By: Dr. Shlomo Fischer, Dr. John Ruskay
The participants did not constitute a representative sample of the North American Jewish population. The participant pool contained 17% Orthodox and 36% Conservative Jews, both of which are practically double their percentage in the general Jewish population. The Orthodox participants, though, seem to be more liberal than the Orthodox population is generally. Among those who identified as Orthodox, only 22% said they were Republicans, far less than the national percentage of 75%. This may be explained by the fact that these participants were largely Modern Orthodox, who are generally more liberal than the Haredim. Although the religious and political affiliations of the federation participants differed from the national profile, it is likely that they reflect, to a certain extent, the population that is engaged and active in organized Jewish life as well as its leadership.
The younger participant pool was also not representative. Fifty percent of this population identified as Reform, which is far greater that their percentage in the general Jewish population. The Israeli student teachers were far more left leaning than the general population – 43% placed themselves on the left-wing of the Israeli political spectrum, whereas only 8% of the Israeli population identify as such. Sixty-two percent of the MIFT group also identified politically as left leaning. The Masa fellows and the Columbia Hillel may be somewhat representative of the engaged young Jewish population.
The composition of the Melbourne group differed from those of North America. Among the younger participants, over half identified as “religious,” “Orthodox” or “attend an Orthodox synagogue occasionally.” Forty-five percent of the Melbourne participants in the under 45 age cohort identified as politically right-wing. Among the Melbourne group as a whole, 64% identified as “religious,” “Orthodox,” or “attend an Orthodox synagogue occasionally” and 33% identified as right-wing. Among the North American group only 9% identified as Republican or Republican leaning.
As in previous years since the onset of Covid-19, the Dialogue sessions were conducted via Zoom. The Zoom technology permitted the participants to break out into small focus groups. Our experience has been that participants are more willing to express their more intimate thoughts, feelings, and experiences in these breakout groups.
In the course of the Dialogue, two kinds on data were collected –quantitative and qualitative. All participants completed a short survey and were then asked the same or similar questions in the small focus groups. As noted earlier, the survey responses do not necessarily reflect the attitudes or the demographic realities of the Jewish population of North America just as the Melbourne group cannot be taken as a representative sample of Australian Jewry. The survey does, however, give us the opportunity to compare answers across the entire range of participants. In the small focus groups, participants were able to expand upon their responses and give them further explanation, nuance, or qualification.