Survey: For Israelis In America, Synagogue Becomes More Important
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Survey: For Israelis In America, Synagogue Becomes More Important

For Israelis living in the United States, the synagogue becomes more important the longer they are here and their Jewish identity increases in importance, according to a recently released survey. Their belief that the American Jewish community strengthens Israel also intensifies, along with their need to defend Israel when it is criticized.

At the same time, there is a greater chance they or their children will marry non-Jews, fewer of their children will know Hebrew, they will visit Israel less often and there will be fewer Israelis in their social circle.

Those were some of the findings of an Internet survey of 1,598 respondents who currently live in 40 states; 817 said they view themselves as Israelis and 781 said they considered themselves Israeli-Americans. The Israeli-American Council, a private, nonprofit group founded to foster an active and giving Israeli-American community, released the findings. It is believed to be the first survey of the Israeli-American Jewish community nationwide.

The survey, “Israelis and Israeli-Americans Living in the United States; Perceptions, Attitudes and Behavior,” divided the respondents into two groups: those who have lived here less than 10 years and those who have lived here for a decade or more. An Israeli polling company, Midgame, conducted it.

The survey found that the intermarriage rate among children of Israeli Jews here for more than a decade is 17 percent, higher than the 8 percent of those who arrived within the last 10 years and the 58 percent among American Jews.

It found that about half of those surveyed attend synagogue, and about 44 percent attend Orthodox synagogues. Of those here fewer than 10 years, another 24 percent attend Conservative synagogues. That figure that jumps to 33 percent among those here longer than 10 years. The figure for those attending Reform synagogues drops from 22 percent to 17 percent the longer they live here.

Socialization with primarily other Israelis drops from 51 percent to 33 percent as the Israelis integrate into American society.

Regarding education in Jewish day schools or preschools, 53 percent of all respondents said they do not send their children there, but the percentage increases slightly the longer they are here – increasing from 29 percent to 32 percent.

The survey was initially distributed in the U.S. with the help of several Israeli government ministries. But in October Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed them to stop distributing it and to make clear the survey was not promoted by any official government agency. He acted after learning that some of the questions dealt with two sensitive issues, the American Jewish “lobby” and dual loyalty.

The questions were then removed from the survey.

Shawn Evenhaim, chairman of the Israeli-American Council, said the survey was designed to “deepen our understanding of the landscape of today’s Israeli-American communities so that we can better provide services they need to fulfill our mission of strengthening the Jewish identity of the next generation and building bridges to the Jewish American community.”

The survey rang true for one Israeli-American, Avi Saks of Dix Hills, L.I., who said he has lived in the U.S. for 50 years.

“When I first came here I didn’t think American Jews had anything to do with Israel,” he said. “Over time I realized the importance of the American Jewish community. And Jewish identity here absolutely increases. I know guys who would not go to synagogue while in Israel but now that they are in the U.S. they believe it is important to go. And those who were not much observant in Israel become more observant here. Their connection to the synagogue replaces what they miss not living in Israel.”

stewart@jewishweek.org

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