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Part 2: American Jewish millennials lost love affair with Israel

A study, commissioned by Jews for Jesus and conducted by the American polling firm the Barna Group, showed a concerning distancing of American Jewish millennials from the State of Israel.

While research has shown that support for and engagement with Israel among American Jews has been waning, the Barna Group study confirmed that this appears to be true for young American Jews who have not visited Israel.

It seems that the younger, more politically liberal generation is concerned with issues that cast Israel as discriminatory and failing to meet a certain standard of social justice. Plus they grapple with a charged anti-Israel atmosphere on college campuses.

“Evangelicals view Israel through a theological lens. Jewish people view Israel through a cultural and ethnic lens,” concluded Jews for Jesus in an addendum to the study. “Viewed by the Christian, Israel is the Holy Land, the land of the Bible, the historical setting for Scripture. Jewish people view the Land very differently, whether they are Millennials or not.

“For the Millennial generation specifically, some see Israel as a land relevant to their parents but not necessarily to them. Others see Israel as a country that in many ways failed to achieve its own standards of social justice. They feel it is their obligation as Jews to address these issues as they criticize the State.”

When engaging with young Jewish millennials about Israel, Jews for Jesus recommends that Christians understand that while Jews appreciate evangelical support of Israel, they “are uncomfortable with conservative Christian political views, including those whose views inform their support of Israel.”

“Many Jewish Americans feel threatened by the agenda of the Conservative Right,” the addendum warns. “It’s important to separate your biblical perspective from your opinion on American foreign policy.”

However, the study also showed that millennial American Jews who visited Israel reported a stronger Jewish identity.

“It’s difficult to discern whether the weight of Millennials’ Jewish identity spurs them to find a way to visit Israel, or if their experience in Israel or through a Birthright trip imparts a greater appreciation for that identity,” the study reports. “There is certainly a correlation between travel to Israel and attachment to one’s Jewishness, for which there may be myriad reasons. For example, those who have been to Israel, which often includes gaining a historic perspective from memorials of the Shoah or Holocaust, have higher awareness of the reality of anti-Semitism both in the U.S. and around the world.”

The study also discovers that “experience of anti-Semitism … is higher among Jewish Millennials who have been to Israel (73 percent vs. 52 percent of those who have not), those who view their Jewish identity as very important (69 percent vs. 49 percent of those who do not see it as important), as well as for those interested in faith and spiritual matters (61 percent vs. 49 percent of those who are not interested).”

Jews for Jesus will use the results to hone its outreach goals. For instance they recommend hosting Shabbat dinner rather than a traditional Bible study.

“We’ve seen that many young Jewish people who might be curious about Jesus or Messianic Jews might not be willing to sit down and have a Bible study (at least at first). But they are often willing to come to a Friday night Shabbat dinner, a tradition that is comfortable and familiar to Jewish Millennials,” according to Jews for Jesus addendum to the study. “Inviting people to meals or events with a group of people gives us the opportunity to build relationships with them and gives them the space to investigate what faith in Jesus for a Jewish person could look like.”

KNI spoke with Susan Perlman, a founder and associate executive director of Jews for Jesus, regarding how the study and its results.

KNI: Why did Jews for Jesus commission the survey?

Perlman: We were eager to find out more about Jewish Millennials in North America when it came to areas of faith and culture. The existing studies did not scratch where it itches. If we are going to impact them for the gospel we need to know what is meaningful to them when it comes to spirituality, faith, practice, identity as Jews, what they think of Yeshua, etc.

KNI: What do you make of the results? Were they different from past studies, if conducted, or from what you expected to hear? 

Perlman: We were surprised at some of the results and not at others. Yes, they were different from past studies. They asked questions not asked before.

KNI: Most surprising to me was that many Jews seemed to accept that Jesus is God’s son. Was this surprising?  

Perlman: Yes and no. Considering that 58 percent of American Jewish millennials come from one Jewish parent homes, their exposure to Jesus has to be higher than previous generations. Also this generation doesn’t use the same categories for religiosity as previous ones. Many see no problem with celebrating Passover and having a Christmas tree and thinking of themselves as committed Jews. They are into prayer and meditation, but how they do this may be very different than what traditional Jewish prayer is like.

KNI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Perlman: The responses surrounding Israel would be of much interest to your readership. Millennial views on anti-Semitism differ for those who have been to Israel. Also, Jewish identity tends to become stronger for some as well. (The program) Birthright plays a major role in getting millennials to Israel.

A number of the findings, I believe would vary significantly if the survey were done in Israel, where intermarriage is not a major issue and one’s mortality is more of a daily concern.

The entire survey can be purchased at The Barna Group website for $39.
To download an additional resource from Jews for Jesus, please visit j4j.co/barnaextra

Read Part 1: Israeli millennials vs. their American Jewish counterparts

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N.J. Schiavi is news editor of KNI.

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