May 11, 2021

Jewish Americans in 2020

5. Jewish community and connectedness

CORRECTION (May 20, 2021): Due to a typographical error, a previous version of the table “About half of U.S. Jews feel ‘a great deal’ of belonging to the Jewish people” misstated the percentage of Conservative Jews who feel some sense of belonging to the Jewish people. The actual share is 26%.

About three-quarters of Jewish Americans say at least “some” of their close friends are Jewish, including three-in-ten who say all or most of their close friends share their Jewish identity. Orthodox Jews are much more likely than Conservative or Reform Jews to report that all or most of their close friends are Jewish, and Jews who live in the Northeast are somewhat more likely than Jews in other regions to have a friendship circle that consists mostly or entirely of fellow Jews.

In addition, 85% of U.S. Jews say they feel at least “some” sense of belonging to the Jewish people, including roughly half who feel “a great deal” of belonging (48%). And eight-in-ten say they feel at least some responsibility to help fellow Jews in need around the world, including 28% who feel “a great deal” of responsibility. In general, Jews by religion are much more likely than Jews of no religion to share these feelings of connection. Looking at the opposite ends of the spectrum, nearly all Orthodox Jews (95%) express a great deal of belonging to the Jewish people, while just 13% of Jews of no religion feel the same way. (These two groups – Orthodox Jews and Jews of no religion – are categorized through different survey questions, but there is virtually no overlap: fewer than 1% of Jews of no religion identify as Orthodox, while 99% of Orthodox Jews identify as Jewish by religion.)

As noted in Chapter 2, one-third of Jewish adults say that being part of a Jewish community is essential to what being Jewish means to them, and an additional 39% say it is important, though not essential. In the survey (largely completed before the coronavirus pandemic affected daily life across the United States) about half of Jewish Americans say they made a donation to a Jewish cause in the past year. On these measures, too, Jews by religion – and especially Orthodox Jews – are notably more engaged in Jewish communities and causes than are Jews of no religion. For example, 61% of Jews by religion (including 88% of Orthodox Jews) said they made a donation to a Jewish charity in the year prior to taking the survey, compared with about one-in-ten Jews of no religion (11%).

The 2020 survey also asked Jewish respondents how much they feel they have in common with Jews in Israel, with various categories of American Jews, and with some other religious groups in the United States. A quarter of Jews by religion – including two-thirds of Orthodox Jews – say they have a lot in common with Israeli Jews, a position held by just 4% of Jews of no religion.

Most Jewish adults have at least some close friends who are Jewish

Three-in-ten Jews say all or most of their close friends are JewishAbout three-in-ten U.S. Jews say that all (5%) or most (23%) of their close friends are Jewish, and 44% say that some of their close friends are Jewish. One-quarter say that hardly any or none of their close friends are Jewish. These results are roughly on par with the 2013 survey.

Nearly four-in-ten Jews by religion say that all or most of their close friends are Jewish (37%), compared with just 8% among Jews of no religion who say this.

An overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jews say all or most of their close friends are Jewish (88%), twice the share of Conservative Jews who say the same (44%). Fewer Reform Jews (23%) and Jews with no denominational affiliation (12%) have predominantly Jewish friend circles.

Older Jews report having more robust Jewish friendship networks than younger Jews, as do married Jews compared with unmarried Jews. Jews living in the Northeast – where Jews are disproportionately concentrated, as described in Chapter 10 – tend to have more Jewish friends than Jews living in the Midwest, South or West.

Most Jewish Americans feel a sense of belonging to the Jewish people and responsibility for fellow Jews in need

About half of U.S. Jews feel ‘a great deal’ of belonging to the Jewish peopleThe vast majority of U.S. Jews say they feel either “a great deal” (48%) or “some” (37%) sense of belonging to the Jewish people. Jews by religion are far more likely than Jews of no religion to say they feel a great deal of belonging to the Jewish people (61% vs. 13%).

Nearly all Orthodox Jews included in the survey (95%) say they feel a great deal of belonging to the Jewish people, and roughly seven-in-ten Conservative Jews share this feeling (72%). Again, fewer Reform Jews (49%) and Jews with no denomination (21%) say the same.

Jews who say at least some of their close friends are Jewish are more than twice as likely as Jews who have hardly any or no close Jewish friends to say they feel a great deal of belonging to the Jewish people (59% vs. 20%).

Eight-in-ten U.S. Jews feel at least ‘some’ responsibility to help Jews in need around the worldIn addition, a large majority of U.S. Jews say they feel at least some responsibility to help Jews in need around the world, including 28% who say they feel “a great deal” of responsibility to do this. Roughly one-in-five Jewish adults say they do not feel much responsibility (16%) or that they feel no responsibility at all (3%) to help Jews around the world.

About one-third of Jews by religion (35%) say they feel a great deal of responsibility to help Jews in need around the world, compared with one-in-ten Jews of no religion (11%) – although most Jews of no religion say they feel at least some responsibility for the welfare of fellow Jews worldwide.

Among Jews who identify as Orthodox, 80% say they feel a great deal of responsibility to help Jews in need, while 42% of Conservative Jews and 23% of Reform Jews share this view. Just 14% of Jews who do not have a denomination say they feel a great deal of responsibility to help Jews in need around the world, while an additional 51% feel some responsibility.

