National community survey: It is time to find out who we really are

By Laura Janner-Klausner and Ben Crome, February 7, 2014

Why be Jewish?

We need to answer this in a way we did not have to in the past. And our answers need to reflect the diversity of our community that the JPR survey reveals.

The report shows the serious socio-economic and cultural gulfs between Charedi and non-Charedi streams. A stronger sense of religious identification among the young and a slowing down of intermarriage rates are the overall trends — but they are not trends for all segments of British Jewry.

Two Jewries are emerging which threatens our ideal of one Klal Yisrael — the collective Jewish people. Maybe this is no longer tenable or maybe we need to adapt what we mean by it.

The research evokes hope and apprehension — this is true across the denominations. Is British Jewry sustainable? What interventions do we need to invest in, as a diverse British Jewry?

The drop in the proportion of Jews identifying as “traditional” and the simultaneous increase in those calling themselves “secular/cultural” indicates that all the denominations must do more to keep individuals active.

Thankfully, many of our community’s most vital institutions are thriving. Youth Movements provide thousands of young people with transformative experiences, as do our schools. Our welfare and elderly care is justifiably acclaimed.

Through careful financial prioritisation we can strengthen the parts of the community of which we are most proud.

We have a community that wants to bring about social change. Over 90 per cent of us believe that strong ethical behaviour is central to our Jewish identity; four-fifths consider it important to support social justice causes.

Interventions need not be expensive — for instance, providing a national learning programme can be done through a smart-phone app and supported by our educational, student and outreach organisations.

Just as the Prophets, Ezra and Nehemiah critiqued their recent history to guide the Jews on their return to Israel, this survey will help us better understand our present to chart a positive vision for our future.

Laura Janner-Klausner is the Reform movement’s Senior Rabbi. Ben Crome is a member of RSY-Netzer

Last updated: 8:45am, February 7 2014