While a great number of American scholars devote themselves to the study of Israeli Jews, comparatively few Israeli scholars have made careers of studying American Jews. Uzi Rebhun, author of Jews and the American Religious Landscape, is a notable exception. By including children with only one Jewish parent who identify themselves as Jewish in any way, he comes to some surprisingly sanguine conclusions about demography and the future of the American Jewish community more generally. In his review, Lance J. Sussman injects some pessimism:
Rebhun warns us, [for instance], not to misconstrue [statistics about declining religious observance], for, in the final analysis, “in terms of the strength of their relations with religious identification, Jews are much closer to mainline Protestants than to the unaffiliated.” From the vantage point of a clergyman in Philadelphia whose synagogue’s origins are not far from the Main Line, I find this less than reassuring. . . .
[Rebhun likewise presents] a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the impact of Israeli immigration to the United States. Constituting, he estimates, some 5 percent of the American Jewish population, Israelis remain intimately attached to their country of origin, continue—for the most part—to speak Hebrew at home, and “have begun to establish organizations and institutionalize their activities on behalf of Israel.” As Israeli immigration continues, Rebhun suggests, and as these organizations grow stronger and, perhaps, collaborate more closely with Jewish organizations, “American Jews’ ties to Israel may gather strength as well.”
I’ve met too many second- and third-generation Israeli Americans whose connections to Israel are weak and whose knowledge of Hebrew is close to nugatory to share fully in Rebhun’s optimism on this score. Nor am I prepared, on the basis of my long experience as a congregational rabbi and my even longer study of American Jewish history, to take much solace from his overall presentation of the current state of affairs, which stresses continuity over dilution and decline.