A recent poll of Jews in the U.S. and Israel revealed similar levels of pride in respondents’ Jewish identities but differing views on what those identities mean.
The study, conducted by the Pew Research Center and released on March 8, compared new data about Israeli Jews with a 2013 poll of U.S. Jews. It asked participants in both countries to list the relative importance of eight attributes in their Jewish identity and found that remembering the Holocaust was considered an “essential” part of being Jewish by the greatest percentage of respondents overall. A total of 73 percent of Jews in the U.S. and 65 percent in Israel considered it important to their personal Jewish identity.
Leading an ethical and moral life was the second-greatest “essential” factor of being Jewish for both countries; however, the relative importance of other attributes was different for Jews in the U.S. and Israel. For example, observing Jewish law was the third-greatest attribute of Jewish identity in Israel, with 35 percent of respondents naming it “essential” there, while U.S. Jews saw working for justice and equality as their third most important quality.
Overall, the study found that Jews in the U.S. saw morals and ethics as much more important to their Jewish identity than their Israeli counterparts did. Personal characteristics such as having a good sense of humor and being intellectually curious were also seen as essential to being Jewish by many more Jews in the U.S. than in Israel. In contrast, Jews in Israel were more likely to see observing Jewish law and eating traditional Jewish foods as central to their identity.
Religion played a strong part in the division, according to both surveys: Orthodox Jews saw their religion as a strong factor in their identity in much greater numbers than non-Orthodox Jews in both countries. Those who didn’t practice the religion or were not Orthodox instead saw ancestry and culture as more important.