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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The difference between American Jews and Israeli Jews

I'm enjoying watching a bunch of you trying to figure out what I really meant about that Pew poll in the comments. Despite what I'm about to post below, in the long run, I don't believe that Israeli Jews are immune from assimilation. But for now we just might be.

Jeff Woolf and I go back about 45 years to a boy scout troop in a Conservative temple in the Boston area (there were no Orthodox scout troops in Boston then). I was actually in a group with his younger brother. Note what he says about Jewish identity in Israel.
I am, at the same time, thunderstruck by the stark contrast between the Pew Study, and the most recent Guttman/IDI Study of Israeli Jewry. The findings are almost symmetrical opposites. Israeli Jews believe in God (over 80%). There is a Jewish Renaissance (in Study, Culture, and Observance) in Israel that literally boggles the imagination (even as it confounds the usual definitions of Religious and Secular). And, while individualism and individual expression are certainly not absent, the sense of national cohesion, what we call bayachad, is movingly strong. Anyone, who lived here through the Second Intifada, or the various wars and campaigns since then will readily attest to this fact. All that my American brothers and sisters have so readily jettisoned, is held sacred by the Jews of Israel. No wonder that we speak so often at cross purposes. The two communities organize themselves around different value systems.
I write this column with a significant measure of pain. I am a fourth generation Bostonian. America has been incredibly generous to my family, and to me. The education and upbringing that I received was uniquely Jewish and uniquely American. I am very much part of both countries, as are my peers here. I cannot, will not, express any type of cheap triumphalism. At the same time, every year when I visit the graves of my forbears on the Mount of Olives, Hovevei Tziyyon who trekked from Volkovisk Lithuania to Jerusalem in 1882, I am painfully reminded that of their hundreds of descendants, no more than fifteen in my children’s generation can be identified as Jews.
Read the whole thing

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