Commenting on my recent JPPI study – details here – Prof. Steven Cohen writes that, “the world is more complex than Shmuel Rosner makes it out to be” (that’s obviously true for us all, is it not?). He also writes:
[T]he overall arrest in declining attachment does not mean, as Rosner asserts, that “young Jews are not distancing themselves from Israel.” For while the overall average just bumped up due to travel, the ongoing corrosive effect of intermarriage continued. The impact of intermarriage on Jewish engagement is generally negative but especially negative upon attachment to Israel. As one telling factoid: Among in-married parents in the New York area, 33 percent report that their children have been to Israel; among the intermarried, the figure drops to a mere 4 percent. On a larger scale, the ongoing and increasing intermarriage rate among the non-Orthodox—and in the New York area, 50 percent of recently marrying non-Orthodox couples were intermarriages—promises to continue to produce distancing among their children. Distancing continues, especially as the children of the intermarried are so much under-represented among travelers to Israel, those who experience the countervailing impact of intermarriage.
Six quick comments:
1. Yes, the world is more complex than I make it out to be – for a reason. The paper Cohen discusses is a short one written for a policy conference. Devising policies demands some measure of simplicity, as policy makers aren’t often interested in nuances, but in the overall picture and its translation to recommended action.
2. The research into Birthright participants (including the recent 2012 update) proves that travel to Israel makes a difference for those both with intramarried and intermarried parents. It also proves that “Taglit participants are 45 percent more likely than nonparticipants to be married to someone Jewish. Taglit’s impact on inmarriage was constant across all levels of childhood Jewish education”.
3. The numbers from the New York study that Cohen mentions were not overlooked by me or omitted from my study, as some readers might be led to believe. Here’s what I wrote: “[T]he New York community study found a significant gap the level of Israel attachment between 18-49-year-olds and those aged 50 and above, which the researchers attribute (based on earlier studies by some of the same researchers) to the higher percentage of inter-marriage among the younger generation”. So yes, we know that among some Jewish groups attachment to Israel is not as strong as we’d all like it to be. However…
4. See what Cohen himself admits: “while the overall average just bumped up due to travel, the ongoing corrosive effect of intermarriage continued”. So the overall average “bumped”. In other words, not even the “corrosive effect of intermarriage” on attachment (and on many other components of Jewish life) was enough for the overall picture to be one of “distancing”. In fact, the overall picture is one of “bump”. And no, this doesn’t mean that each and every Jew or each and every group of Jews is more attached to Israel than before. But it does mean that the sense of a distancing crisis was overblown and overhyped (as I explained in more detail in a previous JPPI study).
5. As for intermarriage: Cohen has a lot of interesting and controversial things to say about this phenomenon. His goal, as he explained to me not long ago, is “underscoring the intermarried families’ distance for Jewish life”. Naturally, distancing of the intermarried from Jewish life also means their distancing from Israel (Cohen says that the Israel component suffers more than other components, and I have no reason to doubt it). What Cohen says though doesn’t translate to policy directed at distancing. It might translate to policies directed at intermarriage (or, to put it simply: policies that will encourage inmarriage).
6. Cohen writes that “attachment should not be seen as equivalent with support for Israel’s policies”. I agree. It should also not be seen as equivalent with love for Israel’s summer mosquitoes, as equivalent with admiration for Israelis’ famous lack of politeness, as equivalent with approval of Israeli driving habits, or as equivalent with craving Israeli hummus.
Check out Rosner's new book, The Jewish Vote: Obama vs. Romney / A Jewish Voter's Guide