American youth who learn about Israel, including the country’s problems, are
more “motivated to engage in more Israel-based service,” according to a report
released on Wednesday by the Jewish Agency in conjunction with the NGO Repair
The report, titled Serving a Complex Israel: A report on
Israel-based Immersive Jewish Service-learning, “bucks the commonly held fear
among mainstream Jewish organizations that Israel’s more difficult social
problems will turn off young people from [the country],” according to
“This fear has been why groups like Birthright, federations and
even local synagogues have tended to shy away from immersing their participants,
donors and congregants in situations that really show the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, Jewish-Arab tensions and extreme poverty.”
These findings are
based on a survey of 332 alumni from 12 “immersive Jewish service-learning (IJSL)
programs,” which engage their participants in “full time” community service for
a minimum of a week.
Among the study’s conclusions is the assertion that
those exposed to situations with a negative connotation, such as the
religious-secular divide, the status of Israeli- Arabs or the sometimes
precarious security situation “can come out with a deeper interest in serving
and enrolling in future opportunities. The more these young men and women learn
about Israel – warts and all – the more they are motivated to engage in more
In fact, the Jewish Agency believes that “more
deeply understanding these dynamics intensifies a bond to the Jewish state” and
that “volunteering in Israel often deepens, versus distances, a young Jew’s
feelings for the country precisely because of its social
According to Dyonna Ginsburg, the Jewish Agency’s director
of Jewish service learning, “there’s no need for program providers and funders
to present a rose-colored version of Israel to our young people.
the contrary, we should be looking for additional ways to present Israel as it
really is. Immersive Jewish Service-learning (IJSL) participants have not been
shying away from Israel based on their time there. They are clearly
strengthening their connections to [the country], their heritage and the Jewish
people,” she said.
“Young people – particularly those from affiliated
households – become more passionate when their service brings a connection to
their own personal heritage,” said Repair the World CEO David
Participation in IJSL programs, the report claims, led 92 percent
of alumni respondents to state that they “felt more attached to Israel.” A
further 79% stated that they “felt more connected to their Jewish heritage and
identity” and 78% reported they felt more connected to global Jewry. A large
majority of alumni of these programs, the Jewish Agency claims, feel that their
commitment to social justice has been strengthened as well.
also said that the respondents “indicated that it did not matter to them if they
were serving Jews or non- Jews.” The Jewish Agency’s focus of late has changed
from promoting aliya to strengthening Jewish identity in Diaspora communities,
which it claims helps to combat assimilation.
Due to that focus, Jewish
Agency funded programs such a birthright, which brings college age students on
free tours in Israel, and MASA, which provides longer term professional and
educational opportunities, have become increasingly important to the
organization in recent years, as a way to combat what some see as rising
disinterest in Israel’s wellbeing, among young American Jews.
American Jews under 35 would not consider the destruction of the state of Israel
a personal tragedy according to a 2007 study by sociologists Steven Cohen and
“Feelings of attachment may well be changing, as warmth gives
way to indifference, and indifference may even give way to downright
alienation,” they wrote in their report, Beyond Distancing.
if sufficiently pronounced and widespread, this prospective sea-change in
attitudes toward Israel will have profound effects upon American Jews’
relationships with Israel, with direct bearing upon Israel’s security.”
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