June 24, 2011

Many Young Jews Volunteer but Rarely in Faith Projects

About 80 percent of Jews age 18 to 35 have engaged in volunteer work during the past year, but by and large their volunteerism has been infrequent and not related to their faith, according to a new study.

The study, commissioned by Repair the World, a group that works to promote volunteerism among Jews, surveyed roughly 1,000 young Jews last fall and is believed to be the first in-depth look at volunteerism within a faith group, according to Jon Rosenberg, Repair the World's chief executive. Many of the findings apply to any religious group, he says.

Repair the World was created by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, the Jim Joseph Foundation, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

Of the young Jews in the survey, 78 percents said they had volunteered at least once over the past year, which is a positive sign, Mr. Rosenberg said. Still, the survey results point to some challenges.

Only a third of respondents characterized their volunteerism as an integral part of their lives and do so at least once a month.

“Their volunteering is sporadic and episodic,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “It’s not skilled volunteering that is likely to be high impact around communities of need."

The survey also found a huge gap in the volunteering habits of those who are more religious and those who are more secular.

Among those who are most religiously involved–who regularly attend religious services, observe the Sabbath, and follow Jewish dietary laws–91 percent said they had volunteered at least once over the past year and 53 percent said they volunteer regularly.

Those who aren't as religiously active are also much less active as volunteers—61 percent said they had volunteered at least once in the past year, and 17 percent say they volunteer regularly.

Faith also had little to do with the volunteering activities Jews pursued: Only 27 percent of the young adults said that their volunteerism was based on Jewish values, and only 10 percent said that their volunteer work was organized by a Jewish nonprofit.

Mr. Rosenberg says the study points to the need for all groups to change the way they promote volunteerism.

Most young Jews, for example no longer connect to volunteer opportunities via traditional advertising but instead through social networks and friends.

Jewish groups must learn how to use those social networks so they can connect volunteers back to the Jewish community, he said.