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Editorial: The Israeli-American Jewish gap

People take part in the “Celebrate Israel” parade along 5th Ave. in New York City, June 4, 2017.

JUNE 21, 2018 – Despite attempts in recent years to connect American Jews with Israel – over 650,000 young Jews have traveled to the Holy Land on Birthright since its inception – a profound ideological and theological gap exists between Jews in both countries.

American Jews are growing more secular – a 2013 Pew Research Center study reported that since 2000, 72 percent of all non-Orthodox Jews have intermarried. And a new report by the American Jewish Committee this month pointed to a profound difference of opinion regarding President Trump’s approach to Israel. Israelis, who have longed for American recognition of Jerusalem as its capital, and for relocating the US embassy to the holy city, have embraced Trump’s decisions. According to the report, 85 percent of Israeli Jews, compared with 46 percent of US Jews, support the decision, while 7 percent of Israelis and 47 percent of American Jews oppose it.

When the report asked American Jews how the president was handling US-Israel relations, just 34 percent of American Jews said they approved – as opposed to 77 percent of Israeli Jews. When American Jews were asked about Trump’s job performance, just 26 percent found it favorable and 71 percent reported that it was unfavorable.

American and Israeli Jews also differed on Israel’s religious policy at the Western Wall. Seventy-three percent of American Jews favor providing a space near the Western Wall for mixed-gender prayer; just 42 percent of Israeli Jews favor a mixed-gender prayer site at the Wall.

While the results may not surprise long-time observers of the two populations, they do suggest that the two sides are growing further apart. As American Jews intermarry, they’re also moving away from their religion. In the 2013 Pew study, the report found that 22 percent of American Jews said they had “no religion.” The same study found that 32 percent of young Jewish adults, or millennials, described themselves as having no religion and identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.

Decades ago, it was a right of passage for many secular American Jewish families to visit Israel. That’s no longer the case as Jewish families have opted to go elsewhere for vacation, and according to a 2016 American Jewish Committee report, the majority – or 52 percent – of all American Jews had never visited Israel.

A visit to Israel may not reverse these numbers, but it could serve as an important educational trip, and also help dispel myths about the country, its people and its relationship with its neighbors, the Palestinians. From Logan Airport in Boston, one can fly nonstop to Tel Aviv in less than 11 hours. More conversations are needed between American and Israeli Jews, and there is no better place for Jews to learn more about one another than in Israel. Book the flight, have a coffee on Dizengoff or Ben Yehuda street, and talk to a stranger. You may find you have much more in common than you realize.

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