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Survey: with Terrorism Down, So Are U.S. Jewish Ties to Israel

Palestinian terror during the intifada led to an increase in U.S. Jews’ attachment to Israel, but now that the violence is subsiding, that attachment appears to be decreasing as well. That’s according to a new survey conducted by one of the leading demographers of Jewish life.

“We know that 2002 was an unusual year of concern for Israel,” as evidenced by the high participation of American Jews in pro-Israel rallies, said Steven M. Cohen.

Cohen conducted a survey in December and January that follows up on one he did in 2002. Both were sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Results of the recent survey, conducted among nearly 1,500 American Jewish households, were first published in the Forward.

The recent decline in Israel attachment continues a 40-year decline in the collective Jewish identity of American Jews, including attachment to Israel, Cohen said.

At the same time, American Jewish travel to Israel has risen sharply during the last two years.

Such travel appears to be the key to fueling Jewish identity, Cohen said. While older Jews may be attached to Israel without having setting foot there, younger Jews require the benefit of travel to make the connection.

The study comes as the Jewish Agency puts into action a new strategic plan that aims to focus on strengthening the Jewish identity in the Diaspora by connecting with Israel. A key element of the vision is funding Israel programs for Diaspora youth.

Among other findings of Cohen’s 2004 study:

About 15 percent of American Jews said they planned to visit Israel in the next three years, compared with 12 percent of American Jews in 2002. Some 24 percent said they encouraged someone to visit Israel in the past year, compared with 19 percent previously.

About 26 percent of American Jews were very emotionally attached to Israel in 2004, compared with 31 percent in 2002. When asked how much being Jewish has to do with caring about Israel, 48 percent said a lot in 2004, compared with 58 percent in the earlier survey.

The number of American Jews who made a contribution to an Israel-related charity dropped nine percentage points from 2002 to 40 percent in 2004. About 22 percent attended an Israel-related program in 2004, down from 27 percent in 2002.

Questions of Jewish identity remained relatively constant. Asked how important being Jewish is in a person’s life, 57 percent said very in 2004, compared with 54 percent in 2002. Some 42 percent said they were members of a synagogue in 2004, compared with 43 percent in 2002.

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