“Never Mind”

Leonard Saxe, Director of CMJS and SSRI

Among the memorable characters created by Gilda Radner (z’l), one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, was an older woman, Emily Litella, who would mishear the news. After engaging in an angry diatribe in response to what she thought she heard, Emily would shyly follow up with an apologetic “never mind.” Radner’s sketches came to mind as I heard about the latest data on young adults’ attachment to Israel.

For a half dozen years, a rallying cry among leading pundits has been that American Jews are losing the commitment to Israel that characterized earlier generations. The “distancing hypothesis” was propelled into the consciousness of American Jews by pollster Frank Luntz and later by a number of social scientists. In what would become the dominant narrative of the last several years, Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman argued in a 2007 report that a “mounting body of evidence has pointed to a growing distancing from Israel of American Jews, and the distancing seems to be most pronounced among younger Jews.”

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New York Community Study Does Not Show Distancing From Israel

Ted Sasson

Ted Sasson, Senior Research Scientist

The Jewish Community Study of New York, just published, describes fascinating developments in the largest center of Jewish life outside of Israel.  There is much to digest and discuss. For the moment, though, I want to quickly address the small corner of the study that relates to a contentious issue among social scientists who study the Jews: trends in attachment to Israel.

The study’s authors, Steven Cohen, Jack Ukeles and Ron Miller, interpret the study’s findings to be consistent with Cohen’s broader claim that attachment to Israel is declining across the generations among non-Orthodox Jews, primarily due to intermarriage. A careful review of the evidence presented in the study report, however, suggests the possibility of an alternative interpretation. Continue reading

Explaining attachment to Israel

Leonard Saxe, Director of CMJS and SSRI

Last year, along with several of my colleagues at the Center, we published a paper in the journal Contemporary Jewry that reported, contrary to the conventional wisdom, that American Jews’ emotional attachment to Israel was not declining. Rather, according to the annual surveys conducted by the American Jewish Committee since the mid-1980s, the level of attachment had held fairly steady—or slightly increased—over the past quarter century. As often occurs when conventional wisdom is upended, our paper elicited challenges from skeptical colleagues.

Our colleagues’ challenges were both methodological and conceptual. The AJC surveys included only respondents who said their religion is Jewish. What if we had examined surveys that included respondents who identify as Jewish but not by religion? Moreover, almost all contemporary surveys report that older Jews are more attached to Israel. If declining attachment across the generations doesn’t explain this finding, then what does? Continue reading