The two largest Jewish communities in the world are significantly lacking in education about each other, concludes new American Jewish Committee (AJC) surveys of Israeli and U.S. Jews which were published on Monday (AJC 2021 Survey of American Jewish Opinion).
The parallel studies, probing how Jews in the U.S. and America learn about each other and interact, were conducted by SSRS in the U.S. and Geocartography in Israel, both leading polling firms that have carried out AJC surveys for years.
“These surveys provide a wealth of critical information about the state of Israel-Diaspora relations and make the case for increased commitment in each community to high-quality education about, and interpersonal engagement with, the other,” said Laura Shaw Frank, AJC Director of Contemporary Jewish Life.
Both surveys show that despite striking deficiencies in knowledge, shared affinity is strong. 60% of American Jews say that being connected to Israel is important to their Jewish identity, and 75% of Israeli Jews see a thriving Diaspora as vital to the long-term future of the Jewish people.
Nonetheless, Israelis report a closer emotional connection to American Jews than vice versa. Asked to use the metaphor of a family, only 11% of American Jews said they view Israeli Jews as siblings; 15% as first cousins; 46% as an extended family; and 28% as not a part of their family. For Israeli Jews, 24% consider American Jews siblings; 18% first cousins; 45% extended family; and 14% not part of their family.
And, although Israelis feel quite connected to American Jews, only 39% of Israeli Jews agreed that they have a lot in common with them.
Educating U.S. Jews About Israel
American Jews are divided on the strength of the formal Jewish education they received about Israel from kindergarten through 12th grade: 37% described it as strong, 21% as medium, 22% as weak, and 18% said it was non-existent. Orthodox Jews were more likely than others to have gained a strong education. 60% of Orthodox Jews, compared to 53% of Conservative Jews, 40% of Reform Jews, and 16% of secular Jews reported their Israel education as strong.
For many American Jews, learning about Israel continues after high school: 50% of those who attended college say they participated in courses, events, or trips where they learned more about Israel. For those under the age of 40, that number jumps to 67%. Seven in ten of those who received their Jewish education in multiple locations growing up sought out Israel-related activities during college, as opposed to only 45% of those who obtained their education in just one or two places.
Familiarity with the Hebrew language varies among American Jews:
- 42% cannot read or speak Hebrew
- 36% can read phonetically with minimal understanding
- 22% range from minimal to native fluency
35% of 18-39 years old cannot read or speak Hebrew, compared to 53% of those 60 or over. The increase in fluency, however, is more limited. While 19% of Jews over the age of 60 have minimal to native tongue fluency, 23% of those between 18-39 reported the same. Those who can read phonetically but cannot understand what they are reading are 28% of the 60 and over and 42% of the 18-39 cohorts.
Educating Israelis About American Jews
Education in Israel about Diaspora Jewry is far less common than learning about Israel in America:
- 32% of Israeli Jews did not receive any education about the Diaspora
- 37% say it was not comprehensive
- 20% say it was “so-so”
- 11% say it was comprehensive
Asked if they would like to learn more about American Jews, 47% responded affirmatively, while 22% expressed no interest, and 31% said their interest was “so-so.” There is a strong correlation between the depth of education about Diaspora Jewry and interest in learning more. 62% of those who received comprehensive education about the Diaspora are interested, compared to 51% of those whose education was not comprehensive, and 29% of those who received no education at all.
Only 16% of Americans and 13% of Israelis correctly answered all basic knowledge questions about the other community (4 in the American survey and 3 in the Israeli survey).
Though U.S. and Israeli Jews comprise more than 90% of the world’s Jewish population today, only 39% of U.S. Jews know the percentage of world Jewry in Israel, and 51% of Israelis correctly answered the percentage in America.
Asked about two key topics in the U.S., only 22% of the Israeli sample said they understand well the different denominations of American Judaism, while 49% said they understand well the topic of antisemitism in the Diaspora.
60% of American Jews say being connected to Israel is important to their Jewish identity, while 21% say it is not too important and 19% not at all important. However, the number who say it is important to their Jewish identity drops to 46% among those ages 18-39. Jews who affiliate with one of the denominations of American Judaism report in high percentages – 84% of Orthodox Jews, 87% of Conservative Jews, and 64% of Reform Jews, compared to 34% of secular Jews.
The 75% of Israelis who say a thriving Diaspora is vital for the long-term future of the Jewish people provided a variety of reasons:
- 36% said the most important reason was that Diaspora Jews advocate for Israel with their governments
- 27% said variety adds to the strength of the Jewish people
- 24% said Diaspora Jews support Israel with funding
- 6% said the Diaspora fosters Jewish creativity in a different way than Israeli life
Those saying a thriving Diaspora is not vital explained their reasons:
- 34% said that Israel is the center of world Jewry and the Diaspora is of less and less relevance as time goes on
- 29% said that Diaspora Jewry does not contribute as much to Jewish peoplehood as Israeli Jewry
- 17% said Diaspora Jewry is assimilating and will not survive
Majorities of both communities have personal connections. 67% of Israelis and 73% of American Jews have relatives or friends living in the other community, though those with immediate family are far fewer. Only 14% of Israelis and 12% of Americans have immediate family in the other community.
Only 45% of U.S. Jews have visited Israel. For those who did not visit, 24% said it was lack of interest, 25% lack of opportunity, 27% lack of funds, and 9% said they are concerned about safety or security. Among those who visited Israel, 73% say their visit(s) strengthened their connection to Israel, while only 6% said it was weakened. 20% say their visit(s) made no impact on their connection to Israel.
Of the 47% of Israelis who have visited the U.S., 70% said their visit(s) had no impact on their connection to American Jews, 25% said it was strengthened, and 6% said it was weakened.
The AJC Survey of American Jewish Opinion was conducted by SSRS from March 25 – May 9, 2021, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 respondents aged 18 or older. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. AJC’s 2021 Survey of Israeli Jewish Opinion was conducted by Geocartography in May of 2021, with a national sample of 1,000 Jews over the age of 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.