Despite distance, Jews do feel a connection

'Attachment index' reveals deep affection between Israeli, US Jews.

pro israel rally in la 2 (photo credit: AP)
pro israel rally in la 2
(photo credit: AP)
Amid world Jewry's nail-biting over Iran, rising anti-Semitism and declining affiliation, a new survey of "Jewish attachment" offers much-needed good news. The study reports strong feelings of connectedness and mutual concern between the world's two largest Jewish communities, in the United States and Israel, each of which accounts for some 40 percent of world Jewry. "Both populations report substantial ties of family, friendship and communication with Jews in the other country. Israelis, in fact, report more such ties, perhaps [reflecting] the significant number of Israelis who have taken up residence in the US," report sociologists Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ephraim Ya'ar of Tel Aviv University. Their complete report will be presented on Tuesday at a panel on Jewish peoplehood chaired by Leonid Nevzlin at the Herzliya Conference taking place at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, this week. The mutual concern triumphs over a gap of ignorance - "on both subjective [self-evaluated] and objective measures, members of both societies demonstrate low levels of knowledge about the other" - and the lack of any significant expression of these emotions. "Few American or Israeli Jews engage in activities designed to express and foster strong ties," the report states. In the best news yet for a Jewish world obsessed with continuity, the researchers report that "contrary to widely held expectations, young self-identified Jews are as engaged with Jewish peoplehood feelings as their elders." All these factors imply that "the good feelings toward one another can serve as a basis for mutual interaction and education." The survey, funded by the NADAV Fund, was conducted simultaneously among American and Israeli Jews, incorporating over 1,000 participants in each community. The "policy takeaway," according to Cohen and Ya'ar, is determining how to capitalize on this good feeling. "Prior to this research, one might have thought that the major policy challenge is to design programs to strengthen goodwill and good feelings," they write. Instead, the challenge is "to translate good feelings into real action that will strengthen mutual ties and the bonds of Jewish peoplehood." Among the report's findings, Israeli Jews reported a slightly higher identification as "Jews" than did Americans, suggesting that they see themselves as Jews first, Israelis second.