
  • Volunteering is the result of social learning that originates in the home and is reinforced by peers. Social networks, such as family and friends, play a prominent role in volunteer recruitment, as cited by nearly 25% of respondents. Parental involvement also tends to be a motivating factor; Jewish young adults who recalled their parents engaged in community service were themselves more likely to be regular volunteers.
  • Only a small portion of Jewish young adults, 10%, indicated that their primary volunteer commitment was organized by Jewish organizations. Moreover, only 18% said that they prefer to volunteer with Jewish organizations or synagogues over other non-profit organizations. And the vast majority, 78%, said it doesn’t matter if the organization with which they are engaged in service is Jewish or non-Jewish.
  • Young Jewish adults don’t know about volunteer opportunities in the Jewish community. Of particular interest, a substantial number of respondents, 23%, indicated that their lack of familiarity with volunteer opportunities available through the Jewish community was a major reason why they did not volunteer with Jewish organizations. There is also the perception among this cohort that Jewish organizations do not address the causes that most resonate with them, and that the focus of Jewish organizations is too parochial and narrow, serving only the needs of the Jewish community.
  • Universal values rather than Jewish-based values and identity drive volunteerism. For many young Jewish adults, volunteering is an activity partitioned off from their Jewish identity in much the same way that their Jewish identity is separate from many aspects of their current lives. Overall, only 27% of respondents agreed that they consider their volunteer actions to be based on Jewish values and only 10% strongly endorsed this statement.