US Young Jews volunteering study – lessons from across the Pond?

Our friends at Repair the World have just got the results of a study they’d commissioned (with Brandeis University and Gersein Agne Strategic Communications) to understand Jewish young adults’ volunteering habits and attitudes in the USA, which sampled people aged 18-35 across the spectrum of religious observance.

The findings were really interesting and a great insight into our cousins across the Pond (you can find out more about the study here.)

The big headlines were:

  • A big majority of young Jews volunteer in some way (63% to 86% depending on denomination with a 78%/63% female/male split)
  • Volunteering is irregular. While almost a third of people volunteer at least once a month, over half said that they don’t volunteer at all in a typical week
  • The 3 major barriers to volunteering given were: a lack of time, uninteresting volunteering opportunities available, and a lack of knowledge about what opportunities were actually available
  • People with the highest levels of Jewish religious involvement are the most likely to engage in volunteering and do it most often
  • Only 10% of people surveyed did their main volunteering in a Jewish organisation. The vast majority, 78%, said it didn’t matter if the organisation was Jewish or non-Jewish and only 18% said that they actually preferred to volunteer with Jewish organisations.  Many people also said that they felt that the focus of Jewish organisations was too narrow and parochial, only serving the needs of the Jewish community
  • Universal values rather than Jewish values drive young adult volunteering.  Only a quarter of respondents considered their volunteering to be based on Jewish values and only 10% strongly thought this

So food for thought indeed for US Jewish communities.  But what can we involved in Jewish volunteering in the UK learn from this survey?

Some of the findings make intuitive sense.  People want to keep volunteering easily local.  People who are actively involved in their religious community are most likely to volunteer and to do it ‘Jewishly’. Volunteering is done infrequently, whenever people have the time, which is the main barrier to volunteering.  Without doing the research, I think that this would all easily translate to here in the UK!

In terms of tackling the barriers, I do think that we have some differences here in the UK that help us.  From the time perspective, in the USA the terms “service” and “immersive service” are often used about volunteering.  I imagine that could sound like a very long, very large commitment, which could be off-putting to some busy young people, whereas the term volunteering can mean whatever it needs to be here– from microvolunteering (we have Help from Home registered on our website) to volunteering for months overseas with organisations like Tzedek and WJR!

In terms of the local issue, well, realistically, we’re a small community, concentrated in just a few specific geographical areas.  Many of the States’ medium-sized Jewish communities like Cleveland and Baltimore each have more Jews than the whole of the UK!  So in some senses, everything is local and a bit more manageable.  As to finding out about what opportunities are available, well, this is the very reason why JVN exists – to help people find the opportunities out there (just make sure that you tell a friend about us 🙂 )

The issue of specifically Jewish volunteering and volunteering Jewishly is an interesting one.  But in the end, JVN wants Jewish people to volunteer in any and all ways.  The concepts of Tzedakah, Gemilut Hassadim and Tikkun Olam are universal and relate to the wider community.  So along with a huge number of Jewish charities, JVN also works with local charities such as Age UK, Brent, London2012, Barnet Citizen’s Advice BureauBarnet Refugee Service and many more.

But what do you think?

Is it more important to volunteer just as a Jew or to volunteer for specifically Jewish organisations in a Jewish way?  Do you think there are enough interesting volunteering opportunities out there? Is at lack of time the biggest barrier to volunteering here in the UK? Would the results be different for an older age group?

Big questions indeed!  So please do get talking!



Categories: Leonie's View


Hi, I'm Mike, JVN's Youth Co-ordinator and blogger. I'll be blogging about all sorts of issues affecting the volunteering community, with a particular focus on how recent developments might affect the UK Jewish community's volunteers. I'm always interested to read the comments you make. If you have something you want to see in the JVN blog, e-mail me at and I'll be happy to talk. And if you're inspired by any of my blogs to volunteer, log on to and register to find your perfect volunteering opportunity.


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4 Comments on “US Young Jews volunteering study – lessons from across the Pond?”

  1. David W
    July 13, 2011 at 6:58 pm #

    This is terrifyingly worrying.

    From the report: ” Jewish young adults who identify as non-Orthodox or are not religiously involved may be uncomfortable taking on the mantle of a Jewish perspective.”

    In other words, non-orthodox youth couldn’t care less about their Jewish communities. In all honesty, what do their leadership have to say about this? Shocking statistics if you look at the report.

  2. Sam
    July 14, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Kol Ha’kavod to JVN for addressing all the third barrier to volunteering: “…lack of knowledge about what opportunities were actually available”

  3. Still-the-West-End
    July 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    “Many people also said that they felt that the focus of Jewish organisations was too narrow and parochial, only serving the needs of the Jewish community.”

    What a strange concern. Would anyone complain that, say, a Pakistani organisations are narrow and parochial for serving only the needs of the Pakistani community? THAT’S THE ENTIRE POINT! Absurd.

    Am I missing something?

  4. Joanne, JVN Operations Manager
    July 16, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    Thanks for commenting guys.
    I think that the report – regarding the ‘narrow and parochial’ issue – is highlighting the fact that young American Jews are primarily concerned about issues like local and global poverty, the environment and literacy (we didn’t add this into the summary, due to space constraints).

    Traditionally, many Jewish charities didn’t address these type of issues instead focusing on issues within the Jewish community itself, which of course is a fantastic mission, but not necessarily attracting less religiously involved young people.

    Nowadays, there are, of course, lots of great Jewish charities who do more universal work and it is those charities that many young Jews are attracted to (mentioned in the above article). So perhaps the solution is, in fact, already there!

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