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Jewish Students Involved, Connections Vary

by Hillel News |Jan 21, 2004|Comments

American Jewish college students show an interest in Jewish life and vary in their connections to the Jewish community, in some areas demonstrating weaker connections than their parents and grandparents but in other areas showing they are equally if not more involved than older generations.

That is one conclusion from National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 data released by the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the survey's sponsor, at the recent Hillel international professional staff conference. Addressing the Hillel Conference in Princeton, NJ, NJPS Project Manager Lorraine Blass and NJPS Research Director Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz estimated that there were 268,300 Jews age 18-24, and 91,300 Jews age 25-29 on campuses in 2000-01, for a total campus Jewish population of 359,600. An estimated 232,600 Jews age 18-24 were not on campus, some of whom were still in high school and a majority of whom reported that they were working full or part time. NJPS was conducted from August 2000 through August 2001 and included interviews with 217 Jews, ages 18-29, who were in college at the time of the survey. UJC's PowerPoint presentation on Jewish college students is available at ujc.org and hillel.org.

Most American Jews -- including college students -- observe a number of important Jewish holidays and rituals, including lighting Chanukah candles, fasting on Yom Kippur and participating in a Passover Seder. In addition, Jewish college students are just as likely to connect to the Jewish community through volunteering as all Jewish adults, and they are more likely to use the Internet for Jewish purposes than all adult Jews.

But Jewish college students have less intense feelings about Jewish peoplehood than all U.S. Jews. For example, 21% of Jewish college students "strongly agree" with the statement that they have a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need, compared to 31% for all adult Jews. Similarly, 34% of Jewish college students "strongly agree" that U.S. and Israeli Jews share a common destiny, in contrast to 39% of all adult Jews.

The NJPS data reveal that the college-age Jewish population is almost evenly split between those who have two Jewish parents (48 percent) and those who have only one Jewish parent (45 percent). Students with two Jewish parents tend to be more religiously observant and Jewishly connected than those with only one Jewish parent. For example, 80 percent of those with two Jewish parents felt very positive about being Jewish compared to 65 percent among those with one Jewish parent. Both groups demonstrated an interest in Jewish studies, with 43 percent of those with two Jewish parents and 24 percent of those with one Jewish parent taking at least one Jewish studies course during their time in college.

Levels of participation in Hillel among college students are similar to levels of affiliation with other types of communal institutions among Jewish adults: An estimated 27 percent of all Jewish college students participate in Hillel activities, compared to 30 percent of adults who donate to Jewish federations. Thirty-six percent of those with two Jewish parents participate in Hillel activities compared to 15 percent of students with one Jewish parent.

Friendships and dating also differ between these two groups. Students with two Jewish parents are more likely to have close friends who are Jewish than are students with one Jewish parent. Among those who are dating, nearly all students with one Jewish parent date both Jews and non-Jews, while 55 percent of students with two Jewish parents date Jews and non-Jews. Slightly more than one-third of students with two Jewish parents (36 percent) date fellow Jews only, while hardly any students with one Jewish parent date Jews exclusively.

Jewish college students reported that they experienced slightly more anti-Semitism in the year prior to the survey (26%) than did all Jewish adults (21%). But most Jews perceived more anti-Semitism than actually experienced it, with 79% of college students and 82% of all adult Jews saying a great deal or moderate amount of anti-Semitism exists in the U.S. Respondents defined the term anti-Semitism for themselves, according to their own experiences and perceptions.

"The NJPS data underscore the tremendous challenge that confronts the Jewish community and the Jewish campus community," says Hillel Interim International President Avraham Infeld. "While we are pleased that large numbers of Jewish students are participating in Hillel activities and taking Jewish studies courses, we cannot be satisfied until we have touched the lives of the vast majority of Jewish students on campus. Clearly, we must redouble our efforts to engage uninvolved Jewish students, particularly among the children of intermarriage."

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