Jack Wertheimer and his team of sociologists and researchers have just released an incredibly informative report (PDF) examining the demographics, experiences, and work of young Jewish leaders, stemming from hundreds of interviews and thousands of survey responses. Notably, it avoids characterizing all activities undertaken by such people as necessarily “anti-establishment,” while delving far more deeply into the actual views they hold than any such study or article I’ve seen before. It covers just about every aspect of Jewish life, sorting Jewish organizational endeavors into three categories: protective, progressive, and expressive. The report files most older established organizations (AIPAC, AJC, ADL, etc.) under the “protective” category: they exist to protect some component of Jewishness (or Israel). Progressive organizations are those focused on causes such as environmentalism or social service, and expressive organizations are those specifically oriented toward new methods of Jewish expression.
It’s also notable that the report spends a fair amount of time analyzing how “establishment” organizations have been extremely important in actually creating these leaders: many have gone to day school and Jewish camps, and newer cutting-edge Jewish organizations are to a great extend funded and supported by older ones.
This dynamic receives less attention within the Jewish community than it should, in my view with important consequences. New organizations are often responses to perceived deficiencies in the existing system, not necessarily attempts to reject it out of hand. So even while older Jews and establishment organizations fund the newer ones, Jews at large often perceive the two as diametrically opposed. This isn’t to say “there’s more unity in the Jewish community than you think” (I hate the “we actually all agree” argument – it’s stupid to try to sugarcoat internal divisions), just that young Jews get a bad rap as being uninterested in anything establishment. The flip side, which the report also covers, is that young Jews need to be less reactionary in distancing themselves from the establishment.
Check out the full report for more in-depth analysis of current trends in Jewish organizations and communities.
P.S. I used the word “establishment” six times in this post. Actually, now it’s seven. Anyone have an idea for a better word? I’m a bit tired of it.