The recent Pew survey of American Jews caused a fluster in the organized Jewish
The survey raises a number of questions about the efficacy of
Jewish institutions, leaving professionals and donors alike in a position of
uncertainty regarding their investments in the Jewish future.
traditional American Jewish organizations regroup and rethink, a growing
movement in the community remains largely overlooked.
In major metro
areas across the United States such as Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Boston,
Israeli- American organizations are popping up and growing in popularity.
Programs for families, young adults and children alike, centered on Israeli
culture and Jewish identity, have swelling appeal.
Participation in these
Israeli-American organizations is increasing rapidly, and not only among Israeli
expats and their children. In greater numbers, American Jews join in on Israeli
programs related to Hebrew language, Jewish education, and creating
connectedness to Israel through the arts, music, literature and
The American way of practicing Judaism is largely based on
attending synagogues and affiliating with religious congregations across the
What it does not offer are substantial alternatives for
Jewish involvement in a secular way. Within this reality, the phenomenon of
growing Israeli communal life in the United States offers a new model for
American secular Jews to express their Judaism without needing to belong to a
synagogue or religious institution.
In Los Angeles, the Israeli American
Council (IAC) reached over 50,000 members of the Israeli-American community in
the area last year with its Israeli-tailored programming. The organization’s
flagship event, the Celebrate Israel festival – now the largest Jewish festival
in North America – turned out about 15,000 people, half Israeli-Americans and
half American Jews. Other Israeli-style holiday festivals with focus on family
activities, Israeli performances, and Israeli or Jewish customs rather than
religious observance attract thousands and reflect a similar demographic
The trend continues through the young professional program BINA,
targeting the age group of American Jews who are least connected to Judaism
according to the Pew report. The IAC’s success, in fact, led to its recent
expansion across the United States, announced at a Rosh Hashana reception just
American Jews in New York have also recently been showing a
growing interest in Israeli educational programs, such as “Israeliness” at the
92nd Street Y, among others.
Upon a closer look, perhaps these developing
programs, which are almost entirely secular in nature, are the new avenue for
secular American Jews to connect to their Jewish identity.
results revealed that 70 percent of American Jews feel very attached or somewhat
attached to Israel, and more than 60 percent believe that Judaism is about
culture, ancestry and identity. What better environment to cultivate those
feelings and transform them into strong connectedness to one’s Jewish roots than
among secular Israelis.
Although Israelis living in the United States may
have left the Jewish nation state, many maintain their deep love of Israel. You
might even say they do so religiously. Many do everything they can to ensure
their children will inherit their intense love for Israel though Hebrew culture,
Jewish knowledge, and political awareness. As Israeli expats strive to instill a
secular Israeli identity in the next generation, many American Jews find
themselves relating to the approach and spirit and jumping on the
Perhaps it is the Israeliness rather than the Jewishness of
this community that attracts the at-risk American Jewish demographic, making
organized cultural Judaism accessible in a new and relevant way.
Jewish leaders have responded to the Pew survey with a number of calls,
including for a rejuvenated core which is literate in Hebrew, investment in
Jewish culture, and alternative venues for Jewish identity.
Well, look no
further. The Israeli-American community may just be the answer.The
author is the COO of the Israeli American
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