A word from the director

“Many of us American Jews have a hard time with Israelis … sometimes you're not the easiest people to get on with” (Jeffrey Godberg, Slate Magazine, 2006)


The Institute on American Jewish – Israeli Relations


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A word from the director, Dr. Gil Ribak:


More than 40 years ago, American Jewish novelist Cynthia Ozick published an article, “America: Toward Yavneh”. Ozick called to fashion American Jewish life as a modern-day version of Yavneh – the rabbinic and spiritual center in the land of Israel of the second century CE, which emerged after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. Ozick envisioned Israeli Jews and American Jews as having between them the responsibility of a double reconstruction: Israel will be a political center of world Jewry, and secure a haven for all Jews, while American Jews will be responsible to regenerate a viable Diaspora culture that would work in tandem with Israel.

In recent years the relations between Israel and American Jewry have been treated in a host of studies with increasingly alarmist titles like Two World of Judaism (Charles S. Liebman and Steve M. Cohen), Are We One? (Jerold Auerbach) and Divided We Stand (Ofira Seliktar). Furthermore, a series of reports in the last decade that analyzed American Jewish public opinion toward Israel (most notably "Beyond Distancing" by Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman in 2007 and a more recent a 2010 report of the Jewish People Policy Institute) have claimed that American Jews have increasingly distanced themselves from the Jewish state. This long trail of literature has documented weakened attachment to Israel among American Jews, and especially among younger Jews.

Are American Jews and Israelis drifting apart? If that is the case, what are the reasons for that? Is it due to the continuing Israeli-Arab conflict, or is due to the growing rate of intermarriage among American Jews that is linked to a diminished feeling of identification with Jews around the world? Or is perhaps the alienation of American Jews from Israel just an expression of pesky cultural differences – Israelis are from Mars, American Jews are from Venus?

Recognizing the importance of the relations between the world’s two largest Jewish communities, the American Jewish University has established a new institute both to study and enhance the relationship between the American Jewish and Israeli communities. The institute will develop community-based programs to advance the institute’s mission.