Social circles – by which we mean a geographically proximate Jewish community,8 friendship networks, and most critically the family grouping – strongly influence Jewish identity, in all its stages of development. For many American Jews, their few unifying ethnoreligious experiences take place within the family of origin, as well as friendship circles and adult nuclear and extended families. In fact, with the weakening of Jewish neighborhoods, the family is today’s primary social group that socializes young Jews. Accordingly, intact and strong Jewish families are perhaps even more critical to Jewish identity transmission than in the past. Conversely, disruptions that have changed patterns of family formation for many Americans and for many American Jews are intricately tied to disruptions in transmissible Jewish culture to succeeding generations.
Against the American emphasis on individualism, those younger American Jews who do place greater value on Jewish social networks – family, community, and the international Jewish collective – are in many ways deeply countercultural. They resist a larger culture that is suspicious of inherited social identities, such as those constructed around religion or ethnicity.
Who are these countercultural resisters – young people who place a premium on Jewish collective life and religious engagement and who exhibit more traditional family formation tendencies? What do we know about (non-Haredi) young adult Jews who marry, marry at a younger age, marry Jews, have children and raise them in the Jewish religion?
As data from the 2013 Pew study of Jewish Americans9 underscore, we know that they have significant and substantial Jewish social circles, family and friends. Overwhelmingly they have two Jewish parents, and a majority of their current friends are Jewish.10 Earlier studies have shown that their largely Jewish friendship circles in high school were replicated in college,11 and that their current friendship circles include a majority of Jewish friends.12
For the organized Jewish community, the policy implications of these findings are clear: They argue for enhancing opportunities for teens, college students, and unmarried young adult Jews to meet each other and to create Jewish social circles – not only, but certainly including, romantic attachments.