Does Intermarriage Drive Young Jews Away From Israel?

Pew Data Suggests Link With Alienation From Jewish State

Tim Halberg

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 15, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.
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Birthright, which has brought 350,000 young people to Israel over its 15 years, could hold the key to understanding the debate over how to interpret the data on young Jews’ alienation from Israel. Supporters of the program view it as a game changer whose impact has yet to fully show up in the communal statistics.

“Everything we see in this age group indicates growing attachment to Israel, and this is mainly because of the opportunity to visit Israel,” Saxe said. Programs like Birthright and Masa Israel Journey are the reason, he explained, that attachment to Israel is slightly higher among young Jews in their 20s compared with those in their 30s, who have fewer opportunities to participate in the Israel trips. Sasson believes that Birthright has led to many young Jews’ “over-engagement” with Israel, which can “offset some of the loss of engagement among intermarried families.”

But the available data suggest a more complicated story on the real impact of Birthright. According to the recent analysis, alienation toward Israel among those who never visited Israel hovers around the 20% marker. This figure drops only slightly among young American Jews who have visited once. A real decline in alienation is seen only after a second trip to Israel, or after living there for a while.

Also, while researchers agree that intermarriage is the leading indicator for alienation from Israel, political views still play a role. The data analysis shows a steady increase in negative feelings toward Israel that correlates with the spectrum of conservative to liberal views. The alienation rate among the self-described “very conservative” is less than 1%, while among the “very liberal” it reaches 21.6%.

In 2010, columnist and author Peter Beinart rocked the communal world with an article and subsequent book suggesting that young Americans are alienated by policies of the Israeli government and that their liberal viewpoint is a key reason for detachment from the Jewish state. Cohen responded in an article claiming that it was intermarriage, not liberalism, that is driving young American Jews away from Israel. Now, he says, the data shows that both factors explain the drift.

“Beinart was ahead of his time,” Cohen said. Cohen stressed, however, that the numbers still show intermarriage is more significant than politics in driving young Americans away from Israel.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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