Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Tikkun Olam: U.S. Jewish Women in Their 20s Working to Repair the World"

Cheri Lynn Gurse, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development

Significant changes have taken place in both public and private Jewish life since the end of the 20th century, particularly in the realm of how Jews identify themselves. While the lengthy history of Jewish involvement in progressive social movements is uncontested, Jewish Studies scholars are currently engaged in robust discussion about how strongly and in what ways young adult Jews are connected to their ethnicity and to the traditional Jewish value of social justice–tikkun olam.

This is a mixed-methods study from a feminist standpoint about Jewish identity, social justice activism, and the intersection of the two for U.S. Jewish women ages 20-29. Through in-depth interviews, each of the 17 women shared insights about being Jewish, the relationship of Jewishness and social justice, and their own justice activism. Additionally, questions asked for their perspectives on Jewish ethnoracial diversity, privilege and marginalization experiences, and their relationship to Israel. Participants also responded to the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Membership (MEIM) instrument, providing a snapshot of what they think about their ethnicity or ethnicities, and how they feel about belonging to the ethnicity/ies they chose. Data analysis included a comparison of MEIM responses to the interview narrative responses.

This study reinvigorates questions about Jewish identity in a new way. The contributions include bringing forth new voices that comment on the meanings of social justice, activism, and identity for young Jewish adults; the existence of a set of ideas about Jewish adults in their 20s that offers an alternative perspective to those who note the diminution of Jewish identity for current Jewish youth; folding issues of gender, Israel, and intersectionality into questions of identity and the Jewishness of social justice; and delineating different aspects and meanings to the ideas of social justice held by these young women. The findings suggest the possibility of new and different relationships among Jews about diversity, activism, and identity, and between Jewish social justice activists and others who work for justice.

Keywords: Jewish identity; racial identity development; social justice; ethnicity; Jewish activism; millennials

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