Young US Jews 'detached' from Israel

Survey: Less than half of American Jews under 35 say Israel's destruction would be a personal tragedy.

olmert july 4th 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
olmert july 4th 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Young American Jews are feeling increasingly alienated and disconnected from Israel, according to a study to be released Thursday by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman. Based on the responses of more than 1,700 non-Orthodox American Jews of all ages, the study indicates that successively younger age groups show a greater detachment from the State of Israel. According to the report, which was based on statistics collected as part of the 2007 National Survey of American Jews between December 20, 2006, and January 28, 2007, less than half of Jews under the age of 35 believe Israel's destruction would be a personal tragedy, compared to 78 percent of those over 65. Sixty-six percent of Jews aged 50-64 believe it would be a personal tragedy, compared to 54% aged 35-49. "[F]eelings of attachment may well be changing as warmth gives way to indifference, and indifference gives way even to downright alienation," the authors of the report wrote. "A mounting body of evidence has pointed to a growing distancing from Israel of American Jews, and the distancing seems to be most pronounced among younger Jews. Insofar as younger Jews are less attached to Israel, the inevitable replacement of older with younger birth cohorts leads to growing distancing in the population overall. If so, then American Jews, as a group, may be growing more distant primarily because younger Jews feel less attached to Israel." "These results are very upsetting," Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Ze'ev Bielski told The Jerusalem Post, blaming a combination of a "comfortable life" in America and growing materialism for the detachment from Israel. "Who would believe that only 60 years after the Holocaust so many of our own people are not connected to the Jewish state." He said the only way to combat this growing trend was to invest more in such programs as birthright, which offers a free 10-day tour of Israel to young Jews, and Masa, JAFI's flagship program for young adults. "Looking at this study makes us even more determined to invest in these programs to enforce Jewish identity and in bringing young Jews to Israel for any length of time," Bielski said, adding that it was also the responsibility of the Israeli government to improve Diaspora relations, invest in Jewish education and connect Jews around the world with people in Israel. Further findings by Cohen, a sociologist of American Jewry and research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College's Jewish Institute of Religion, and Kelman, an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of California Davis, include findings that a growing number of young American Jews were less supportive of Israel. Only 60% of those under 35 believed caring about Israel was an important part of being Jewish. Among those over the age of 65, 80% believed caring about Israel was a way to express their Jewish identity. Only a little more than half (54%) of those under 35 said they felt comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state, compared to 81% of those over 65. The study, which was commissioned by The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, is the first in a series of reports by Cohen and Kelman examining the specific facets of young American Jewish identity. In the coming months, further reports will look at gender variation, sexuality, the use of pop culture and the influence of the Internet among North America's young Jewish population.