COVID and Jewish Engagement Research

June 8th, 2021

Among the many ways that the pandemic profoundly changed Jewish engagement, the High Holidays of 2020 stands out as a particularly fascinating case study. It was a kind of controlled experiment; essentially no one was able to celebrate or observe the holidays in the ways they were used to, so everyone was doing something somewhat different than usual.

Institutions of all kinds innovated to adapt to the restrictions, and new ways of engaging emerged and spread more broadly than could have been previously imagined. In an effort to understand the ways in which people’s engagement with the High Holidays changed during this past year, and what it might reveal about Jewish engagement more broadly, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Jim Joseph Foundation and Aviv Foundation funded research through the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF) to illuminate new patterns of participation and motivations. In the winter of 2020-2021, Benenson Strategy Group surveyed 1,414 American Jews nationwide about their experiences of the High Holidays and the ways that those experiences compared to previous years.

The research explored not only what people did in 2020, but also compared it to what they had been doing before and explored what they might do in the future. The results provide important insights that have meaningful design implications not only for the upcoming High Holidays, but also for engagement efforts much more broadly.

A major insight is the difference in behavior and attitudes between “Regular High Holy Day Observers” (those who typically observe both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and “Infrequent High Holy Day Observers” (those who participate sporadically or only in one of the
holidays). Remarkably, approximately half of the Infrequent Observers participated in High Holy Days during the pandemic, when it would have been very easy to opt out. Their robust participation leads us to explore both their motivations for participating and how their
participation this year may impact their future decisions and behavior as well.

COVID and Jewish Engagement, Benenson Strategy Group, January 2021

Access the data files to COVID and Jewish Engagement from the Berman Jewish Databank.

Read New research on High Holiday participation illuminates critical themes for future design, by Lisa Colton, Tobin Marcus, and Felicia Herman in eJewish Philanthropy