Poll shows young American Jews losing connection to Israel

Times of Israel
by Rebecca Shimoni Stoil

Camp and day school attendance on the rise, but Jewish identity and connection to Holy Land still declining


WASHINGTON — Jewish parents are increasingly sending their children to Jewish camps and day schools, but the younger generation is less connected to Israel and Jewish identity than its predecessors, a new survey released Tuesday revealed. The self-selected poll of 1,874 Jews, which was conducted by Laszlo Strategies for Jerusalem U, indicated that while the majority of the youngest generation of identified American Jewish adults attended Jewish summer camp and 81 percent had a bar or bat mitzvah, their connection to Israel – and to Jewish identity – is weaker than their parents or grandparents.

Although the oldest generation – those above fifty – were far less likely to have had a bar or bat mitzvah (58%), or to have attended Jewish summer camp (36%), their connection to Israel and sense of Jewish identity is stronger.

A resounding 97% of those polled over 50 said that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish.” In contrast 91% of those 18-29 agreed with the same statement. An even larger gap existed between older and younger adults who agreed with the statement “North American and Israeli Jews share a common destiny.” While 87% of those over 50 strongly agreed that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being Jewish”, only 66% of those 18-29 did. Although the gaps between the ages were rarely larger than 10 points, the younger generation appeared consistently less committed to Israel and less connected to their Jewish identity as a whole.

Of all of the Jews polled, 94 percent agree that, “Israel is the spiritual center of the Jewish people.” Only 14 percent agree that “If Israel no longer existed it would not greatly impact my life.” Israel was seen as beneficial to North American Jewry – 63% said that they believed that there would be more anti-Semitism in North America if Israel no longer existed, while 4% said that there would be less.

The web-based poll reflected a sample of Jewish adults who were active online, particularly those already listed in Jewish databases. A link to the survey – with the incentive of a drawing for a $500 prize drawing – was also shared via social media. Survey organizers acknowledge that the sample is likely to be of Jews who are somehow engaged in the community rather than might be found in a random sample.

They emphasize, however, because the sample size is relatively large – over 1,800 adults – the differences between age groups and other key demographics are statistically valid.

When asked about what prevents young Jews from being more proud of their Jewish identity or connected to Israel, over two-thirds of respondents selected “young Jews don’t see it as relevant to their lives.” The expense of summer camp, Jewish day school and other programs associated with Jewish community life – which can cost upwards of $20,000 per child each year – was only cited as the major factor by 6% of those polled.

Amy Holtz, President of Jerusalem U, highlighted the bright side of the data – that the survey indicates “that Jewish parents are working hard to give their children the Jewish education they may not have gotten for themselves when they were growing up.” But the survey is much less positive when analyzing whether that hard work sees profits in building a stronger sense of identity.

The poll began as a project launched by Jerusalem U to measure the efficacy of the four-year-old project. The results for their own efficacy were, in fact, encouraging. 94% of individuals who were familiar with Jerusalem U or had taken one of their classes, said that it was effective in “making young Jews feel proud of being Jewish and more connected to Israel.”

“It is vital to win the hearts and minds of young Jews to stay involved in the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Raphael Shore, Founder and CEO of Jerusalem U. “We know that young Jews need to see that Judaism is relevant to their lives.”

Original article about Jerusalem U on Times of Israel.