Article Library / 2016

2016 Annual Assessment

This identity profile of the Israeli Jewish population can illuminate the relations between American and Israeli Jews. On one hand, the population group that most closely resembles the majority American Jewish population in terms of lifestyle, income, social class, educational attainment, occupational status, and political orientation – the Hilonim – has very different assumptions about Jewish identity from the organized American Jewish community. In contrast, there are other groups whose assumptions concerning Jewish identity resemble those of the organized American Jewish community – the Masoratim, Datiim and Haredim.  Like the organized American Jewish community, these groups think of Jewish identity as being constituted by content, and its realization involves doing or achieving something (saying Psalms, praying, going on a pilgrimage to a Holy site or individual, supporting settlement in the Greater Land of Israel, studying Torah or Jewish sources). However, these groups are, for the most part, very different from the American Jews who make up the majority of the American organized Jewish community in terms of life style and political orientation and to a certain extent also in income and social class, educational attainment and occupational status.

The organized American Jewish community is bothered by the fact that the Israeli Jews with whom they have the most contact and most in common, do not seem to be concerned with Jewish identity in the same way they are. Thus, they fund a plethora of programs that promote Jewish identity and the teaching of the “Jewish bookshelf” to secular Israelis in Israel. While these programs are interesting and attractive, they are mainly today marginal to Israeli life and culture. In order for these programs to have more effect they should engage secular Israelis and the creators and American sponsors of these programs in dialogue concerning the different meanings and assumptions of Jewish identity.