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Author(s): , Steven M. Cohen
Date: 1991
Abstract: This article uses survey research to discuss what Jews mean by their Jewishness. Most Jews are proud to be Jewish, they value the forms of Jewish life - e.g., family gatherings and food. Only a small minority of 10-15 percent are totally unaffiliated with the organized Jewish community. The overwhelming majority do express commitv ment to Jewish continuity and identify themselves with the traditional labels of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. The weakness in Jewish life, however, lies in the realm of Judaic content. Jews have difficulty formulating a distinctive Jewish identity - informed by knowledge of both Jewish heritage and democratic American norms. For example, Jews appear the most secular of American social groups. Being Jewish is all too often an instinctual reaction to perceived anti-Semitism or to threats to Israel's existence rather than statements of theological or spiritual content. Cohen's study suggests that the traditional communal agenda of safeguarding Israel, defense against anti-Semitism, and social liberalism is insufficient to guarantee the content of the Jewish future. Jews require initiatives that will enhance the quality of Jewish life, communicate the richness of Jewish tradition, and underscore the spiritual basis of Jewish identity. Cohen suggests that communal initiatives be targeted to the "middles" of Jewish life - those who demonstrate a minimal or marginal commitment to the Jewish community and whose Jewish identity can therefore be enhanced.
Author(s): , Steven M. Cohen
Date: 1991
Abstract: In the aftermath of the Gulf War, American Jewish attitudes shifted in a hard-line direction, according to this nationwide survey of 1159 respondents. As opposed to 1989, the last time a similar survey was conducted, American Jews are now somewhat less supportive of Israeli compromise with the Arabs over the settlements and other issues related to the territories. In addition, they have grown slightly more attached to Israel, reversing what may have been a slide in American Jewish attachment to Israel in recent years. American Jews clearly prefer continued Israeli control of the territories to giving them over to Arab (Jordanian or Palestinian) control. While they may want the U.S. government to urge Israeli flexibility, they oppose public criticism of Israeli government policies, and they strongly oppose threats to limit or curtail U.S. foreign aid to influence Israeli policies. Driving this shift to a more hard-line posture was a heightened sense of threat and vulnerability. American Jews are clearly worried about Israel's security, and they are far more wary of PLO intentions. Perceptions of Palestinian threat and of Israeli vulnerability apparently strengthen hard-line attitudes and weaken an interest in conciliatory gestures. Even as their hard-line stances have strengthened, American Jews remain open to the possibilities of talks with the PLO and eventual Palestinian statehood, but only if such steps are accompanied by a cessation of hostile Palestinian acts against Israel and enhanced Israeli security. The findings, and their context, demonstrate the extent to which perceptions of Arab moderation and extremism influence the reactions of American Jews to the Arab-Israeli conflict.