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Who Cares About Israel

Binyamin Rose, Jerusalem

Social scientists who study contemporary Jewry have been engaged in an ongoing and intense battle for the past 30 years over trends in American Jewish attachment to Israel. Most studies show declining connection, especially among young people. Along comes a new study that asserts that trend — if it ever existed — is changing for the better.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

israel flagA recent political satire published in an Israeli newspaper featured a mock interview with a journalist trying to coax an encouraging word out of a spokesman for the Israel Water Authority after this winter’s record-setting rainfall. “Shhh,” said the water spokesman. “We never want to leave the impression there is good news about the water supply.”

Reports on Jewish demography often follow the same downbeat pattern. The doomsday scenario is well-known. Assimilation is rampant. Intermarriage is pervasive. Core Jewish organizations are in decline. Young Jews feel more distanced from Israel than ever before.

“The metaphor used is that there’s an iceberg sitting on the table. It is 100 degrees in the room and the ice is melting rapidly,” says Dr. Leonard Saxe, professor of contemporary Jewish history at Brandeis University. Dr. Saxe and Dr. Theodore Sasson, associate professor of international studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, presented a far rosier picture from the findings in their recent study, “Understanding Young Adult Attachment to Israel,” at the Knesset Subcommittee on Relations between Israel and Jewish Communities Abroad, which Mishpacha covered in its entirety.

They conclude that between the 1990s and mid-2000s, attachment to Israel among American Jews increased among all age groups. The percentage of respondents who said they felt no emotional attachment at all to Israel has shrunk by some 50 percent during this period.

“What we are saying is that there is no clear-cut evidence of distancing, and everything that exists suggests that the opposite is occurring,” says Dr. Saxe.

Pointing specifically to the more than 200,000 young adults who have attended a Birthright trip to Israel since the program’s inception in 2000, Dr. Saxe says these youths are changing the attitudes of their generation.

“They have a direct connection with Israelis,” he says. “They know the history and have some deeper understanding of the culture and contemporary issues. It will take us a little longer to document this, but I believe we have a generation that has a relationship to Israel that no previous adult generation has felt.”


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