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Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

This special JPPI report is based on discussions held all over the Jewish world about “Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division.” It is also based on a vast volume of research and relies on a plethora of previously published studies, papers, books, and articles. References to some of the background materials we utilized appear in the footnotes. The research was used mostly for understanding the background of our topic of discussion, while seminars enabled us to learn firsthand about the opinions of Jewish leaders, professionals, rabbis, philanthropists, activists and other engaged Jews. Most of the discussions were held in March and April 2017.

Alongside the discussion groups, all participants were asked to complete a questionnaire (referred to as the Dialogue survey throughout this report). Beyond the fact that it provided us with additional and focused information about participant attitudes, the questionnaire enabled us to present a more accurate and detailed picture regarding the groups who took part in the process (such as the age of the participants, their religious affiliation, and how many times they have visited Israel). It can also be used as a tool to compare those who participated in JPPI’s Dialogue this year to participants from previous years, as well as to the general Jewish population by comparing our data with other studies.[1]

Naturally, the conclusions drawn from the seminars, the survey, and the background materials are subject to reservations and critique, and we cannot present them without raising several “warning flags” to explain the context in which the seminars were held, and to clarify what they can accomplish for certain, and what they cannot.

Structure and Content of the Seminars:

The vast majority of the seminars were between one and a half to two hours long, and in most cases, each discussion group had fewer than 20 participants. In communities where there were a greater number of participants, they were divided into separate discussion groups that were summarized separately.

The seminar began by presenting some background data about Jerusalem: the historical significance and data about the different populations living in Jerusalem from the beginning of the 20th century until today. Following the brief background presentation, and prior to the start of the discussion, participants were asked to complete the survey questionnaires. Afterward, the seminar continued to the main part of the seminar – several cases were given to discussants for a more detailed and practical discussion. The first one was geared to understand what participants’ current feelings are toward Jerusalem. The second, and main case in the seminar required participants to “elect a mayor” for Jerusalem, choosing between four “candidates”. This case was aimed to illuminate participants’ priorities vis-à-vis the reality of contemporary Jerusalem. The third case related to visions of an ideal future Jerusalem.

Following a detailed exchange on some of the tasks, the discussion returned to the central questions that had been defined as the main focus of the 2017 Dialogue:

  1. How do connected Jews and Jewish leaders around the world view Jerusalem’s current situation – culturally, demographically, and politically? Do they view it as a thriving city or as a city in trouble? Do they feel pride in how it is developing, or anxiety concerning its future?
  2. How important is Jerusalem to these Jews – especially Jews who do not live in Jerusalem, and, even more so, those who do not live in Israel (visitors and tourists usually see only a small part of Jerusalem, and are not always familiar with the full complexity of the city) – and how invested do they feel in its future?
  3. What is the vision of connected Jews and Jewish leaders for Jerusalem, and what are the policies and priorities they would support the fulfillment of that vision?

Specific questions were presented to the discussion groups such as: Is it essential that Jerusalem have a clear Jewish majority? How important is it for the city to be Jewishly diverse? Would you support a division of Jerusalem in exchange for peace with the Palestinians? What role should Diaspora Jews play in crafting Jerusalem’s future? What is your connection to Jerusalem today? How do you envision an ideal “future Jerusalem”?

Participants were asked to express their opinions concerning these issues in connection to the tasks they had discussed in the seminar that provided them with information and examples of specific ramifications of different answers to these questions.

Bias in favor of the Jewish community’s core population:

Understanding the process, its advantages and limitations requires that we first note that this process relies heavily upon each local community (and local organizations). The communities were responsible for recruiting the groups for the seminars. Therefore, there are significant differences in the composition and size of the groups in various communities. But one thing is common to all of them: The established community – usually the federation but sometimes other organizations as well – was the organizing body that gathered the participants. In many cases, particularly in the seminars held outside the United States, it was also the body that reported on the discussion to JPPI. Since we rely on the seminar reports from all the communities, it is important to recognize the fact that they are reporting on the attitudes of those connected to the “core” of the organized Jewish community, often the attitudes of Jews who hold various leadership positions in the community, and are less of a reflection of Jews whose connection to established Jewish life is weak, or even non-existent.[2] We know from previous studies that members of the core community attribute greater importance to their Jewish identity, are more actively Jewish both in their personal lives and as members of their communities, are more connected to Israel, and in certain cases tend to be less liberal leaning than other Jewish groups.[3] The information we gathered indicates, for example, that the Dialogue participants tend to visit Israel much more frequently than the “average Jew.”[4] Naturally, these characteristics could impact the attitudes of participants in the Institute’s seminars.

