Failure of synagogue outreach cited in drop in charity

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American Jewish leaders "had this dream that Jewish values, charity and support for Israel would continue despite private disinterest in ritual observance and prayer," said David J. Schnall, a management and administration professor at the Yeshiva University's Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

"It just isn't working out this way," he added.

Schnall based his analysis on the New York Jewish Population Survey. The survey found that among Jews younger than 40 who do not go to synagogue and are nonobservant, 21 percent give to Jewish charities. But as that group gets older, the amount of giving goes up — to about 48 percent.

Fully 94 percent of Jews younger than 40 who go to synagogue at least once a week give to Jewish charities. And 92 percent of those who observe Shabbat and traditional rituals donate. The figures are about the same for those older than 40.

The synagogue is "where giving happens, where friendship circles are forged and where social influences emerge that encourage charity even among those not predisposed to it," he said.

Only one in four American Jews under 40 belong to synagogues, according to Schnall.

For this age group, "the synagogue has been grossly inadequate in attracting new membership, providing comprehensive outreach and maintaining identification with Judaism, he said. "One of the consequences of this is the sharp drop in Jewish giving from younger adults.

In general, he said, Jewish philanthropic organizations have a long way to go in attracting Jews younger than 40.

These Jews "were born after the Depression, World War II and the Holocaust, he said. "Their sense of obligation to those less fortunate has been diminished as a result and the very act of giving is less a part of their world.

He asserted that trips to Israel, even those subsidized by federations, will not "mystically cause affiliation and giving on a broad scale."

For Jews younger than 40, "Israel is not the fulfillment of a prophetic dream or the vanquished rebuilding [of] their lives from the ashes of Auschwitz, he said. "Instead, Israel is simply a reality of international affairs.

Schnall, the co-author of "Crisis and Continuity: The Jewish Family in the 21st Century," maintains that religious observance influences Jewish philanthropy.

"Encouraging religious values and practices also encourages, in fact, creates, the foundation for giving,'' Schnall said.