Barcelona — Even as European Jewish leaders and community professionals rank antisemitism and combatting it among their first concerns and priorities, they are similarly committed to expanding Jewish communities and fostering future sustainability by engaging more young people and unaffiliated Jews. These are among key findings of a new survey released today by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s International Center for Community Development (JDC-ICCD). The Fifth Survey of European Jewish Community Leaders and Professionals, was conducted between April and May 2021, offering insights from more than 1,000 European Jewish leaders and professionals.

“Despite a long held narrative of decline in Jewish Europe, the findings of this survey reveal a leadership that is engaged, staying put, and serious about building for the future. By digging deep on these priorities and concerns, we can partner better and together build Jewish communities that are safe, strong, and harnessing the talents of those not yet involved in Jewish spaces,” said JDC CEO Ariel Zwang.

The survey covers a wide variety of topics including the toll of COVID-19 on European Jewish communities and a widening generational gap around pivotol issues. Conducted every three years since 2008, the study is part of JDC’s wider work in Europe, which includes its partnerships with local Jewish communities and programs aiding needy Jews, fostering Jewish life and leaders, camping, resilience training, research, and community planning.

Key Findings 

Anti-Semitism, Safety, and Emigration 

  • Antisemitism: For the first time since the survey’s inception, antisemitism rose to the first position in the ranking of the most serious threats to the future of Jewish life. 71 percent of respondents gave antisemistism a score of “4 or 5” on a 1-to-5 scale. “Combating antisemitism” was chosen as the main community priority for future years. Respondents were pessimistic when they are asked to consider the prospect of Anti-Jewishhatred over the next five to ten years, with 68 percent expecting antisemitism to “increase significantly” (28 percent) or “somewhat” (40 percent).
  • Safety: The perception that antisemitism is a growing concern, and a major threat, is not necessarily coupled with the idea that Europe is no longer a safe place for Jews. Most respondents answered the question “to what extent do you feel it is safe to live and practice as a Jew in your community today?” by stating that they do feel secure, with 78 percent reportingfeeling safe (17 percent “very safe” and 61 percent “rather safe”). Only 17 percent felt “rather unsafe,”and 6 percent “not safe at all.”
  • Emigration: Similarly, a majority of respondents (67 percent) are not planning to emigrate, and 71 percent of respondents were satisfied with their government’s response to Jewish community security needs.

Community Engagement & Sustainability 

Respondents are all the more or as concerned about issues pertaining to continuity, engagement, and community sustainability.  Leaders demonstrated a desire to build their communities in numbers and participation and cultivate young Jews to achieve this end.

  • Antisemitism aside, the major threats to the future of Jewish life that were identified were alienation of Jews from Jewish community life (70 percent); lack of renewal of Jewish organizations (69 percent) and lack of engagement by members in community affairs or activities (68 percent).
  • Reflecting this, among the top ten future priorities that respondents ranked, “strengthening Jewisheducation”, “young leadership in decision making,” “developing outreach policies for the unaffiliated,” and “offering more activities and programs for secular Jews” came in at #2, #4, #5, and #8.
  • In determining the gender composition of Boards of Directors of European Jewish organizations, respondents noted that the percentage of women board members were roughly divided into thirds:
    • 27 percent of respondents said that women comprise between 51 percent and 100 percent of the board of directors;
    • 33 percent indicated that the female presence is between 31 percent and 50 percent; and
    • 32 percent stated that the presence of women on the board of directors is 30 percent or lower.

COVID-19 Impact 

As the survey was carried out between April and May 2021, it includes questions about the impact of the pandemic on different aspects of Jewish community life. The results were divided between the toll on finances and those to Jewish life.

  • Financial: Asked if their organization had incurred financial losses due to the pandemic, 61 percent of respondents stated yes. Among these, regional differences contribute to a picture of need: more than half of Eastern European respondents, 56 percent, answered “yes, definitely” while 30 percent in Western Europe answered “yes, definitely.”

When asked about the sources of those losses, Eastern Europeans identified three main sources:dwindling tourism (28 percent), decrease of the donor base (24 percent), andlost income from real estate (23 percent). Western Europeans attributed the loss of income mainly tolower contributions by members (32 percent) anddecrease of the donor base (28 percent)

  • Jewish Life: The majority of respondents felt their organizations adapted well to the pandemic and suspension of in-person Jewish life. 77 percent of respondents said their organizations had launched new community initiatives (mainly online). That may be why 66 percent stated that their organizations “were able to attract people who are not usually involved(49 percent in “a limited wayand 17 percent in “a significant way).

When asked about the most urgent organizational tasks when thinking ahead post-pandemic, respondents ranked the three highest in relation to community sustainability and engagement: 1) developing outreach strategies towards non-members/new target groups; 2) recruiting new volunteers; and 3) investing in leadership development. These rankings echo the survey findings on future community priorities.

  • Personal: Respondents noted the personal toll the pandemic had taken on them. 42 percent of respondents said that their physical and psychological well-being “has gotten worse” and 3 percent noted “a lot worse.” 22 percent said the same about their financial situation, and only 10 percent considered relationships with the members of their households had worsened. In fact, 25 percent said they actually improved.

Generational Gap 

The generational gap between leaders of different ages becomes apparent when examining pivotal issues like optimism for the future, antisemitism, and Israel.

  • The future: Younger respondents (aged 40 or less) show more optimism towards the future of both Europe and its Jews. The statement “I am optimistic about the future of Europe” was agreed to by 61 percent of those under 40 years old compared to 52 percent and 50 percent of the older age groups (aged 41-55 and 55+).

The statement, “the future of European Jewry is vibrant and positive,” polled 64 percent agreement among young people compared to 45 percent and 43 percent among the older age groups. Unlike the overall results of the survey, where respondents are slightly more optimistic about the future of Europe and less about that of its Jews (52 percent versus 47 percent), those aged up to 40 are slightly more optimistic about European Jewry than they are about Europe (64 percent versus 61 percent).

  • Antisemitism: Younger respondents also feel less threatened by antisemitism, although they do consider it important. 60 percent of younger respondents considered antisemitism “a very serious threat” compared to 65 percent of those aged 41 and 55 and 77 percent of those aged 55 and older. The same is true of terrorism and violence against Jews (36 percent versus 46 percent versus 60 percent, respectively).
  • Israel: Younger respondents (aged 40 or less) share different perceptions of Israel and support for it as a community priority.

66 percent of respondents aged 40 or less felt that “Israel is critical to sustaining Jewish life in Europe” as compared to78 percent among those aged 41 to 55, and 86 percent among those aged 55 and older.

For the statement, “I support Israel fully, regardless of how its government behaves,”respondents polled similarly: 51 percent versus 65 percent versus 71 percent. For “all Jews have a responsibility to support Israel,”they polled at 60 percent versus 72 percent versus 80 percent.

For respondents up to 40 years old,supporting the State of Israel was considered the least important community priority out of 18 items presented.

Survey Sample

The survey sample included 1,054 respondents from 31 countries polled in 10 languages. They included age cohorts “under 40”, “41-54” “and “over 55” and were split between 544 men and 399 women. Religiously, 35 percent of respondents self identified as Orthodox; 24 percent as Masorti, Liberal or Reform; and 35 percent as culturally Jewish.

The participants drew from both Western (829) and Eastern Europe (225). Countries represented were: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Respondents drew from a variety of roles in Jewish life, including: organizational presidents and executive directors, program coordinators, and current and former board members from Jewish organizations; rabbis; principals of Jewish schools and professionals in Jewish education; young activists, directors or owners of media with communal content; and significant community donors.