Israeli-American Identity Takes Center Stage at NJ Gathering

US_and_Israel_flagsAs part of an initiative to bring Israeli-Americans from the fringes to the fold of Jewish life, The Jewish Agency, along with the Israeli Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, is hosting a conference today and tomorrow for North American Israeli community activists and educators in Tenafly, New Jersey.

The conference will be co-hosted by Mo’atza Mekomit, a newly-formed umbrella organization for the New York-area’s Israeli community, and is sponsored by the Israeli American Council.

Recent high-profile studies, including the latest Pew report, have revealed a significant downshift in the intensity and levels of affiliation among non-Orthodox American Jews. One group – second-generation Israeli immigrants – is particularly ambivalent and vulnerable to alienation from mainstream Jewish life with intermarriage and assimilation rates in this community surpassing those of the North American Jewish community at large. Another study, conducted by the Reut Institute, recently found that the intermarriage rate in the Israeli-American community is higher than that of American-born Jews.

“This population is largely alienated from local Jewish communal life,” said Monika Lev-Cohen, Program Director for Global Israeli Communities at The Jewish Agency. “Research indicates that the Jewish identity of the children of Israeli immigrants is constantly weakening – sometimes to the point of disappearing altogether – and their level of assimilation is higher than among the local community. At the same time, these Israeli expat communities share an inherent bond to Israel that is reinforced by the deep attachment they feel to their birthplace and its culture.”

“There is a potential for the Israeli diaspora to serve as a resource for the State of Israel and the Jewish world. There is also a role for American Jews, to help Israelis appreciate how Diaspora Jewish life is different and why affiliation is of central importance.”

Dozens of Israeli-American community leaders are expected to attend the conference, which will focus on two objectives: First, the attendees will create a platform for a broad network of Jewish communal professionals to connect to the next generation of Israelis in the Diaspora and their families. The platform will encourage more efficient sharing of resources, cooperative research, and the launch of new models for Israeli engagement in the Israeli Jewish and broader North American Jewish communities. Second, the conference attendees will seek to develop a deeper understanding of Jewish life in the Diaspora and the various models already in place that promote Jewish identity among American Jews through dialogue with Israeli Americans.

“By partnering at the community leadership level, we believe that we can identify where the best opportunities lie for Israeli Americans and existing Jewish communities to realize that both communities can get closer to one another,” Lev-Cohen said. “A secure Jewish future in North America depends on establishing a sense of shared destiny. Both communities realize this, but there needs to be a framework for rigorous thought, planning, and commitment. This conference is an important step in that direction.”