Another View From The Pew

Interestingly would the Pew survey had been carried out in Israel some of the findings would have been very similar, but in that context it would be reflecting success as opposed to signs of weakening levels of “affiliation”.

by Shalom Orzach

I wish to further expand the closing recommendation of a thought piece submitted last week where Abby Knopp (Foundation for Jewish Camp), wrote, “Perhaps it is time to look at Jewish camps in a new way and with the goal of finding the nuanced articulations of Jewish culture and visions that will help us understand the changing landscape of Jewish identity.”

Whilst not advocating an either or methodology, for camp is exemplary in the way it succeeds in housing an abundance of approaches, I do wish to focus on the significant potential the cultural aspects of camp have in affording compelling forms of Jewish Identity and practice. This approach invites and necessitates new understandings and goals for the role of Israel and Israelis.

Interestingly would the Pew survey had been carried out in Israel some of the findings would have been very similar, but in that context it would be reflecting success as opposed to signs of weakening levels of “affiliation”. Many Israelis will similarly not define their Jewish identity through religion. Clearly there are nuances and contextual realities that should not be ignored, however latent in these realities are unparalleled educational opportunities.

In A portrait of Israeli Jews Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews, published by The Guttman Center for Surveys of the Israel Democracy Institute for The AVI CHAI – Israel Foundation in 2009, 43% of Israeli Jews defined themselves as secular. Together with this almost counter-intuitively an overwhelming majority (more than 90%) of Israeli Jews believe that it is “important” or “very important” to observe the main Jewish lifecycle rituals – circumcision, sitting shiva, celebrating a bar mitzvah, and saying kaddish for one’s parents. An additional similarity is in the sense of affinity, in 2009, 73% of Israeli Jews felt that they shared a common destiny with Jews abroad, or that they were part of the Jewish people wherever they live. Pew reported that three quarters of US Jews have “a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish People” and about seven-in-ten surveyed say they feel either very attached or somewhat attached to Israel.

Camps through their inclusion of Israeli shlichim as essential and active members of their communities provide this compelling synergy of identities that powerfully enrich the camp as a whole. The recent findings on both sides of the lake only strengthen the need to be more intentional at jointly creating richer Jewish communities that abound with these new forms of identity. Camps should become the incubators of what this expanded cultural identity could look like in the broader community. The success of the Zionist enterprise certainly through the vision of Ahad Haam was to be seen through a majority culture affording new and exciting opportunities to create new meanings of what being Jewish means. Camps are well placed to lead this historic potential to further broaden the gateways into these culturally centered identities.

Shalom Orzach is the AVI CHAI Project Director for the Shlichut and Israel Fellows Unit at the Jewish Agency for Israel.

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