National Rabbinic Leadership Survey Offers Outlook for Jewish New Year
Declining Anxiety Over Israel, Growing Concern Over Synagogue Engagement and a Glimpse into Attitudes about Presidential Candidates
MINNEAPOLIS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal), a national foundation dedicated to synagogue innovation and leadership development, today announced the results of its second annual National Rabbinic Leadership Survey: Vision 5768. With Rosh Hashanah (September 13-14) and Yom Kippur (September 22) marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year, the cross-denominational survey of almost 200 rabbis reveals High Holiday goals, offers a pulse on Jewish community concerns and uncovers initial thoughts regarding support for Presidential candidates.
“The findings indicate that Israel is still in the hearts and minds of rabbis, but they are looking at broader issues as well”
High Holiday Message…Engagement, Involvement and Inclusiveness
Almost half of the Rabbis surveyed remain optimistic about the future of American Jewry (47%); however, they are less positive about synagogue growth. Over the next three years, under one-third (28%) expect an increase in synagogue membership in the U.S. in general as compared to 34% last year.
Reflecting this shift, the survey reveals a change in focus with respect to the issues rabbis plan to address in their High Holiday sermons. Participation in Jewish life beyond the High Holiday services ranked first at 45% followed by forgiveness (41%), and the internal life/health of the synagogue (37%), compared to last year where support for Israel (72%), creating a better future (42%) and forgiveness (37%) were the top three subjects.
Mirroring these topics are the top three sermon goals: to inspire congregants with a compelling vision of Jewish life (66%), bringing the congregational community closer together (11%), and increasing the level of moral/ethical behavior (9%).
Like last year, about half the rabbis expect attendance at synagogue events and services throughout the year (46%) and participation in High Holiday services (56%) to remain the same over the next three years. This may be one factor driving the push towards more inclusiveness with the vast majority (92%) pointing 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. In fact, 71% of rabbis have seen a rise in gay/lesbian inclusion efforts in the last three years and the same numbers expect participation from this group to rise in the years ahead.
“While synagogue growth is always on the minds of rabbis, this year’s survey reveals a heightened concern,” says Rabbi Hayim Herring, Executive Director of STAR. “Shifting denominational affiliations and larger numbers of interfaith families are challenging synagogue growth and rabbis keenly recognize their role is not just about increasing ongoing membership participation, but reaching out beyond current congregants by attracting a more diverse community.”
Strong Support for Israel but Less Immediate Urgency
While Israel remains a key issue, concerns in this area have diminished as the region is somewhat quieter this year (last year’s survey took place shortly after the war in Lebanon) and rabbis are broadening their communal scope. In fact, 58% of rabbis said they balance their community focus between Jewish causes and broader concerns up from 50% last year. Additionally, when asked the most pressing issue facing the U.S. Jewish community, only 7% selected Israel-related issues including “advocacy and education with regard to Israel” and the upcoming “Presidential elections and U.S. support for Israel” (3%). Last year almost one-third (32%) selected Israel-related issues including advocacy and education for Israel (17%) and the impact of midterm elections on U.S. support for Israel (15%). The top three issues this year are making Judaism more relevant (35%), followed by involving more people in Jewish organizations or activities (14%), and involving more people in synagogue life (12%).
While the overwhelming majority of rabbis (88%) say they promote giving to organizations or groups focused on Israel-related causes and 81% report their synagogue raised money for Israeli charities in the past year these numbers are lower, from 97% and 94% respectively, than last year. While promoting giving to Israeli organizations dropped, “donations to global emergency causes such as relief for Darfur through general civic organizations” has remained constant at 89% and edged out Israeli causes to be the number one focus for charitable giving.
Israel Still Pivotal in Political and Educational Matters
Almost all rabbis (97%) say they plan to encourage their community to vote in the upcoming Presidential elections and over two-thirds (67%) have also encouraged participation in the political process in the U.S. in general.
Israel remains a key political issue and solidarity actions continue to be broadly encouraged with about half of the rabbis (52%) reporting that in the past year their congregations have written letters to the editor and contacted governmental representatives to express support for Israel; 70% of the rabbis also reported that their congregations attended pro-Israeli rallies.
Even more significant, eight in 10 rabbis (82%--unchanged from last year) say they are more inclined to back political candidates who are pro-Israel over those who are not viewed as pro-Israel. When asked which party is more supportive of Israel, almost half, 49%, say there is no difference in parties, 21% point to the Republican Party as more supportive, down from 35% last year whereas 16% cite the Democratic Party as more supportive of Israel, a slight increase from 14% last year.
While rabbis do not endorse specific candidates, when asked which current Presidential candidate will be most supportive of Israel, 41% of rabbis said they are unsure, but almost a quarter ranked Senator Hillary Clinton as most supportive (22%) followed by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (16%) and Senator John McCain (3%). Similarly Senator Hillary Clinton was ranked as most supportive of Jewish causes in America in general (24%) followed again by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (10%), with Senator Barack Obama ranking third (3%).
“The findings indicate that Israel is still in the hearts and minds of rabbis, but they are looking at broader issues as well,” explains Rabbi Herring. “The battle to keep Judaism relevant may be more of a concern right now, but as the Presidential election gets under way and global issues heat up, it is clear the U.S. Jewish community will be ready to act on behalf of Israel and the synagogue is perhaps the key venue for Israel activity, education and advocacy.”
While three-quarters of respondents believe the U.S. is adequately supporting Israel, 62% consider the American news media as negatively biased in its portrayal of Israel (down from 67% last year). Despite this perception, the majority of rabbis (67%--the same as last year), do not see U.S. support for Israel as having negative repercussions for Jews in America, but 41% believe this backing can create fallout for Jews overseas.
However, more than half (57%) agree the war in Iraq has harmful consequences for Jews living outside the U.S., while only 34% say the war impacts Jews negatively in the U.S. Only 26% said there would be a generally negative impact on Israel if the U.S. leaves Iraq and most (64%) give very little or no encouragement to their congregants to become involved in the war in Iraq (down from 76% last year). Interestingly, 45% indicate there would be a generally negative impact for Israel (45%) if the United States were to take action against Iran and 21% thought this would have negative repercussion on attitudes towards Jews in the U.S.
Additionally, 45% of respondents believe recent European actions such as the boycott of Israeli professors by British academics reflect both growing European anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments, and an additional 17% think this attitude is solely anti-Israel.
“There continues to be confidence in the strength and security of the Jewish community in the U.S.,” says Rabbi Herring. “However, there is awareness that the Jewish community worldwide is more vulnerable and that political action here can affect the attitude towards Jews across the globe.”
About the Rabbinic Leadership Survey
The Rabbinic Leadership Survey: Vision 5768 was conducted online July 25 - August 14, 2007 among 303 rabbis nationwide who have participated in STAR’s Synaplex™, PEER and “From Good to Great” initiatives. The survey received 187 responses from a cross section of rabbis with varied affiliations, lengths of service and geographic locations.
STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal) promotes Jewish renewal through congregational innovation and leadership development and is a philanthropic partner of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. STAR initiatives include the SynaplexTM, 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 and “Call Synagogue Home” helps interfaith couples and families connect more deeply with their synagogue through the celebration of life cycle occasions.