The voice of younger community members:

Since the groups convened for the discussion were, by and large, groups of people with high standing in the community, many of them included fewer young people whose Jewish identity often differs in composition and intensity from the Jewish identity of older cohorts.[5] In the previous two years, we included several groups of younger participants, both within a few communities and by holding several seminar groups through college Hillels, gap year programs in Israel, and Israeli gap year programs. This year, for various reasons (partially due to the politically sensitive issues under discussion) we were less successful. The percentage of young participants in this year’s Dialogue was considerably lower than their percentage in the community, and their voice is underrepresented (graph 29).

 Religious composition:

JPPI’s 2017 Dialogue process included very few ultra-Orthodox participants, as in past years, so in most communities they are underrepresented.[6] Graph 30 lays out the specific religious composition of the groups. The percentage of Jews who self-identify as “Conservative” is higher in the Dialogue than their actual share of the general Jewish population – in fact, this year the share of Conservative Jews was even higher than in previous years; in comparison, the percentage of Jews who are not “Reform,” “Conservative” or “Orthodox” was significantly lower than their share of the general Jewish population. In other words, those participating in the Dialogue were more “religiously affiliated” (not in terms of observance but in terms of identity and identification) than the average Jew.

  • Conservative includes: Conservative, Conservadox
  • Non-denominational includes: cultural, pluralistic, liberal, humanist, Jewish, post denominational, none
  • Orthodox includes: Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Open Orthodox, Religious Zionist
  • Other includes: other, Reconstructionist, Masorti, Traditional, Datlash
  • Reform includes: progressive Reform, orthodox + Reform, Conservative + Reform
  • Secular includes: Secular, Secular +Orthodox, Secular + Reform, Secular + Conservative, Secular +Masorti

Geographic distribution:

The geographic distribution of the seminars was quite widespread (graph 31). Communities from several continents took part in the Dialogue process. The impressive representation of the North American Jewish community (380 participants) corresponds to the size of the Jewish population there.[7] We also had, as in previous years, significant representation from Australia (69) and Brazil (63). Representation of European Jewry was lower in this year’s process than we would have liked. We hope to expand the number of participating communities next year, and for now we have attempted to overcome the under-representation of these communities by analyzing the relevant ancillary materials. It is important to note that Israel, and the views of Israelis, are underrepresented in this year’s Dialogue as well. Much of the data about Israelis is derived from JPPI’s Pluralism in Israel Survey, a separate survey by JPPI conducted in March 2017, which included several of the same questions as the 2017 Dialogue Survey.[8]

Interest in Israel:

It can be assumed that the groups taking part in the discussions had a self-selection bias as having a vested interest in Israel. Thus, the general picture we get from the seminars undoubtedly tends toward those members of the worldwide Jewish community for whom Israel is essential, and who are interested in conducting a Dialogue with and about Israel. The fact that the percentage of Israel visits (graph 32) among seminar participants is much higher than of the general Jewish population is clear-cut evidence of this.

We should note that we did not specifically ask about visits of dialogue participants to Jerusalem, but our impression is that all Jews who visited Israel visited Jerusalem. Among Israeli Jews who do not live in Jerusalem, 23 percent said that they had not visited Jerusalem in the last year (in a survey by Yediot Daily), 21 percent said they had only visited the city once, and 7 percent said they had only visited the city during military service or in a work related capacity. Seventy-six percent of Israeli Jews said that they had visited the Kotel in the last year.

