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Raising Jewish Children: Research and Indications for Intervention

We see similar patterns with respect to Jewish children, and a similar underlying logic of a two-way process at work. We divide our respondents into those raising non-Jewish children, those with no children at home, and those raising children they report as Jewish but not by religion, and those raising Jewish-by-religion children.22 The differences in Jewish identity indicators are very sizable at each increment (Table 9).

Among those raising their children as non-Jews, levels of Jewish engagement are truly quite low. None of these respondents reported synagogue membership, and just 3-5 percent belong to a Jewish organization, have mostly Jewish friends, feel very attached to Israel, or feel being Jewish is important to them. Somewhat larger numbers attend a Passover Seder (28 percent) and give to some donation to a Jewish charity (15 percent).

Perhaps surprising to some, those with no children uniformly score higher –
sometimes dramatically – on measures of Jewish engagement than those with non-Jewish children at home. Consider, for example, seeing being Jewish as very important (39 percent for the no-children group, vs. 4 percent for the parents of non-Jewish children). Other indicators with sharp contrasts include fasting on Yom Kippur (47 vs. 9 percent), belonging to a synagogue (25 vs. 0 percent), and feeling very attached to Israel (25 vs. 5 percent). The bottom line: Childless adults are far more active in Jewish life than those raising their children as non-Jews.

The data also strongly illuminate numerous and profound differences between parents raising children Jewish but not by religion and those raising children Jewish-by-religion. As Table 9 illustrates, parents raising Jewish-by-religion children are more than twice as likely to feel the importance of being Jewish (66 vs. 29 percent), to feel very emotionally attached to Israel (38 vs. 13 percent), to belong to any type of Jewish organization (45 vs. 14 percent), or to attend services on the High Holidays (82 vs. 31 percent). Table 9 shows that 85 percent of those raising children Jewish not by religion sometimes have a Christmas tree in their homes. In contrast, fewer than 10 percent of families with two Jewish spouses who are raising Jewish-by-religion children have Christmas trees. And as for having mostly Jewish friends – a key marker of group cohesiveness – we find far more among Jews raising Jewish-by-religion children than among those raising children as Jewish with no religion (48 vs. 7 percent ).

Table 9
Jewish identity indicators among those with no children, non-Jewish children and Jewish children, non-Haredi Jews, 25-44

As might now be expected, those with Jewish children at home in turn out-score those with no children, and even more substantially out-score those with non-Jewish children in their households. In every measurable way, the presence of Jewish children – and raising children as Jewish-by-religion – both reflects a prior commitment to Jewish life and, as well, the positive influence of Jewish children upon Jewish engagement. Engaged Jews raise Jewish children, and parents of Jewish children are more engaged in Jewish life.