Study Finds Need for Stronger Jewish Education in Israel

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 |  Yossi Aloni

The organization "Generations" that works to strengthen Jewish identity among youngsters in Israel paints a grim picture of local youths' disconnect from their Jewish heritage. It further revealed that among Israeli immigrants living abroad there is a higher tendency toward assimilation and mixed marriages than among local Jews. Generations seeks to change the approach of Israel's Ministry of Education and plans a national educational campaign in high schools across the Jewish state.

While the Ministry of Education is now busy arguing whether or not a controversial book promoting assimilation should enter the curriculum, Generations says the horses have already escaped the barn.

The organization surveyed 85 locations where Israeli families congregate in the Americas, Europe and elsewhere. The survey asked local leaders and rabbis about the patterns of behavior of their congregants.

The survey found that while assimilation among Diaspora Jews increases slightly year-after-year, and though the ratio is high, most parents view negatively the possibility of their children marrying non-Jews. Among Israeli immigrants, however, assimilation and mixed marriages is growing rapidly, and very few parents view negatively the possibility of their children marrying non-Jews. Half of the Israeli immigrants believed that their children would neither go back to Israel, nor keep their Jewish identity.

A major difference also exists in affinity toward tradition. Contrary to old established Jewish communities abroad where a high percentage make sure to visit the synagogue at least a few times every year, particularly during holidays, among Israeli immigrants very few bother to visit the synagogue at all. Among second generation Israelis born abroad or those who immigrated at young age, even fewer attend the synagogue, and in some places no one visits a synagogue at any time during the year.

Leaders of congregations abroad have testified that Israelis are the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to activities aimed at strengthening Jewish identity. They are either indifferent or downright hostile, these leaders say. 

The Israelis in question are not the downtrodden, but the educated who have finished their army duty, cream of the crop who simply can't understand the importance of Jewish education for their children, or what's wrong with mixed marriages. Some even see a measure of success in assimilation. When approaching these Israelis, they speak in clichés absorbed from their high school teachers or the Israeli media, making reference to "religious coercion," "racism" or "all man are equal." Education about what Jewish identity really means seems to be missing.

Established just last year by a group of Israeli intellectuals, rabbis and teacher, Generations aims to fundamentally change the way the Israeli education system teaches Jewish identity.

Generations is preparing to publish the full findings of its survey, promising what many see as a media storm. There is something rotten at the root in the way Israeli education looks at Judaism as a civilization. Israeli youth get the impression that Judaism is some kind of nice folklore without any real meaning for "He who has chosen us from among all peoples."

Over the past week, Generations issued its first booklet entitled "Danger, Assimilation." This problem can't be solved by talks alone, says CEO Yechezkel Gvirtz. "We are talking here about the continued survival of Israel as a nation. The present system brings us to a national catastrophe. Outright revolution is needed here."

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