Concerning survey findings on Israel-American Jewry relations - comment

Young American Jews are distancing themselves from Israel for social acceptance as antisemitic incidents reach an all-time high.

 MK TZACHI HANEGBI of the Likud, co-chair of the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel Relations, which convenes lawmakers for conversations on the most pressing issues in Israel-American Jewry ties. (photo credit: FLASH90)
MK TZACHI HANEGBI of the Likud, co-chair of the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel Relations, which convenes lawmakers for conversations on the most pressing issues in Israel-American Jewry ties.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

Two notable surveys published in advance of May’s Jewish American Heritage Month revealed concerning developments regarding Israel-American Jewry ties, as well as the challenges facing the American Jewish community itself.

One survey, released by the American Jewish Committee, revealed that one-quarter of young Jews approve of distancing themselves from Israel in order to better blend into their social circles. The other study, from the Anti-Defamation League, shows that antisemitic incidents hit an all-time high in the United States in 2021.

These two data points are certainly troubling. Moreover, according to the AJC survey, only half of Israelis and American Jews think there is an obligation to help each other. This begs the questions: Where do we go from here in Israel-American Jewry relations and how can we get there?

First, we cannot ignore encouraging survey findings, which are largely ignored by the media in favor of alarming statistics that grab headlines. 72% of millennial Jews from America and 89% from Israel believe that close ties between American Jewry and Israel remain important, the AJC survey found.

Similarly, according to a survey that our foundation commissioned in 2020, eight in 10 Jewish Americans identify as pro-Israel and two-thirds feel emotionally attached to Israel. Moreover, in our most recent two-part survey conducted by the Mellman Group, 80% of respondents said being Jewish is an important part of their identity.

Our survey also highlighted that there is a shared sense of fate between American Jews, as 82% acknowledged that what happens to Jews in the US would impact their own life. Additionally, even for those who do not feel a strong affinity for their religion, 65% said the fate of other Jews would still impact them.

That same survey revealed that 93% of American Jews are concerned with the current levels of antisemitism in the US. It may even be possible to reach out to the those who are unaffiliated, as 9% of Jews who are not involved with the community said that growing antisemitism could be an impetus for them to become more connected. Why not help them not only address our shared existential threats but also our shared values?

What do we do now?

These encouraging statistics can serve as a baseline for our future efforts, revealing that the camaraderie within US Jewry is genuine and should be leveraged. Amplifying this sense of camaraderie and connectedness can also elevate the relationship between American Jewry and Israel.

The Ruderman Family Foundation operates several initiatives that aim to advance these objectives. The Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at University of Haifa, for example, educates future thought leaders in Israel about Jewish life in the US, as well as the long-lasting and vital bond between American Jews and Israel.

This is the only master’s program of its kind in Israel, which underscores that an emphasis on the connection between Israelis and American Jews is a gap in Israeli academia. If Israelis truly want to understand their brothers and sisters an ocean away, more educational initiatives are needed.

We also spearhead the Knesset Caucus for US-Israel Relations. Co-Chaired by MK Ruth Wasserman Lande (Blue and White) and MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud), the caucus convenes Israeli lawmakers for open and honest conversations on the most pressing issues of the day in Israel-American Jewry ties, no matter how uncomfortable those conversation might be.

We also recently launched the 50 States, 50 Communities website, which provides both Americans and Israelis with facts and figures on lesser-known Jewish communities across the US. This includes the prominent Jews who lived in each state, an overview of the state’s ties with Israel and how many synagogues are now accessible with a click of the mouse. Mutual understanding and respect, after all, does not need to be forged in New York, Tel Aviv, Los Angeles or Jerusalem. We can – and do – find that sense of Jewish peoplehood in smaller corners of the world where Jewish life is vibrant, robust and has much to offer.

As we celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, it is important to take the alarming survey findings seriously. Yet, it is also incumbent upon the Jewish communities on both sides of the Atlantic to understand that ultimately, there is more uniting them than dividing them. World Jewry must continue to draw from an overflowing well of mutual respect and admiration, and focus on opportunities for learning and growth.

The writer is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.