Researchers debunk declining attachment to Israel thesis

WALTHAM, Mass. - Researchers from the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University are challenging the notion promoted in recent studies and in the media that American Jews, young adults in particular, are growing more distant from Israel. In a recently released study, “American Jewish Attachment to Israel: An Assessment of the ‘Distancing’ Hypothesis,” researchers Theodore Sasson, Charles Kadushin, and Leonard Saxe point out that the paradox of weakening ties to Israel among North American Jews and increasing participation levels for programs like Birthright Israel, do not actually represent contradictory trends.

According to Sasson, their comprehensive review of surveys conducted over the past three decades illustrates “there is no consistent evidence in surveys conducted among national samples of American Jews that either younger individuals, or adults, have grown more distant from Israel. On the contrary, the survey evidence reveals surprising resilience of American Jewry’s connection to Israel.”

In surveys conducted annually by the American Jewish Committee between 1994 and 2007, roughly three quarters of American Jews agreed that “caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.”  A comparable fraction (roughly 70%) indicated feeling “close to Israel” (either “very close” or “close”).  Although older Jews and those who identify with the Orthodox and Conservative movements reported higher levels of attachment than younger Jews and those who identify as Reform or unaffiliated, even among the less Israel-connected segments of the population, the trends have been largely stable. 

The researchers point out surveys conducted in the 1980s and 1990s are consistent in reporting comparatively higher levels of attachment to Israel by older Jews than for those who are younger. It is not a contemporary phenomenon and, in part, reflects the fact that young Jews in the past had fewer opportunities to interact with Israelis and know the country. 

The success of Birthright Israel, which has brought more than 120,000 North American Jewish young adults to Israel for educational trips, challenges old patterns of engagement with Israel and is creating a generation of adult Jews who have a different relationship to the Jewish state. 

The new report, “American Jewish Attachment to Israel: An Assessment of the ‘Distancing’ Hypothesis” can be downloaded at
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