Jewish students say their voice is ignored

By Marcus Dysch, October 6, 2011

The most comprehensive survey of Jewish students' views ever conducted has revealed that young Jews staunchly support Israel, fear not finding a job after graduation, and are concerned that younger voices are not heard by the wider Jewish community.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research's National Jewish Student Survey focused on dozens of issues facing Jewish students, including kashrut on campuses, their hopes for the future and details of relationships with Jewish and non-Jewish friends. It provides data never available before.

Questions on Israel drew a stronger response than any other topic. Of those questioned, 92 per cent of Jewish students had visited the country, with the remainder "hoping to visit one day". In total, 89 per cent felt "very or fairly positive" towards Israel.

Almost half of all Jewish students said Israel was "regularly" or "occasionally" raised as an issue at their student unions. However, only 11 per cent of the general student population agreed – suggesting a preoccupation among some young Jews with how Israel is perceived on campus.

But the findings also appear to contradict fears that many within the community have about antisemitism and anti-Israel activity at universities.

By the numbers

75% of Jewish students are members of UJS
50% of UK Jewish students attend eight universities

Students in Scotland are more likely to have experienced antisemitism than those in London, yet fear of attacks is greater in the capital. Scottish students said they were less worried, despite the greater threat. A parallel study carried out with non-Jewish students revealed that almost two-thirds had no feelings about Israel at all.

Membership of UJS is high, with 75 per cent of Jewish students signed up to the union. One in three said they were regularly involved with University Jewish Chaplaincy.

Responses from focus groups showed young Jews are concerned about how the wider Jewish community is run and led. The report notes: "They do not feel that their voices are being heard, they are frustrated about inter-denominational tensions, they feel that alternative views are marginalised and they express pessimism about the community's future."

The survey, published on Tuesday, reveals that Jewish students' religious practice diminishes during their time at university compared to when they are living at home, but their social interaction with other Jews increases.

Students from Reform and Progressive backgrounds are only half as likely to be involved in JSoc as those from Orthodox families.

Half of all Britain's Jewish students attend just eight institutions – at universities in Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, Cambridge, Oxford and London – out of the country's 113 further education centres. Results also showed that 40 per cent of young Jews have only ever dated a fellow Jew, with 72 per cent believing it is "important for a Jew to marry another Jew".

The survey was commissioned by the Union of Jewish Students and the Pears Foundation. Data was collected in February and March from more than 900 students at 95 institutions, with a further 43 people taking part in a focus group session. The numbers represented around 14 per cent of Britain's total Jewish student population.

Last updated: 2:07pm, October 6 2011