Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Reshaping American Judaism: Introducing Ten Trends

  • Challenging Economies: There is some expansion, especially among some of our mega-institutions but downsizing among smaller and some intermediate organizations/synagogues. Economic issues, especially escalating operating costs and a declining membership base present the great challenges ahead. We have seen in connection with COVID some significant movement of Jews away from certain large metropolitan areas (SF, LA and NYC, in particular) as well as a marked departure of some Jewish constituencies from mainstream institutions, resulting in new financial pressures on some of these legacy structures.
  • Experimentation Will Be Our New Mantra: Institutions of all dimensions are exploring alternative ways to “deliver” their messages and “provide” programs. In a competitive environment with emerging generational dimensions, we find institutions “in search of” different ways to serve members and attract new audiences. Older legacy systems of organizing are facing increasing criticism and operational challenges.
  • Age of Professionalization and the Demise of Leadership: There is a renewed focus on professionals, and possibly of engaging paraprofessionals, as we encounter the downsizing of voluntarism. How we best deploy our professionals will be a critical factor in managing 21st Century Jewish delivery systems. With the absence of person power to handle many of the core tasks assigned to volunteers, how will professionals reimagine their priorities? Throughout history, Jews have been dependent upon their leaders to help frame the next great set of ideas. Today, we are missing such thought leaders who can shape a new American Jewish vision and agenda. With the events surrounding October 7th, our communal system will require a cadre of Jewish leaders, operating both inside of our community and outside to our broader social networks.
  • Individualized, Small Delivery Systems: Renewed attention to small gatherings, a part of the privatized, individualized focus we are experiencing will drive the redistribution of institutional resources. With Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, we are also seeing a significant transformation in whom we are serving and how they may seek to relate.
  • The Greying of Many Jewish Institutions: The end of Dues-Affiliation-Membership and Denominationalism represents a core Gen Z and Millennial cultural reality, as these generational cohorts ultimately replace our existing membership base; all of this will have profound implications for organizations and synagogues as to how such institutions will be structured, led, and managed. New models of economic development and entrepreneurship are emerging to counter these legacy organizing instruments. As a result of these operational transitions and this growing decentralization of community,  we will no longer be able to identify ourselves as part of a single community, as we have become a community of communities. Absent a shared consensus, Jews will experience a decline in political influence. 
  • The Impact of Hate: The impact of anti-Semitism is both real and challenging. This phenomenon is impacting attendance and forcing a heightened level of security. Jews are being profoundly impacted by what is happening, as this phenomenon reshapes their beliefs, practices, and connections. Personal and institutional security now becomes a new reality. Many of our congregants and community activists are expressing concerns about their safety in public Jewish spaces. The impact of such hate will change not only Jewish behaviors but alter how Jews will operate in the broader society.
  • Online Judaism as a Permanent New Reality: Access to virtual Jewish platforms will need to be available to our constituencies as part of the changing culture of choice. Organizations and synagogues will continue to account for those pockets of members who are opting for a virtual Jewish connection. In some cases, we are identifying a new category of Jewish “virtual” seekers who are joining national and even international platforms of worship and learning. We will increasingly see the growing presence of “national” synagogues, serving on-line constituencies
  • The Necessary Conversations: There will be the need to provide safe spaces for essential conversations for Jews who are seeking to connect. Such topics, as Israel, anti-Semitism, American politics, and the future of Judaism will be on the docket. A significant portion of this will need to be inter-generational as we uncover the significant divides and perceptions amongst us over how we view issues through different historical, political, and demographic lens.
  • Serving New Audiences and Dealing with Different Generations: Serving Non-Binary Jews, Jews of Color, and “Unchurched” Individuals will be among the new constituencies we will see entering our institutions. Correspondingly, the “generation gap” is a significant reality in defining Jewish affiliation and participation. People want to be in spaces where they see and meet people like themselves and those who are different.  This trend line will fundamentally reshape Judaism in the 21st Century.
  • Dealing with Trauma and Mental Health Concerns: Ever since COVID, we would acknowledge the growing mental health challenges. No doubt, October 7th have added other levels of stress and depression and trauma. More directly, our Jewish professionals are reporting higher cases of burn out and work-place tensions. All of these factors make this trend of particular significance.

This collection of findings is part of a larger study of significant demographic, economic and cultural shifts taking place in connection with 21st Century American Judaism. No doubt, the events surrounding October 7th may significantly alter some of these trend-lines.





About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.