Israeli expats intermarry more than diaspora Jews

Generations of Israel report states that Israeli expats living abroad are less connected to Jewish culture and more likely to intermarry.

Yoni Kempinski ,

A synagogue in the Diaspora
A synagogue in the Diaspora
Johanna Garon:Flash 90

The organization "Generations of Israel" that works to  strengthen the Jewish identity among youngsters in Israel and abroad, and the affinity between Jewish people in Israel and the Jewish diaspora,  has released a report that outlines how Israeli expats living abroad are far less connected with Judaism than local Jews. The report documents a higher tendency among the Israeli expats to intermarry and assimilate than their locally born counterparts.

Generations surveyed 85 different cities where there is a high percentage of Israeli expatriate immigration. These cities are located in North and South America, Europe, and others. The survey asked local leaders and rabbis about the patterns of behavior of their congregants.

The survey found that while there is a slight increase in the rate of assimilation among Diaspora Jews every year, most parents maintain a negative view negatively of the possibility that their children will marry non-Jews. Among Israeli immigrants, however, assimilation and mixed marriages are rapidly increasing, and very few parents view the possibility of their children marrying out of the faith negatively. Half of the Israeli expats believe 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 the older and more established Jewish communities outside of Israel, where a high percentage continue to attend 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  when it comes to activities aimed at strengthening Jewish identity, Israelis are the toughest nuts to crack.  They are either indifferent or downright hostile, these leaders say.

“We are talking about Israelis who have finished 12 years of learning if not more in the Israeli education system, they have finished their army service and are among the upper echelons of Israelis society. They are the salt of the earth, who have no idea what people want from them when they are told about the importance of Jewish education, and about the issues of intermarriage. Some of them even view it as a success to marry local non-Jews.  Many of them simply repeat cliches that they have heard on the Israeli media about “religious coercion”, “racism”, and “each man is created equal”.They seem to have no idea regarding what Jewish identity is all about.  

Generations of Israel was established just last year by a group of Israeli intellectuals, rabbis and teacher, in the hopes of fundamentally changing the way that the Israeli education system deals with Jewish identity. The organization hopes to publish the report in the near future and generate a firestorm of media attention to the issue.

The organization said in a statement, that “there is something rotten at the root in the way Israeli education approaches Judaism as a culture rather than a religion. Israeli youth get the impression that Judaism is some kind of fairytale without having any real meaning for "He who has chosen us from among all peoples."

Last week, Generations publicized the first part of the report in a booklet entitled "Danger, Assimilation" that was sent out to all of the school directors in Israel, to members of the Knesset and to higher-ups in the Education Ministry. The organization is approaching people in the Education Ministry in Israel to do some serious thinking. It proposed an education plan to help revitalize the curriculum to include a wide range of activities that focus on the advantages and the responsibilities of being part of the tradition of the Jewish people and carrying it on.  

“This isn’t a localized problem or one  that can be solved with discussions alone,” said CEO Yechezkel Gvirtz. "We are talking about the continued survival of Israel as a nation. The present system is bringing us to the brink of a national catastrophe. We need an outright revolution here."