National Rabbinic Survey Offers Outlook for Jewish New Year; Reveals Focus for High Holidays, Security Concerns and Strong Political and Social Activism
MINNEAPOLIS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), a national foundation dedicated to synagogue innovation and leadership development, today announced the results of its first Rabbinic Leadership Survey: Vision 5767. With Rosh Hashanah (September 23-24) and Yom Kippur (October 2) marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year, a survey of over 100 rabbis across the country reveals High Holiday goals, an optimistic view for the future despite obstacles, strong political and social activism with Israel as the focus, and growing concerns over local security and anti-Semitism abroad.
“The current state of affairs in Israel has created a wake up call for American Jewry”
High Holiday Message...Come Back for More
Asked about the issues they plan to address in their High Holiday sermons, support for Israel ranked first (72%), followed by creating a better future (42%), forgiveness (37%), participation beyond High Holiday services (34%), and maintaining Jewish pride and strength in difficult times (30%).
In terms of a number one goal for their sermons, rabbis split their responses between bringing the congregational community closer together (27%), followed by increasing the level of moral/ethical behavior of the congregation (20%), and inspiring congregants to become involved in additional activities (12%).
Realism about Engagement Challenges, but Optimism about U.S. Jewish Renaissance
When asked about the most pressing Jewish issue today, keeping Jews involved, active, and affiliated in synagogue life ranked first both as a concern for their congregation and for the U.S. Jewish community in general (51% and 28% respectively), followed by making Judaism more relevant (33% and 22% respectively).
Despite the challenge of making Judaism more relevant to people's lives, rabbis remain optimistic about the future. Almost two-thirds (64%) believe that an American Jewish renaissance is underway. Additionally, more than two thirds of rabbis are at least somewhat satisfied with their efforts to retain (76%) and recruit (64%) members.
However, when asked about the level of involvement in synagogue-based activities in the U.S. in general over the next three years, rabbis expect stagnation with significant numbers saying attendance at synagogue events and services throughout the year (42%) and participation in High Holiday services (56%) will remain the same.
Adult education programs and membership are a source of optimism with more than half (54%) expecting growth in the years to come for adult programs and over one third (34%) citing a likely increase in synagogue membership in the U.S. in general.
"Optimism can help promote success in these areas," says Rabbi Hayim Herring, Executive Director of STAR. "However, rabbis will also need to take new, concrete steps in order to turn their outreach and retention hopes into real synagogue growth and affiliation."
Rabbi Role Expands...Stretching Beyond the Local Jewish Community
When thinking about their relationship with their congregation, 32% of the rabbis describe themselves as a "CEO in charge of running all aspects of the synagogue" and 28% say they act as more of a "Chief Religious Officer (CRO) primarily overseeing all religious elements of the synagogue." Despite these divergent views, 95% of rabbis say they have at least some impact as a moral voice for their community on important issues, and 74% believe they have an impact on shaping the Jewish community agenda.
Additionally, over 80% believe they influence building bridges with other Jewish denominational groups (88%) and interfaith groups (83%). In fact, 88% of rabbis say they routinely get together with rabbis from other Jewish denominations, and 63% meet regularly with priests, imams, and leaders of other religious institutions.
The vast majority (90%) also point to a need within their community to reach out to segments that have historically been less involved, such as gays and lesbians, interfaith couples, single parents, and singles.
"These findings demonstrate openness to community diversity," says Rabbi Herring. "The ground is fertile for these attitudinal shifts to be reinforced in programs and policies."
Synagogue as Political and Social Hub with Israel at its Heart
Half of rabbis surveyed (50%) say they balance their community focus between Jewish causes and broader issues. In fact, the results indicate that the synagogue is playing a key role in directing congregants to become more politically and socially involved. Over nine in ten rabbis (93%) say they plan to encourage their community to vote in midterm elections and become involved in the situation in Darfur (91%), and significant numbers have also encouraged participation in rebuilding New Orleans (88%) and in tsunami aid efforts (68%). Surprisingly, the one exception is the war in Iraq with 76% saying they have not encouraged members to take action on this issue.
