Teens feel less comfortable about attending communal events during pandemic than the over 85s

New survey of 7,000 British Jews finds anxiety about returning to community spaces


Young British Jews in their late teens feel less comfortable about attending communal activities or events than those aged over 85, according to a report on the impact of the pandemic on the Jewish community.

The Institute for Jewish Policy Research surveyed close to 7,000 Jews in July when lockdown restrictions had begun to ease and some places of worship were reopening.

Overall, the Jewish community remained cautious about the idea of going to communal places. On a scale of zero meaning very comfortable, to ten, very uncomfortable, the average score was just over 5.8.

All age groups in the sample scored over five, including the age bracket that felt most comfortable, those in their late 40s.

Those aged 16 to 19 scored over six, as did those from 60 to 84. Those aged 85 were slightly under six.

Women felt less comfortable than men. The strictly Orthodox were the most comfortable although still scoring well over five. The least comfortable were those who were not synagogue members.

“The community faces an enormous challenge if those who are less than fully engaged fail to return over time — and those who already felt marginal disengage further,” JPR commented.

Fewer than a quarter — 24 per cent — scored three or under, indicating they were fairly comfortable about the prospect of collective activities.

Those who were working generally expressed less concern than those who had been furloughed or were on paid leave. Perhaps this was because the latter “may be struggling with loss of income and, in some cases, dealing with long-term damage to their business [so] they may be feeling less confident in general, which may, in turn, translate into discomfort about returning to Jewish spaces”. However, JPR noted that the unemployed felt more comfortable than average.

The figures ought to “give community leaders pause for thought as they consider how best to include those who are unlikely to participate in in-person activities and events whilst there remains a risk of contracting the disease”, JPR said.

“Specific, bespoke, creative and meaningful initiatives” needed to include older people as online provision was unlikely to meet the needs of all of them.

Reflecting on the levels of discomfort among those aged 16 to 24, JPR said it could be “related to the above average levels of psychological distress they tend to feel. Whilst everyone is facing a considerable deal of uncertainty at present, perhaps it affects young people in particular — the lack of clarity about exams, the indecision about university places, the struggle to afford to live independently and the challenges of the job market are inevitably stressful for many.”

In conclusion, JPR said “Jewish communal life has long depended upon in-person interaction — being together, physically, to celebrate, mourn, pray, learn, socialise and connect.

“The inability to do these things in person, over time, is potentially very damaging to Jewish communal life.

“Whilst technological solutions have a very important role to play, the task of planning for an uncertain future ought to be a key focus.”

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