By Simon Rocker
August 25, 2010
Professor Steven Cohen is one of the leading experts on modern-day Jewish identity. There is a fascinating interview with him published by the Institute of Global Jewish Affairs on trends among American Jews, worth reading in full.
Cohen highlights the growth of spiritual individualism, which puts higher emphasis on one’s own religious quest for meaning rather than the collective Jewish obligations that motivated a previous generation, such as activism on behalf of Israel or endangered Jews abroad.
He also makes some important observations on identification with Israel: "One also has to understand that this generation distinguishes between ‘Israel engagement' and being ‘pro-Israel.' Many of the younger generation are as actively engaged with Israel, if not more so, than the older one. In fact, most young Jewish leaders - if that's the right term - have not only visited Israel, but they've spent at least four months or more studying or volunteering there... So, unquestionably, as a group, younger engaged Jews in the United States are not only Jewishly engaged, they are also highly Israel-engaged.
"Yet, at the same time, they often resist being seen as ‘pro-Israel' in terms of supporting Israel politically. For me, ‘pro-Israel' means you get involved with Israel, even if it involves opposing settlement expansion or denouncing Israeli authorities for repressing expressions of Masorti and Reform Judaism in Israel. For American Jews under forty, ‘pro-Israel' means supporting the misguided, mistaken, and sometimes immoral policies of the Israeli government. That is how they interpret it, and therefore they have a problem with calling themselves ‘pro-Israel' or associating with ‘pro-Israel' advocacy groups."