Gaps in the process itself:

In certain cases we relied on the communities to record seminar minutes and summarize them for us, and in other cases the Institute’s staff was responsible for the summaries. JPPI researchers facilitated the seminars in some communities; other seminars were run by the communities themselves. Additionally, seminars varied in duration, discussion intensity, and level of summation. Full details regarding the nature of the seminars in each community appear below. It should be noted that all of the participating communities demonstrated an impressive level of earnestness and commitment to the process.

Advantages:

After having outlined the composition of the seminars and highlighting some of the limitations, we should also present some of the advantages. A discussion among Jews with a clear and unequivocal interest in the Jewish world and in Israel, and who are involved in their own Jewish communities, could be preferable to a discussion that also includes Jews who are weakly connected to the Jewish community and who exhibit a low level of interest. Since the purpose of the process is to discuss the connection to Jerusalem, visions of Jerusalem, and the policies and priorities Jews would support in the fulfillment of these visions, it would be reasonable to argue that such a discussion should take into account primarily (and perhaps only) the outlook of Jews for whom the community and Israel is important. Taking into consideration the perspectives of Jews who are not interested in Israel and in their Jewish community is not reasonable in this context.

In spite of this, in order to give a full and comprehensive picture of the “perspectives of the Jewish world” we supplemented our study by including a considerable amount of data and information that also shed light on the outlooks of groups who are more distant from the organized community, including data from studies and quotes from articles.  We have made a considerable effort to present a full and comprehensive picture in this report, to the best of our understanding.

[1] Comparison is possible mainly with regard to American Jewry, since the number of participants from the U.S. is relatively significant and the information for comparison is accessible.

[2] Studies of this type are often biased, to a certain extent, toward the core community. For example, we can note the following warning from a study by the JPR conducted among Jews in Great Britain: “It is reasonable, however to suspect that the community involved may be over-represented. Because the survey utilized membership and subscriber lists held by the Jewish community as a first port of call (followed by referrals made by people on these lists), those Jews on the community lists may have had a larger, albeit unknown, probability of inclusion in the sample.” (http://www.jpr.org.uk/documents/Perceptions_and_experiences_of_antisemitism_among_Jews_in_UK.pdf)

[3] The most prominent example of these characteristics appeared quite clearly in the 2013 Pew report on American Jewry, where an effective distinction was made between Jews by religion, and Jews not by religion. See, “Who are the ‘Jews by Religion’ in the Pew Report?” Shlomo Fischer, The Times of Israel, December 13, 2013.

[4] ¾ of the participants in the Jewish People Policy Institute seminars had visited Israel more than three times. 97.4% of them had visited Israel at least once. By way of comparison, the Pew study on American Jews found that around 43% of respondents had been to Israel, including 23% who visited Israel more than once (Chapter 5 of the Pew Report).

[5] “Identificational shifts among the younger generation – from ethnic to cultural, from community-oriented to individualistic and customized – as well as the turning away from mainstream Jewish organizations toward alternatives may be, in part, a manifestation of the transition to a network society”. See: “Jewish Identity and Identification: New Patterns, Meanings, and Networks”, Shlomo Fischer and Suzanne Last Stone, JPPI, 2012.

[6] However, the percentage of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the world is relatively small, so that even if we know that they have very different outlooks from those of most Jews on numerous subjects, the absence of ultra-Orthodox representatives from the discussion, while unfortunate, does not necessarily lead to a misunderstanding of the general outlook within the Jewish world.

[7] See: DellaPergola, Sergio, “Jewish demographic policies, population trends and options in Israel and in the Diaspora,” JPPI, 2011.

[8]  It is important to emphasize that the two surveys, are not comparable in a statistical sense. The survey in Israel is a scientific sample of Israel’s population. It was conducted by Panels Politics and the findings were based on a relatively large sample of 1,300 respondents, with a 5.6% margin of error for Arabs and 3.1% for Jews. In this report, we have used the data about the Jewish respondents. More details on the survey here: http://jppi.org.il/new/en/article/english-2017-pluralism-index-survey-results/#.WRF5_VN97Vo. The survey of world Jews represents the average views of a self-selected group.

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