Article Library / Structured Jewish World Dialogue

Jerusalem and the Jewish People: Unity and Division

The connection of non-Israeli Jews to Jerusalem is strong. “It’s the center of our
history – next year in Jerusalem,” a participant in the Washington Dialogue
seminar explained.[1] “Jerusalem is the essence of the connection between Israel and the Jews, yet it is also the center of much debate,” a participant in Brazil stated.[2] “Consensus: Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people, the heart and
the raison-d’être of the very existence of the Jewish state,” the report from Paris,
France noted.[3] Gabriel (Gabi) Sheffer and Eyal Tsur made a similar observation
in their comprehensive survey of Jewish Diaspora ties to Jerusalem: “The bond
between the Jewish people all over the world and Jerusalem has, as we know,
been maintained for thousands of years and has religious, national and cultural
aspects.” [4]

Many Dialogue participants feel a sense of ownership as they think about the
city. “I know I do not have the right to feel it is mine because I don’t live there
– yet I do!”, a Dialogue participant in Ann Arbor, Michigan said.[5] “Jerusalem
should be the central address of the Jewish people,” a participant in Palm Beach,
Florida contended.[6] Many articulated their feelings toward the city in emotional
terms. When we asked Dialogue participants to create slogans to strengthen the
connection of world Jewry to Jerusalem, many proposed slogans such as “Your
City/Your Home,”[7] and “Jerusalem – Our City.”[8] The report from St. Louis,
Missouri stated: “There was a strong feeling that the slogan needed to connect
people so they feel a sense of ownership. Therefore, the emphasis on ‘your’ and
‘our’ and the concept of eternal capital.”[9] As we will show in a later chapter, this
sense of “ownership” also translates into an expectation: to take part in making
decisions about Jerusalem’s future.

A vast majority if JPPI’s Dialogue participants feel “at home” in Jerusalem (graph
1) – and they know what they are talking about as 42 percent had visited Israel
more than 10 times, and less than 3 percent had never visited Israel.[10] Almost half
of participants “completely” agreed with the statement “Visiting Jerusalem, I feel
at home,” and 29 percent more “somewhat” agreed with it. A Dialogue participant
in Australia described his feelings this way: “I love the culture of Jerusalem, I would love to buy an apartment around the German Colony and spend six months of
the year there. I could walk the streets all day. It feels safe. It feels like home.” More
succinctly, a participant in Cleveland stated: “It feels exactly like home.”[11] Another
one, in Zurich, commented: “Jerusalem is like an old spouse: she is not as beautiful
as she once was, but she still means so very much to me.”[12] When Israeli Dialogue
participants were asked to write slogans for Jerusalem aimed at the Jewish world,
one of them suggested “Come visit home,” another proposed “Come to Jerusalem
– because you can’t choose your family.”[13]

Interestingly, when we asked these highly engaged Diaspora Jews to rank their
level of connection to Jerusalem (graph 2), their ranking was higher than that
of Jewish Israelis.[14] Among Jews in Israel, 53 percent said that they were “highly
connected” to Jerusalem, while among JPPI Dialogue participants – Jewish leaders
and highly engaged Jews – 66 percent felt “highly connected” to Jerusalem.
Among Jews in Israel, almost one in ten said they were “not at all connected” to
Jerusalem. Among JPPI Dialogue participants only 1 percent said they were “not
at all connected.”

Among Dialogue participants, and also true for Israeli Jews, connection to
Jerusalem varies by affiliation, level of religiosity, and political orientation. It
is stronger among religious Jews than among secular Jews; it is stronger among
Orthodox Jews than Reform Jews. Among the Jewish leaders who participated in
the 2017 Dialogue, the self-identified Orthodox and traditional Jews were more
“highly connected” to Jerusalem – 85 percent for Orthodox and 88 percent for
Traditional. Seventy percent of Conservative participants and 47 percent of
Reform participants said they were “highly connected” to Jerusalem (among
Reform Jews, a comparatively significant group of 41 percent, preferred the less
emphatic term: “connected”).

Differences according to affiliation were evident in the responses to many of
the questions examining both the strength and the nature of connection to
Jerusalem. This is thrown into sharp relief if we compare the answers to three
questions concerning: feeling safe in Jerusalem, feeling uplifted in Jerusalem, and
feeling “at home” in Jerusalem (all ranked on a 1-4 scale) (graph 3). A the more
specific question of “feeling safe” shows differences but not great differences between groups of Jews according to religious affiliation.

But when we look at the sense of feeling “uplifted” in Jerusalem there are
differences, and the differences become even more pronounced when it comes to
feeling “at home” in Jerusalem. In both cases, Orthodox Jews rank Jerusalem higher
than other groups. In both cases, secular Jews, and Reform Jews more so, rank
Jerusalem lower than other groups. A city that becomes more Orthodox in look
and feel, makes non-Orthodox Jews less comfortable, less “at home.” Interestingly,
this trend doesn’t much affect Conservative Jews, who feel less at home in the city
than Orthodox Jews, but still far more so than Reform and secular Jews.

