Former consul general here sees two societies ‘growing apart’ despite strong bonds.
Do American Jews feel close to Israel? Is the Jewish state a unifying factor for American Jewry?
Yes and no.
That is the contradictory though understandable conclusion of an academic paper released today by the University of Haifa’s Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies.
The paper, written by Alon Pinkas, former Israeli consul general in New York, concludes that the relationship between Israel and the American Jewish community is “complicated,” and that easy answers to the questions posed about the ties are not practical.
“The American Jewish community and Israel have undergone significant societal changes that affect mutual perceptions and shape the relationship in fundamental ways,” writes Pinkas, whose paper is based on existing demographic studies and experts’ published writings, rather than original research conducted for the Ruderman Program.
Pinkas’ paper offers no new findings about the relationship, but seeks to explain it in a historical and sociological perspective.
“In short,” he writes, “American Jews and Israel are moving in different directions, and perhaps increasingly so; but these are different paths, not a collision course, as some critics and detractors would have it.
“Yes, we are ‘one,’ but more and more not the same one,” Pinkas writes. “The American and Israeli Jewish societies are growing apart for a variety of intrinsic and natural reasons. Respective societal changes. Jewish identity is different, the definition of ‘Jewishness’ is different and perceptions of individual and communal life differ.
“The bond between American Jews and Israel remains strong and their commitment to the country is solid,” Pinkas writes. “On some levels and issues, however, the ties are fraying. Israel remains an omnipresent theme in American Jewish life, but with the passage of the generation that remembers 1967 and before, Israel is increasingly losing its centrality in the minds of American Jews under the age of 50.”
Among Pinkas’ conclusions:
“When American Jews talk about Israel they are talking, to a large extent, about their own Jewish identity. Conversations about Israel are rarely just about Israel. They are about ‘who we are’ and what our Jewishness is.”
“The era of ‘Israel, Right or Wrong,’” that predominated the thinking of many American Jews following Israel’s dramatic victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, “is over. Like Israelis, American Jews are living in what could be called ‘the seventh day of the Six-Day War. The peace process and the political, security and moral dimensions of relations with the Palestinians have become a key issue.”
“There is a case or argument to be made that you cannot really be a secular Jew outside Israel. So when Israel became the civil religion of American Jews, after 1967, it constituted a unifying source of identity for the majority of American Jews who are not very religious. In recent years, however, the data show a different trend: Israel’s role in strengthening American Jewish identity is of greater significance to the observant.”
The Ruderman Program, established four years ago, examines Jewish life in the U.S., and the community’s changing relationship with Israel.