The Conspiracy

Why the Jewish College Student Survey Matters to You

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For all its hype, the Pew report missed a lot of college-aged Jews, and therefore might have missed a lot about us. Two professors from Trinity College in Connecticut, Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, hope to get the true picture of who we are and what we want by creating an online survey accessible here that they hope will reach as many Jewish students as possible.

New Voices editor Derek M. Kwait interviewed Professors Kosmin and Keysar via email about their goals for the survey and what it means for us.

  •  Please define “college student.” Is a 22 year-old Jew who never went to college ineligible to participate in the survey? Is a middle-aged Jew just starting college now eligible?

The survey is primarily aimed at current American college students since it is a comparative study with our 2013 national student survey and a 2012 U.K Jewish Student survey.

Older students are eligible, although we expect most of the students to be 18-22.

  • Similarly, how are you defining Jews?

The respondents decide if they are Jewish or not. This is the wording of the introduction:

We would like you to complete this survey if you consider yourself to be Jewish in any way, such as by religion, culture, ethnicity, parentage or ancestry.

We wish to cast the net wide in order to capture a full spectrum.

As in our previous studies, we prefer to let the respondent self-identify, to empower him/herself to be part of the Jewish community. As we know from other studies, Jews do not like to be told how to be Jewish. And the issue of “who is a Jew” is very sensitive.

  • Why is it important for young Jews to participate in this survey?

Young adults are under-represented in most surveys of Jews, which are directed to households reached by landline telephones.  Ours is geared to the younger generation because it is online – the medium is the message.

It is important for many young Jews to participate. It increases the chances that diverse opinions will be expressed and that the survey will better represent the diversity of young people today.

The powers that be will listen to young people if they are willing to give their views and communicate their opinions. So we need lots of students to participate – there is power in numbers.

Please encourage your readers to participate in the survey by following this link

  • What ramifications should the results of this survey have for the Jewish world?

The survey taps into current issues, which have policy implications.  It will have ramifications if we find clear differences across the generations. Some of the areas covered are Jewish identity, religious practices and secular Jewish involvement, intermarriage, anti-Semitism, and campus life.

  • What, if anything, tends to distinguish Jewish students from their peers?

Good question. We’ll be interested to compare our results from this survey to our 2013 U.S. national student survey, which covered students of all religions.

  • Based on your findings so far, do you feel there is anything Jewish organizations “don’t get” about young Jews, a common misperception or mistrust that prevents students from fully identifying with them and their goals? Put another way, what should Jewish organizations do to better engage young Jews?

That is a key question we hope to answer. We don’t have any findings yet; we are only beginning the survey this week.

  • In what ways do Millennial Jews tend to conceive of their Jewish identities differently than their forebears?

Previous surveys have found that Millennial Jews are less likely than their elders to put a high priority on religious practices such as kashrut and more likely to emphasize cultural aspects of Judaism. It will be interesting to see if this survey bears that out.

  • Are Jewish students disproportionately active in causes? Is there any common denominator in the causes they join? Do they typically connect their Judaism to their causes? How do students define “Jewish causes”?

We will be asking students about their membership in Jewish organizations such as Hillel, AIPAC and J Street, and Jewish fraternities. We’ll try to get to the bottom of the question you’re raising.

  • What have you found about interdating–its prevalence and student attitudes towards it?

We have questions on dating too. In the past, surveys have found that Millennial students are more open to interdating than their elders were.

  • What, if anything, do you feel the Pew Survey got wrong about young Jews?

We don’t know since they didn’t have many young Jews in their sample and that’s why we’re undertaking this study of Jewish college students.

  • Would you define this as a “secular” generation, however you would define that?

Our previous surveys of American students and Generation X revealed they were more secular than older people. By that we mean more likely to identify as “secular” rather than “religious”; attend religious services less often, more likely to say religion wasn’t important in their lives.

Pew using similar questions also claimed that young Jews were less religious on average.

  • Prof. Keysar, in the press release, you say that “young people are the harbingers of societal change.” Can you please elaborate on that and say how the survey can help them create that change?

Young people often tend to rebel and distance themselves from their parents and their parents’ generation by opening up to new ideas. The Internet connects young people worldwide, breaks traditional boundaries and accelerates societal change. The survey will not create change but when we publish the results of the survey it will bring to the attention of the Jewish community any change that’s happening at the college campus.


Please click here to take the survey.

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  1. First Results of the Jewish Student Survey are In! | New Voices - September 15, 2014

    […] results of the Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students 2014 are out. Started last spring by Drs. Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar at the Trinity College Institute for the …, this is the first comprehensive scientific survey ever of an underrepresented and under studied […]

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