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November 2011

Leonard SaxeDear Friends,

One of my first major projects when I became the director of the Cohen Center more than a decade ago was a study of Jewish teenagers. In collaboration with Charles Kadushin and Shaul Kelner, we studied Boston-area adolescents after their bar or bat mitzvah. This week, we are releasing a new report on Jewish teenagers, this time focusing on teens in NY.  


Engaging Jewish Teens, led by Amy Sales, was carried out on behalf of The Jewish Education Project and funded by UJA-Federation of New York. Parents, teenagers, and youth professionals were surveyed to find out more about the interests and concerns of Jewish teens. The findings were remarkably similar to what we found a decade ago. For contemporary adolescents, their primary concerns are school and their college future----engagement with Jewish life is not a priority. The report has several suggestions for making programming more attractive to teens and work more fulfilling for Teen Engagement Practitioners. The authors conclude with a call for "Big Ideas" that can foster experiments in Jewish engagement.


Also released this week is a study by Michelle Shain, Benjamin Phillips, and myself of Russian-speaking young adults who live in the United States and applied to or participated in Taglit-Birthright Israel. On most dimensions, these immigrants or children of recent immigrants are very similar to the general Jewish young adult population; however, there are ways in which their backgrounds distinguish them from their non-immigrant peers. Understanding this group's unique intersection of Russian, Jewish, and American identities is critical to facilitating their full participation in the Jewish community.


As always, we welcome your comments.



Len signature
Leonard Saxe, PhD, Director, 
Young people

Engaging Jewish Teens
Engaging Jewish Teens

A Study of New York Teens, Parents and Practitioners

Designed to inform planning for The Experiments in Teen Engagement Task Force of UJA-Federation of New York (ETE Task Force), Engaging Jewish Teens describes teens, their everyday reality, and the factors that contribute to or detract from their engagement in Jewish life.


The study employed multiple surveys in order to view Jewish teens and their relationship to Jewish life from three perspectives: that of the teens, their parents, and communal professionals involved in the work of teen engagement. The survey of teens and their parents looks most closely at four areas in the life of teens: school and friends, extracurricular activities, Jewish engagement and identity, and views of being Jewish.


The study found that programs designed to increase teen participation in Jewish life and activities compete with teens' absorption in academics and college preparation, their lack of "free" time, and their commitment to their friends. Stimulating interest among those who do not place Jewish life high on their list of priorities or who hold negative feelings about Jewish-oriented activities presents certain challenges, but organizations can build on the positive feelings that teens have about being Jewish. The report concludes with suggested steps that can facilitate planning in several specific areas. 


Read the report

Read the executive summary

View the infographics

Understanding the Jewish Identity and
Russian Young Adults
Experiences of Russian-Speaking Young Adults
A Study of the Taglit-Birthright Israel Generation

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU) and their children reside in North America. The Jewish community is paying increasing attention to the Jewish identity of the young adults in this group. Taglit-Birthright Israel (Taglit), which provides 10-day educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26, is one program that has successfully engaged Russian-speaking young adults. The report draws on data collected in a set of surveys conducted approximately three months before and after the Taglit trips in summer '07, winter '07-'08, and summer '08, as well as focus groups and individual interviews. The result is a comprehensive portrait of Russian-speaking Jewish young adults. In addition to describing the sociodemographic characteristics and Jewish and Russian identities of Taglit participants, the report explores potential avenues to better engage this group's unique Russian-Jewish cultural and linguistic heritage and encourage their full participation in American Jewish life. 

Read the report

Read the technical appendices

Volume 5, Issue 7
In This Issue
Engaging Jewish Teens
Understanding Russian Young Adults
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Constructs is the e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies,   Steinhardt Social Research Institute, and  Fisher-Bernstein Institute