Jewish history provides reasons to expect that the Jews of America and Israel have grown apart, and that different experiences will compete with what they share by way of faith and culture.
Most American Jews are five or more generations from European roots. Those of Israel are only two generations from Europe or elsewhere in the Middle East, and their departures were more traumatic as well as more recent. While only a minority of American Jews derive from those having a direct experience with the Holocaust or Arab persecution, those touched very many parents or grandparents of Israeli Jews.
The result in America is a great deal of sharing and overlapping with the Gentiles. The Jews of Israel live alongside Gentiles more hostile than those living alongside the Jews of America. There is less mingling in school, work, neighborhoods, and especially families, and more hostility emanating toward nearby non-Jews from the Jews of Israel.
One of the differences between the communities is the manner of determining who is a Jew.
Government officials do it in Israel, where there is no separation of religion from the state. In the United States, where there is no official designation of Jewish identity, there are surveys that ask the question.. We can leave aside the knotty issue of how separate is religion from the state in both places. Separation is more loudly proclaimed than observed in the United States. Israel's government is less involved in the matter of religion than some claim or others would like.
The complexities of identifying Jews touch upon religion and ethnicity, or faith and blood. Especially fuzzy is the issue of "affinity." The problems are older than recent intermarriages. In writing about the Roman Empire, one finds that some 10 percent of the population identified with the culture of the Jews, even though many may not have been recognized as Jews by the rabbis.
Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics notes that the country includes 5,909,600 Jews. These are people recorded as Jews by the Ministry of Interior, and would include individuals who were converted overseas in Reform and Conservative congregations and would not be recognized as Jews by the official Orthodox Rabbinate. Israel also designates 337,800 individual as neither Jews nor Arabs, but "others." Many of these are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who came under the Law of Return by virtue of having at least one Jewish grandparent. Many, and perhaps most of them would find themselves identified as Jews by surveys in the United States.
For the United States a non-official survey included in the Statistical Abstract published by the Census Bureau reports 2,680,000 Jews. Substantially more are reported by the American Jewish Year Book, i.e., 5,425,000. The Pew survey organization comes close to the American Jewish Year Book. It indicates that there are 5,300,000 adults, and another 100,000 children who considered themselves as Jews by religion or ethnicity. Pew also notes those who say that they have a Jewish affinity or Jewish background. Adding them to those who consider themselves Jews by religion or ethnicity brings the total to 11,900,000.
A number of recent surveys find a combination of attitudinal differences, with some indications of tension between American and Israeli communities. There is also a substantial residue of common identification and concerns, including mutual dependence. Some differences in findings may reflect the methodology of surveys, i.e., how they identify people as Jews, or the candor of respondents.
Prominent here is a survey sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, conducted after a pre-survey to identify individuals who consider themselves Jewish.
Among its findings are that only 26 percent identified themselves as Liberal in politics, with another 21 percent saying they Lean Liberal, while only 52 percent identify as Democrats. None of this squares with the 69 percent reported in another Jewish source as having voted for Barack Obama in 2012, and 78 percent as voting for him in 2008.
Attitudes toward Obama are prominent in distinguishing Israeli and American Jewish opinions. 59 percent of American Jews approve strongly or somewhat the way Obama is handling US-Israel relations. Only 19 percent of Israelis would have voted for Obama, and 40 percent for Mitt Romney. At various times since 2009, the percentage of Israeli Jews seeing Obama as more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinians ranged from 4 to 31, while the range seeing him more pro-Palestinian ranged from 14 to 51.
Responses about the Syrian civil war are instructive in showing fewer Israeli Jews than American Jews with no opinion. Closeness matters, as does the differential prominence of Syria in Israeli and US media. Those with opinions among Israeli Jews are more likely than American Jews to support the Assad regime, but there are substantial percentages in both populations on either side side of the Assad vs Rebel divide.
Questions about Iran's nuclear program are dated by the recent efforts of Iranians to appear moderate. However, American Jewish opinion tended to resemble Israeli opinion in supporting American or Israeli military action if diplomacy and sanctions fail.
American Jews seem close to Israelis in their guarded optimism about prospects for peace with the Palestinians..Both.populations support the principle of a Palestinian state, see the intentions of the Palestinians as wanting to destroy Israel eventually, and are reluctant to dismantle settlements.
Surveys of both American Jewish and Israeli populations find substantial signs of a mutual identity, but also some ambivalence as to how important it is.
33 percent of American Jews said that being Jewish is very important, but 52 percent that it was only somewhat important or not too important. 34 percent agreed with the statement that "Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew," but 54 percent agreed only somewhat or disagreed somewhat, and another 11 percent disagreed strongly.
With respect to how important being Jewish is to the Jews of the US, 33 percent said very important, 30 percent somewhat important, 22 percent not too important, and 14 percent not at all important.
Among Israelis, 32 percent said that opinions of Diaspora Jews should not be taken into account regarding the peace process; 34 percent would consider it to a small extent, and another 31 percent would consider it to a large or very great extent.
Similar breakdowns appear in response to a question about considering the opinions of Diaspora Jews regarding religious issues in Israel. 24 percent said they should not be taken into account; 31 percent would consider them to a small extent, and 36 to a large or very great extent. Only 21 percent responded that the opinions of Diaspora Jews should be considered by the Israeli government when deciding on any border changes, and 75 percent said that they should not be considered.
54 percent of Israeli Jews said that Jews in the Diaspora have no right to publicly criticize the Government of Israel, while 40 percent said that Jews who live in the Diaspora can publicly criticize the Government of Israel because every Jew is a partner in Israel.
More positive are findings that 83 percent of Israeli Jews feel a connection to the Jews in the Diaspora, 61 percent feel that the State of Israel should assist Jewish communities in economic, political, or anti-Semitic distress, 67 percent believe that political support of Israel by world Jewry is very important, with another 28 percent believing that it is somewhat important.
Jews have been dealing with the Promised Land and Diaspora communities for the better part of 2,500 years. Religious Jews have prayed for the well being of Jerusalem, and--along with many who have not prayed daily--contributed to the support of its people and those elsewhere in the Land. There has been a great deal of communication between the various communities, including consultation on matters of religious law, joint commercial endeavors, political advice and assistance, as well as complaints about one another's activities.
Others will comment on the next 2,500 years.
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