In Israel – based on JPPI’s 2017 survey of Israelis – connection to Jerusalem is
stronger among Jews who are more religious and also among Jews self-identifying
as “right wing.” On a scale of 1-4, where 1 means a weak connection and 4 a strong
connection to Jerusalem, the average ranking among “totally secular” Israeli Jews
is 2.8, while the average for religious and Haredi Jews is 3.7 and 3.8 respectively.[15]

The fact that Jews around the world are highly connected to Israel has been shown
in many previous reports and surveys. But what this year’s Dialogue seems to suggest
is that a main point of connection to Israel is Jerusalem. When asked to rank their connection to Jerusalem compared to Tel Aviv, for example, Israeli Jews – but even
more notably Dialogue participants – ranked their connection to Jerusalem higher.

For Israeli Jews, Jerusalem has a slight average connection advantage over Tel Aviv
(3.2 vs. 2.9) (graph 4). But for non-Israeli Dialogue participants the gap is more
significant, as graph 4 shows. By the same token, while 70 percent of Dialogue
participants ranked their level of connection to Jerusalem as “highly connected,”
a much lower 38 percent ranked their connection to Tel Aviv similarly. Jews from
around the world visit Jerusalem more than they do Tel Aviv, and their emotional
attachment to the city is demonstrably higher. As one Chicago participant put
it: “Tel Aviv is great fun, and I see why some Israelis like it much better – but
you can’t make a serious argument that Tel Aviv is even remotely as important to
Judaism as is Jerusalem.”[16]

Testing the connection to Jerusalem in comparison to other cities in the Holy
Land, we also asked Dialogue participants to rank their connection to Hebron
(graph 5), a city also linked to salient Jewish history and that has an important
Jewish site (the Cave of the Patriarchs). But unlike Jerusalem, Hebron has a vast
Arab majority, is under partial Israeli control but located in the disputed area of
the West Bank, and is known for friction between Arabs and Jews.

The connection of Jews – both Israelis and non-Israelis – to Hebron is relatively
weak. Fifty-three percent of Israeli Jews and 42 percent of JPPI’s Dialogue
participants said they were “not at all connected” to Hebron. Only 30 percent
of Israelis and 26 percent of dialogue participants – in both cases groups with
a strong Orthodox tilt – said they were “connected” or “highly connected” to

This could mean that the stature of conflict charged places diminishes even when
its value from a Jewish historical, cultural, and religious perspective is high. Of
course, Hebron has not been as prominent as Jerusalem in the Jewish psyche for
many generations. But Hebron is not the only charged place we examined, and
not the only one hinting that a state of confrontation weakens Jewish attachment
to a location. In addition to the finding concerning Hebron, JPPI also found a
relatively low ranking of Jewish connection to the Temple Mount – another place
with a high value for Jews that is politically controversial.

There is a wider gap between Israeli Jews and Dialogue participants with respect
to the Temple Mount than there is for Hebron. Among Israelis, a very large group
– 39 percent – said they are “not at all connected” to the Temple Mount. Among
JPPI Dialogue participants, the completely detached group is much smaller: 18 percent. But even among Dialogue participants the connection to the Temple
Mount is weaker than the connection to Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or “Israel” in
general. On a scale of 1-4, where 4 represents the strongest connection, the
average for Hebron was 1.9 and 2.5 for the Temple Mount. Israel (3.8), Tel Aviv
(3.1), the Old City of Jerusalem (3.4), and the Kotel (3.4) all ranked significantly

[1]  Washington DC dialogue. April 5, 2017. Moderator: John Ruskay, note taker: Naomi Rosenblatt
[2] Curutiba, Brazil, notes by Alberto Milkewitz
[3] Paris dialogue. January 22, 2017. Moderator: Gil Taieb
[4] For the Sake of Zion I Shall NotStand Still? The Jewish Diaspora and the Jerusalem Issue, Gabriel (Gabi) Sheffer
and Eyal Tsur, The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2011
[5] From notes by Shmuel Rosner. Ann Arbor, Michigan, April 25 2017. Moderator: Shmuel Rosner Note Takers: Max Glick and Ayelet Shapiro
[6] West Palm Beach, March 13, 2017, moderator: John Ruskay, note Taker: Patrice Gilbert
[7] Dialogue session in Minneapolis, MN, March 8, 2017, Moderator: Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D. Note Taker: Terri Krivosha
[8] Ann Arbor, see 9
[9] St. Louis, MO, 3/13/2017, Moderator: Barry Rosenberg, Note Taker: Rabbi Tracy Nathan
[10] See appendix for the full details on the composition of dialogue participants.
[11] Cleveland, March 30 2017, group 8 notes
[12] Zurich Discussion Notes, April 6, 2017. Moderator: Guy Spier
[13] Dialogue in Jerusalem, moderator Shmuel Rosner, note taker Inbal Hakman
[14] It is important to emphasize that the two surveys we show here are not comparable in a statistical sense. The survey in Israel is a scientific sample of Israel’s Jews. The survey of world Jews represents the average views of a self selected group (see previous footnotes).
[15] 35% of Jewish Israelis self-identify as “totally secular.” 10% are religious and 9% are Haredi. See:
[16] Chicago seminar, from notes by Shmuel Rosner