On My Mind: Israel’s Jewish visitors
Shouldn’t Jews in the US find ways to connect, most dramatically by spending time in Israel?
American Jewry Photo: Cartoon by Nechama Rosenstein
That a majority of American Jews have never been to Israel, and that those who
have are, for the most part, infrequent visitors, is an old and sad story.
Israel is the only Jewish state in the world.
Shouldn’t Jews in the US
find ways to connect, most dramatically by spending time in Israel? A new AJC
survey of American Jewish opinion offers some perspective on this matter. While
much attention has focused on the survey’s questions regarding the US
presidential race, several probed Jewish identity, including travel to
The findings are instructive and should inform Israeli ministries
as well as American Jewish organizations most interested in encouraging US
Jewish engagement with and personal exposure to Israel.
The AJC survey,
conducted by the polling firm Knowledge Networks, found that 59 percent of the
1,074 Jews surveyed have never been to Israel. Among the 41% who have made the
trip, 19% went only once, 9% twice and 12% three or more times.
looking at respondents by denomination, it is not surprising to see the Orthodox
way ahead, with 80.5% having visited Israel. In comparison, 54% of Conservative,
36% of Reform and 22% of those who identify themselves as “Just Jewish” have
THE ORTHODOX are also the most frequent
Fifty-two percent of Orthodox Jews who have visited Israel
have made the journey three or more times, while, in comparison, only 16% of
Conservative, 7% of Reform Jews, and 5% percent of Just Jewish have come with
Those who visited only once included 11% of the
Orthodox, 29% of Conservative, 19% of Reform and 14% of the Just
Why, 64 years after the Israel’s independence, are American Jews
reluctant to come? The AJC survey probed further to try to understand the
The good news is that concern for safety does not top
the list. Only 13% of those who have never visited said they are afraid to
T h a t ’ s important, given what one often hears from friends,
family and colleagues about a country that too often is in the news because of
war or terror.
Fear is a concern for only 3% of Orthodox, 5% of
Conservative, 15% of Reform and 16% of Just Jewish who have never
Significantly, 32% said visiting Israel is too expensive, and
48% said they never had the opportunity. Granted, the latter is a vague response
that could cover a range of possibilities, including costs or distance, or maybe
never fully considering Israel as a travel destination.
Jews who take vacations do travel long distances, to the Caribbean, to Europe,
to the 50th state of Hawaii, a flight just as long as New York to Tel Aviv.
Something else is probably at work here, and it needs further
T h e r e are also 31% of US Jews w h o have no interest in
T h e s e American Jews comprise 6% of O r t h o d o x ,
24% of Conservative, 27% of Reform and 38% of Just Jewish. Is there anything
that might convince them to reconsider? Of those who have never visited, expense
is an issue for 79% of Orthodox, 33% of Conservative and 29% of Reform Jews, and
33% of Just Jewish. For the Orthodox, who tend to have larger families and do
travel to Israel more for religious or familial reasons, the costs are
It is instructive to compare these data with the much higher
response to another item in the survey. Asked if they agree or disagree with the
statement “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew,” 71%
agreed and 28% disagreed. One would have thought that American Jews who care
about Israel would be inclined to make the effort to visit.
about Israel is most prevalent among the Orthodox, 90% of whom agree with the
statement, while 84% of Conservative and 75% of Reform Jews agree, and 58% of
Just Jewish do.
For Israel, for American Jewish-Israel relations, and for
the future of the Jewish people, visiting Israel should be an imperative. Sadly,
that is not universally recognized across the American Jewish
More Jews should be connecting to Israel. In 2012 the
opportunities are so varied that anyone can find a way to experience this
The challenge is how to spark more interest, and for
that Israel will need to step up its marketing to the diverse American Jewish
community. This is about much more than tourism. It is about
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of