American Jews and Israel, Take II

Are American Jews losing their attachment to Israel? Common wisdom and a widely covered report from last year say yes; a new report from the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University says no.

“American Jewish Attachment to Israel: An Assessment of the ‘Distancing’ Hypothesis” is a direct rebuke of “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and their Alienation from Israel,” co-authored by influential sociologist Steven Cohen. The Brandeis study argues that Cohen’s analysis is flawed because it relies on a hodge-podge of different surveys that don’t ask the same questions from year-to-year and doesn’t compare the same age cohorts over time. What the Brandeis researchers found is that as Jews age, their attachment to Israel increases.

But Cohen tells the JTA that the Brandeis researchers are the ones using flawed data. Their study is based on the American Jewish Committee’s annual Survey of Public Opinion, which only polls Jews who identify as Jewish and excludes Jews who have no religion. This produces¬†a skewed picture of Jewish engagement in America. For example, the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 showed that 38 percent of Jews belonged to a synagogue, while the 2000 AJC survey said that 59 percent of Jews are affiliated.

In Cohen’s mind, as usual, the issue comes down to intermarriage. “The intermarried and children of the intermarried are dragging down the Jewish people’s committment to Israel,” he tells JTA. “Commitment among the in-married is as high as it ever was, but we are moving to two populations.” (Which is a¬†clever reference to his previous anti-intermarriage study, “A Tale of Two Jewries: ‘The Inconvenient Truth’ for American Jews.”)

Theodore Sasson, the lead researcher on the new paper, retorts that his paper controlled variables to account for intermarriage. “Even among the intermarried, the sentiment toward Israel has remained the same, he said,” says Jacob Berkman of JTA.

When I get a few free hours, I hope to read both studies and offer my own opinions on the matter.

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