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March 2012

Leonard Saxe
Leonard Saxe
Dear Friends, 


Two weeks ago, Prof. Ted Sasson and I traveled to Israel to promote Brandeis' ties with sister institutions, engage in discussions about our Taglit-Birthright Israel research, and present our work. Perhaps the highlight of our visit was testifying before the Knesset's Subcommittee on Israel and the Jewish People, chaired by MK Einat Wilf (see Ted's report below).


Our testimony before MK Wilf's committee focused on what we've called the "new narrative" of American Jewish life and evidence of growing ties between American Jews and Israel. Much of the discourse about contemporary Jewish life in America presumes that Jewish life is "melting away," compromised by the forces of assimilation and growing distance from Israel. Our data suggest otherwise, and we believe that there is strong evidence that not only is the community growing in size, but that American Jews----in particular, young people----are increasingly connected to Israel.


We've included links to several news stories about our research. Ted's recent findings on philanthropy, discussed in Haaretz, will be available shortly. In addition, a newly released article that I wrote (with Matthew Boxer) for Israel Studies summarizes the data and presents new arguments for thinking about American Jewish engagement, in particular with Israel.


Finally, we are busily planning for the first-ever academic gathering to assess what we have learned from Taglit-Birthright Israel and its implications for understanding Jewish education and identity, as well as Diaspora-homeland relationships. We are bringing together an extraordinary group of scholars, educators, and policy-makers for a day and half of dialogue and discussion in May. For more information, please visit our conference website.


Best wishes for a joyous Passover.


Len Saxe

Director, Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Reseach Institute at Brandeis University

Divided...Not Distant
Ted Sasson
Ted Sasson, Senior Research Scientist 


A few weeks ago I testified, together with Len, before the Knesset Subcommittee on Israel-Diaspora Relations chaired by Einat Wilf. Drawing on our recent research, I challenged the notion that American Jews are "distancing" from Israel. I noted that despite the popularity of the "distancing hypothesis" in the public discourse, there is actually little evidence for it. Rather than distanced, I described American Jews as increasingly divided among competing visions of Israel----of what Israel ought to be like, of what threatens Israel, and of how American Jews ought to relate to Israel. In other words, what many frequently misinterpret as evidence of distancing often reflects an interest in and deep caring for Israel.


Previewing our latest research, I discussed four segments of American Jews' relationship to Israel: philanthropy, tourism, public opinion, and advocacy.


>>Continue reading

Opening the Black Box: Lessons from Research on Immersive Jewish Service Learning Programs for Young Adults
Jewish Communal Service
Fern Chertok, Joshua Tobias, Matthew Boxer, Shirah Rosin 

People of the Book, Community of Action: Exploring Jewish Service Learning.


First-ever issue of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service dedicated to Jewish service-learning (JSL)


Short-term, immersive, Jewish service-learning programs (IJSLs) have emerged as a key communal strategy to encourage Jewish young adults to engage in service and see their volunteer work as a Jewish act. Utilizing two years of multi-method research on IJSLs, this paper opens the "black box" of IJSL pedagogy, suggesting that group cohesion, quality of service work, interactions with community members, learning sessions, Jewish observance, and follow-up programming are critical to participant outcomes including connections between Jewish identity and service and plans to engage in future volunteer work and to volunteer under Jewish auspices. The paper also explores the limitations of current recruitment paradigms, which often result in gender imbalanced groups with a history of strong Jewish engagement. The paper recommends that the IJSL field engage in a process of external scanning for innovative ideas, foster a culture of experimentation and "demonstration projects," and integrate feedback systems into planning and decision-making.


>>Read the article (This article is disseminated with the permission of the Jewish Communal Service Association, publishers of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service).
Volume 6, Issue 2
In This Issue
Divided...Not Distant
Opening the Black Box

Employment at CMJS

 JData.com  is currently seeking a Community Relations Manager to join the team and help bring JData to full national scale. JData.com,  a project of CMJS, aims to collect and make available high-quality data on the field of Jewish education in North America.

Visit the CMJS employment page for details.       



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Constructs is the e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies,   Steinhardt Social Research Institute, and  Fisher-Bernstein Institute