The rabbis also back charitable giving for these causes with 89% suggesting donations to tsunami relief through general civic organizations and 90% promoting giving to national emergency causes such as hurricane Katrina. For Jewish causes, 89% encourage giving to local Jewish charities and 95% to national non-denominational Jewish organizations such as the United Jewish Communities or Mazon, a group dedicated to fighting hunger.
"It was surprising to see that the rabbis are almost as willing to encourage their congregation to give to general civic causes as to local Jewish and national non-denominational ones," says Rabbi Herring. "The synagogue is branching out beyond immediate community issues and demonstrating global responsibility."
While rabbis promote involvement in a variety of political and civic causes, Israel is still the main issue they rally their synagogues around. Forty-five percent say U.S. Jewish community support for Israel has increased over the past three years, and half (50%) expect that it will continue to rise in the years ahead. In fact, when asked the most pressing issue facing the U.S. Jewish community, almost one third (32%) select Israel-related issues including advocacy for Israel (17%) and the impact of midterm elections on U.S. support for Israel (15%).
Nearly all rabbis (97%) say they promote giving to organizations or groups focused on Israeli causes and 94% report their synagogue raised money for Israeli charities in the past year. In other solidarity actions for Israel, 79% say their congregation attended pro-Israel rallies, 71% contacted representatives in local, state and/or federal government to express their support, and more than half participated in educational and support missions to Israel (58%) and wrote letters to the editor on behalf of Israel (56%). The vast majority (87%) have also increased their efforts to encourage congregants to visit Israel.
"The current state of affairs in Israel has created a wake up call for American Jewry," explains Rabbi Herring. "As the debate about the borders of Israel transitioned to a struggle for existence, the rabbinic community has rallied congregational support for Israel."
Additionally, nearly eight in ten rabbis (79%) say they are more inclined to back political candidates who are pro-Israel more than those who are not viewed as pro-Israel. When asked which party is more supportive of Israel, 36% say all parties are equal, but interestingly 35% point to the Republican Party as more supportive versus 14% who cite the Democratic Party.
Safety and Global Anti-Semitism
Generally, rabbis believe their congregants feel comfortable displaying public signs of Judaism (80%) but are divided over feelings about anti-Semitism in the U.S. When asked if anti-Semitism is on the rise in the U.S. 36% agree, 39% disagree and 24% are unsure. However, the data indicate there is a strong concern for physical safety of the synagogue in the U.S. with 71% saying safety measures have increased in the past three years and 62% expecting them to increase in the years ahead.
While 88% of respondents believe the U.S. is adequately supporting Israel, 67% consider the American news media as negatively biased in its portrayal of Israel. Despite this perception of partiality, many rabbis do not see U.S. support for Israel as having negative repercussions for Jews in America (67%), but almost half (45%) believe this support can create fallout for Jews overseas.
Further, there is a strong perception that anti-Semitism is on the rise abroad (90%). In addition to U.S. support for Israel, 61% say the war in Iraq has harmful consequences for Jews living outside the U.S., while only 35% agree the war impacts Jews negatively in the U.S.
"The results clearly indicate confidence in the strength of the U.S. Jewish community and an acknowledgement of the support and acceptance it receives as part of the U.S. in general," says Rabbi Herring. "However, there is also a strong awareness that the Jewish community worldwide is more vulnerable."
About the Rabbinic Leadership Survey
The Rabbinic Leadership Survey: Vision 5767 was conducted online August 30-September 12, 2006, among 214 rabbis nationwide who have participated in STAR's Synaplex(TM), PEER and From Good to Great initiatives. The survey received 118 responses, from a cross section of rabbis with varied affiliations, lengths of service and geographic regions.
STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) promotes Jewish renewal through congregational innovation and leadership development and is a philanthropic partnership of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. STAR programs include the Synaplex(TM) Initiative, a flexible format for enabling individuals and families to celebrate Jewish life in the realms of prayer, study and social and cultural programs during Shabbat in the synagogue. PEER (Professional Education for Excellence in Rabbis) focuses on executive leadership, communication and practical skills for non-profit management in a year-long program that helps newer rabbis shape the future as spiritual and organizational leaders. From Good to Great, funded by the Lasko Family Foundation of Philadelphia, helps veteran rabbis rediscover their passions and develop new ones, while helping them hone their leadership skills.