Symposium unpacks young American Jewry’s attitudes towards Israel

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By Ruderman Family Foundation | March 27, 2023
JNS Wire

In its annual symposium at the University of Haifa, the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies examined the relationship between young American Jews and their attitudes towards Israel.

The symposium featured lectures on the prevailing challenges facing young Jews in the United States today, ranging from the fight against antisemitism to Jewish identity and their relationship with Israel.

The Ruderman program offers students the historical background behind the Israel-American Jewry relationship, as well as a comprehensive modern-day understanding of the realities on the ground for the U.S. Jewish community in order to ensure their knowledge translates into improving the future of these two communities moving forward. The program’s main objective is to explore how to maintain the critical relationship between Israel and American Jews to benefit the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Given the current complex political situation in Israel and around the world, the conference focused this year on young American Jewry and their attitudes towards Israel. Hosted in collaboration with Hillel Israel, the conference was attended by several young American Jews and addressed their struggles specifically when it comes to antisemitism and coping with a fragmented identity.

Ilana Horwitz, assistant professor of the Department of Jewish Studies at Tulane University in New Orleans, spoke about the challenges young American Jews face on college campuses. According to the information she presented, 54% of Jewish college students in the United States pay what she described as a “social cost” to support Israel on their campus. Therefore, many Jews decide to “sit it out” and be on the sidelines, both in Jewish life and in conversations about Israel.

The symposium also featured key figures who are leading the conversation about American Jewry and its relationship with Israel, including Avital Indig, a journalist at Makor Rishon, who moderated the discussion; Jay and Shira Ruderman, president and executive director, respectively, of the Ruderman Family Foundation; Hamutal Rogel Fox, director of the Jewish Communities Division of the Israeli Foreign Ministry; David Barak-Gorodetsky, head of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies; Sara Yael Hirschhorn from the ADL Center for Antisemitism Research; Rabbi Avidan Milevsky, senior lecturer of psychology and director of the Consortium for Research on Aliyah at Ariel University; Rabbi Doron Peretz, head of the World Mizrachi Movement; Abbey Onn, executive director of Nevo Network; and Ephraim Greenblatt, chef and owner of Hatch Brewery and Shmaltz Restaurant.

Jay Ruderman said that this year’s theme is important because “it provides an opportunity to examine the state of American Jewry and its future leaders. The challenges a young American Jew faces today are complex, and are a worthy topic of discussion and analysis so that we can continue to strengthen the connection between young American Jews and Israel.”

He added that “this relationship is a strategic asset for Israel, is integral to its national security, and is one we must strive to preserve. This conference provides us a window to delve into this subject matter and boosts Israel’s public understanding of American Jewry, who live in a complex reality. Additionally, the knowledge covered in today’s program encourages the public to continue to engage with this relationship and find ways to promote it.”

Milevsky presented what factors, both pre-aliyah and post-aliyah, impact successful immigration to Israel. Some of these include a pull vs. push factor in their reasoning for wanting to move to Israel, what community to live in, which school to attend and the availability of purchasing American products.

“This is the 10th year the University of Haifa has offered the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies. In this program, students learn about the complex realities of American Jewry in-depth and in doing so, help enhance the relationship between Israel and that critical community,” said Barak-Gorodetsky. “Our students and graduates delve into not only the history of this relationship and where it stands today but also primes them to be advocates for supporting and enhancing ties between those two communities. Learning about the needs of young American Jews is a critical part of our research, as it can predict and explain where this relationship is headed, what the core guiding principles behind this relationship will be and how contemporary American Jewish identity will be viewed in the years to come.”