Most Jews by religion donated to a Jewish charity in the past 12 monthsFeeling responsibility to take care of Jews around the world is linked with attachment to Israel: Four-in-ten Jews who feel at least somewhat attached to Israel say they feel a great deal of responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world (42%), compared with just 10% of those with little or no attachment to Israel. (For more on attitudes toward Israel, see Chapter 7.)

This sense of responsibility is also tied to feelings of belonging: One-third of Jews who say they feel at least some sense of belonging to the Jewish people also say they feel a great deal of responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world, compared with 6% of Jewish adults who feel less connected to the Jewish people.

When asked whether they made a financial donation to any Jewish charity or cause (such as a synagogue, Jewish school or group supporting Israel) in the 12 months prior to taking the survey, about half of Jews say they did (48%). Jews by religion are far more likely than Jews of no religion to say they made a donation to a Jewish charity in the past year (61% vs. 11%).

Older Jews, married Jews (particularly those with a Jewish spouse) and those reporting higher household incomes all are especially likely to donate to Jewish causes, as are Orthodox and Conservative Jews.

One-in-five U.S. Jews say they have a lot in common with Jews in Israel; Republicans more likely than Democrats to feel this way

Overall, six-in-ten U.S. Jewish adults say they feel they have either a lot in common (19%) or some things in common (40%) with Jews in Israel.

Most Jews of no religion feel they have little in common with Jews in IsraelThis includes fully two-thirds of Orthodox Jews who say they have a lot in common with Jews in Israel. By comparison, 30% of Conservative Jews, 12% of Reform Jews and 9% of Jews who do not identify with any branch of American Judaism say they have a lot in common with Israeli Jews.

Feelings of commonality with Jews in Israel are also tied to feelings of attachment to Israel. Among those who say they are very or somewhat attached to the Jewish state, 31% say they have a lot in common with Jews in Israel, compared with just 3% of respondents who say they are not too or not at all attached to Israel.

Similarly, U.S. Jews who have visited Israel at least once (or lived there) are much more likely than those who have never been to Israel to say they have a lot in common with Jews in Israel (33% vs. 8%).

There is a sharp partisan divide on this topic: Four-in-ten Jews who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party say they have a lot in common with Jews in Israel, compared with 12% of Jewish Democrats or Democratic leaners. (This is partly a reflection of the fact that three-quarters of Orthodox Jews surveyed say they are Republicans or lean Republican, but some partisan differences on this question remain even after controlling for differences in Jewish denominational affiliation and other demographic factors.)

Orthodox and Reform Jews see little in common with one another; Jews who don’t affiliate with any branch of Judaism see more in common with Muslims than with Orthodox Jews

Respondents also were asked how much they have in common with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews, as well as with some other religious groups in the United States – specifically, mainline Protestants, evangelical Christians and Muslims.

Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews typically don’t see a lot in common with one anotherOn one hand, members of different branches of American Judaism generally do not feel they have “a lot” in common with one another. For instance, just 9% of Orthodox Jews say they have a lot in common with Reform Jews, and an identical share of Reform Jews (9%) say they have a lot in common with the Orthodox. Conservative and Orthodox Jews are only slightly more inclined to feel common ground between their groups. And while about four-in-ten Conservative Jews say they have a lot in common with Reform Jews, just 14% of Reform Jews feel the same way toward those in the Conservative movement.

At the same time, many Jews feel they have at least some things in common with Jews from other denominational streams. For instance, while 14% of Conservative Jews say they have a lot in common with the Orthodox, an additional 52% say they feel some common ground. And fully two-thirds of Reform Jews say they have at least “some” commonalities with Conservative Jews. Most Reform Jews and Jews with no denominational identity, however, say they have “not much” or “nothing at all” in common with Orthodox Jews (60% and 74%, respectively).

The survey also asked how much respondents feel they have in common with people in their own branch or stream of U.S. Judaism. Not surprisingly, Jewish Americans are more likely to say they have a lot in common with their own group than with other groups. But these feelings are not universal: Six-in-ten Reform Jews, for example, say they have a lot in common with Reform Jews as a whole, and a similar share of Conservative Jews say they have a lot in common with Conservative Jewry more broadly. Among Orthodox Jews, the figure is closer to eight-in-ten (79%).

On the whole, Jewish adults who say at least some of their close friends are Jewish are more likely than Jews who have hardly any or no close Jewish friends to say they have a lot in common with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews.

Few U.S. Jews say they have a lot in common with Muslims, ChristiansRelatively few U.S. Jews say they have a lot in common with U.S. Muslims (4%), mainline Protestants (3%) or evangelical Christians (2%), with little variation across Jewish subgroups on these questions.

But far more Jewish adults say they have “some” things in common with mainline Protestants (35%) and Muslims (34%) than say the same about evangelical Christians (18%).

Reform Jews are more likely to say they have at least some in common with mainline Protestants (44%) than they are to say the same about Orthodox Jews (39%). And Jews who do not identify with any denominational branch are more likely to say this about both Muslims (33%) and mainline Protestants (30%) than about the Orthodox (24%).