Young American Jews, Israel, and Intermarriage, Revisited


I’m feeling a little vindicated after reading the Jewish Week’s recent editorial, Future Rabbis, Conflicted About Israel.

Almost exactly a year ago, there was controversy in the Jewish media over Peter Beinart’s argument that young American Jews feel conflict between their liberalism and Zionism because of the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians, resulting in less support for Israel. In a long blog post, Young American Jews, Israel, and Intermarriage, I disagreed with Steven M. Cohen’s response that the “primary driver” for young American Jews’ detachment from Israel was not Israeli policies, but instead was intermarriage.

I’m feeling vindicated because in the recent editorial, the Jewish Week comments on recent news that a number of rabbinical students from many American rabbinical schools come back from their year of study in Israel feeling conflicted about the Jewish state. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that many are feeling some degree of alienation, consistent with widespread polls and reports about their peers throughout the American Jewish community.” “When spending extended time in Israel, young, idealistic American Jews who have been raised on liberal, humanitarian values rub up against the reality of a people struggling for survival while maintaining a democratic society.”

If rabbinical students, from across the denominational spectrum, are feeling alienated from Israel, it seems to me that it’s time to reevaluate the idea that intermarriage is the main source of that problem.

About Ed Case

Ed Case is Founder of InterfaithFamily and works at IFF Headquarters in Newton, MA.

One thought on “Young American Jews, Israel, and Intermarriage, Revisited”

  • Ed,

    Your recent post led me to read the original thread.  You should be vindicated, but you didn’t need this evidence. Mr. Cohen’s argument was nothing more than  pseudo-science, selling possibly spurious correlations as causation.  When we talk about the interaction between political views, religion, and family life among a deliberate, relatively educated population, we’re squarely in the realm of reasons, not causes.  Intermarriage could be a reason for Israel alienation.  Alienation and intermarriage may have nothing to do with one another for some people.

    In my families case, alienation helped set the conditions for intermarriage.  My mother, who was born, served, and educated in Tel Aviv, is allergic to uncritical, militant American Zionism.  Her insistence that Sharon was a war criminal, her view that the ultra-Orthodox are turning the country into a theocracy, and her witness of the Palestinian expulsion (she was born in 1944) did not sit well with American Jews of her generation.  Politics has an effect on with whom you socialize. 

    A better response to this is to stop making one’s view on Israeli politics a precondition of one’s social acceptance within a Congregation.  As I was growing up, that was only possible in some Reform congregations.  That’s changing, unfortunately because Israel has repeatedly given the finger to Conservative Jews.  In some Reform congregations, it’s swung too hard in the opposite direction. 

    In any case, it’s clear to me that arguments like Mr. Cohen’s are part of the problem, not any solution.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *