OTHER VOICES

The Identity of American Jews

Posted July 22, 2012, at 5:47 p.m.

A new type of Jewish identity is on the rise. As with more classic forms of Jewish identity, such as adherence to the strictures of tradition, involvement in Jewish communal functions and Jewish scholarship, this new form of Jewish identity might also help ensure Jewish continuity by preventing intermarriage and providing positive reasons for wanting to remain a part of the Jewish people.

This new form of Jewish identity is called “attachment to Israel” and it is strengthening among young U.S. Jews — a segment of the American Jewish population previously thought to be the most alienated from and indifferent to the Jewish state.

Those are the findings of a recent survey commissioned by the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, an American organization first established by Bundists in 1900 that today focuses on promoting Jewish social justice.

U.S. Jews aged 35 and under have become substantially more attached to Israel than those aged 34 to 44, according to the survey, conducted on the Internet in late April and early May among 1,000 Jews who are neither Orthodox nor day school alumni.

This marks a turnaround in the downward slide in young people’s attachment to Israel most famously lamented by American pundit Peter Beinart. The research measured attachment to Israel through a composite index based on two questions: “How emotionally attached are you to Israel?” And: “To what extent do you see yourself as pro-Israel.”

The survey seems to show that young American Jews without a strong background in Jewish education or an Orthodox upbringing are finding an alternative way to identify as Jews: through their attachment to Israel. …

What explains this rise in attachment to Israel among younger American Jews?

“In all likelihood, the cumulative impact of Birthright Israel in bringing so many young Jews to Israel may be coming to the fore,” said professor Steven M. Cohen, one of the researchers who conducted the survey. …

Over a decade ago, a combined Israeli-American endeavor was launched that has become probably the most successful Jewish identity project of recent decades: Birthright Israel. Cohen refers to it as the “Birthright Bump.”

The Jerusalem Post (July 12)

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