The Jerusalem Post
The family is a place to engage with Jewish ideas and Jewish values
Iread Herb Keinon’s column in The Jerusalem Post discussing attitudes of American Jews with great interest. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was shocked.
Attitudes of American Jews are not a mystery. Yet despite that, I was still shocked enough to go back to Keinon’s original sources and read, for myself, the study commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute and conducted by GBAO, a Washington, DC, political strategy and polling firm.
Knowing that Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat is no surprise. That they favored Biden over Trump is, again, no surprise. The surprise, and an unhappy surprise is that only 62% of Jews in America have any emotional attachment to Israel. Conversely, that means 38% do not have an emotional attachment to Israel. That 38% is a large enough number to be concerning. The exact phrasing of Question 21, the question that elicited this response was, “How emotionally attached to Israel are you? Very attached, somewhat attached, not too attached or not at all attached.”
The very next question asked about whether one can be critical of Israel and still be pro-Israel.
That was the most insightful question in the study. With this question you learn volumes. Through this question one can unearth the complexity of Israeli society, a unique society in which large swaths of the country agree with a policy while other large swaths disagree with that same policy but still love the state and support the idea of a Jewish home.
This was the question: “People often talk about being ‘pro-Israel.’ Do you think someone can be critical of Israeli government policies and still be ‘pro-Israel?’” Some 87% said yes while only 13% said no.
Yet the number of pro-Israel Jews falls far beneath that tremendous 87% mark. While 87% of American Jewry think one can be both critical of Israel and pro-Israel, only 62% are, admittedly, emotionally attached to Israel. That’s a full 25% difference; no small number.
What was also very telling is that of
the 800 people who responded to the questionnaire, only 85% called themselves Jewish.
GBAO qualified the question with a second question that read: “(If atheist, agnostic, something else, nothing in Q. 4/5) Even though you do not consider your religion to be Jewish, do you consider yourself Jewish?”
I WOULD HAVE liked to track that 15% who do not consider their religion to be Jewish and see how they answered other questions throughout the study. All we know is that the 15% – all 100% of them – answered “yes” to the follow-up. I would have also liked to see a question along the lines of: What Jewish activities or values inform your lives? But that will have to be another study at a different time.
We know that the Reform movement has failed miserably at instilling a love of Israel in its membership. We know it because their own numbers are 60%-40% lovers of Israel as
compared to the Orthodox which puts their numbers at 90%-10% and the Conservatives with an 80%-20% breakdown.
This failure in creating an attachment to Israel has been in gestation for a very long time. That is made evident by the age disparity in respondents. The elderly population embraces a greater emotional link to Israel than do their offspring and inheritors. That link is much less significant for younger Jews. The 65-plus generation reports a 70%-30% split on positive feeling toward Israel. Ages 40-64 and 40 and under share a 59%-41% split.
Birthright, to its credit, has probably been the single-most positive vehicle preventing these numbers from being even lower. But the failure is not just with synagogues and temples. The failure is shared by summer camps and, yes, by families.
Blame hurts and in this case it hurts badly. If we are to trust this study – and I do – we are being told that
Jewish grandparents and parents have dropped the ball. Jim Gerstein, a principal and founding partner of GBAO, knows Israel and knows the American Democratic Party. In fact, during Ehud Barak’s successful 1999 campaign for prime minister, Gerstein, who joined with James Carville, was the “team’s representative on the ground in Israel.”
Grandparents and parents can and should be able to provide educational tools about Judaism in general and Israel specifically to their children. The family is a place to engage with Jewish ideas and Jewish values and those values and ideas should include Israel.
I don’t want to blame sweet old grandparents, but the numbers don’t lie. And time is running out. If this trend continues, with each passing year, fewer and fewer people will identify as Jewish and as lovers and supporters of Israel.
We should not let this happen.