A Comparison of FSU Jews and Non-FSU Jews in the USA

Ira M. Sheskin, Daniel Etienne Altman, Harriet Hartman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Pew Research Center’s study “Jewish Americans in 2020” (Pew 2020) found that about 10% (750,000) of American Jews were born in the former Soviet Union (FSU) or are the children of Jews born in the FSU. The goal of the Soviet Jewry movement was to settle all Soviet Jews in Israel where they would be free to be Jews/live Jewishly. Many observers thought that the chances were significant that FSU Jews who came to the US would quickly assimilate and lose the tenuous Jewish identity with which many arrived. The purpose of this paper, using data from the Century 21 dataset and Pew 2020, is to examine the extent to which FSU Jews differ from non-FSU Jews. Are FSU Jews more or less religiously and culturally connected to their Jewish identity than non-FSU Jews? Has this immigrant group, about 30 years after many arrived, lost their Jewish identity? To provide context, this paper reviews studies from Israel and Germany as well as the 2000–2001 National Jewish Population Survey and the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York. The Soviet Jewry movement was correct in assuming that FSU Jews would be more connected in an ethnic sense than in a religious sense. Both Century 21 and Pew 2020 basically show this to be true. But for so many measures, even when FSU Jews have lower levels of Jewish connectivity, those levels are not all that much lower. Perhaps most telling is that synagogue membership is now just over one-third for both FSU and non-FSU Jews. In Pew 2020, 82% of FSU Jews do at least one of eight religious behaviors, as do 81% of non-FSU Jews. Thirty-nine percent of FSU Jews do four or more of these behaviors as compared with 41% of non-FSU Jews. FSU Jews show greater Jewish connectivity for eight of nine Jewish cultural behaviors. Thus, the fears of the Soviet Jewry movement appear to be mostly unfounded.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalContemporary Jewry
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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