Constructs E-Newsletter

March 2008

Welcome to the March e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, Steinhardt Social Research Institute, and Fisher-Bernstein Institute.

As Jews throughout the world prepare to celebrate Israel's 60th year of independence, many will be asking about the changing role of Israel in the lives of Diaspora Jews. Is it true that American Jews have grown more distant from Israel, as so many accounts in the press and social scientific literature suggest?

This issue of Constructs highlights new work on the role of Israel in the lives of Diaspora Jews. The first report examines trends in American Jewish opinion about Israel. Contrary to many scholarly and journalistic accounts, we find no evidence of "distancing" from Israel. Moreover, given the increasing prevalence of travel to Israel among Jewish young adults, especially due to the expansion of Birthright Israel, we believe future trends will likely develop in a positive direction.

Our recent report "Taglit-Birthright Israel Evaluation" documents the program's profound impact on identification with Israel and the Jewish people but notes that its influence on Jewish communal engagement is conspicuously weaker. To better understand this paradox we interviewed Birthright Israel alumni on their campuses and in their communities. The report, "After Birthright Israel," (below) identifies a discrepancy between the aspirations of Birthright Israel alumni and the opportunities for Jewish communal engagement in their immediate environment. New initiatives will be needed to capture the enthusiasm created by Birthright Israel and translate it into engagement with the Jewish community.

Along with our publications program, we continue to present our work at conferences and meetings around the world. Below, we share Len's recent presentation from the Herzliya conference. We are glad to be able to continue the dialogue in this forum as well.

Best regards,

- Leonard Saxe, director of the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute
- Amy L. Sales, director of the Fisher-Bernstein Institute for Jewish Philanthropy and Leadership

American Jewish Attachment to Israel: An Assessment of the "Distancing" Hypothesis

Theodore Sasson, Charles Kadushin, Leonard Saxe

The American Jewish community frequently bemoans a declining American Jewish attachment to Israel. Concern has been fueled by social scientific and journalistic reports alleging growing disaffection, especially among younger American Jews. In this paper we present substantial evidence challenging the "distancing" narrative and suggest that the opposite trend is quite possibly underway.

After Birthright Israel: Finding and Seeking Young Adult Jewish Community

Theodore Sasson, Leonard Saxe, Mark I. Rosen, Dana Selinger-Abutbul, Shahar Hecht

Drawing on focus group interviews and interviews with communal professionals in five cities, this report examines the extent to which Birthright Israel alumni are able to express their heightened interest in Jewish life on their campuses and in their communities. The report, the first in a series, is part of a comprehensive research program in how best to meet the needs of the Birthright Israel alumni.

Connecting Diaspora Young Adults to Israel:
Lessons from Taglit-Birthright Israel

Leonard Saxe

This address from the Herzliya Conference in Israel details four lessons derived from our studies of Birthright Israel: the truth about young adults' connection to Israel, the critical elements of successful Diaspora/Israel connections, creative educational models, and the importance of adaptive institutional models.

In the News

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All papers & publications

  • “Teaching and Studying About Israel in America: The Israel Scholar Development Fund”
    Annette Koren

    This report, concluding the first phase of a three-year study, describes the experiences of the 2006-07 recipients of Israel Scholar Development Fund (ISDF). The fund supported Israeli scholars with temporary appointments at American Universities (Schusterman Visiting Professors) and American graduate students working on doctoral degrees in fields related to Israel studies (Schusterman Israel Scholar Awards). Both programs are designed to develop scholarship and encourage study of the history, society, and culture of Israel.

  • “Taglit-Birthright Israel Evaluation: 2007 North American Cohorts”
    Leonard Saxe, Theodore Sasson, Benjamin Phillips, Shahar Hecht, Graham Wright

    With more than 150,000 Diaspora Jewish young adults having now traveled to Israel through Taglit-Birthright Israel and tens of thousands waiting for an opportunity to participate, it is more important than ever to understand how the program affects participants. This report describes the North American cohort that applied for Birthright Israel trips during winter 2007 and compares participants' and non-participants' attitudes and behaviors post trip.

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