In a 2007 survey, Israelis were asked, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Israel's relationship with Diaspora Jewry?" Surprisingly, 82% of the Israelis questioned ranked the importance of Diaspora Jewry very highly, giving it an 8, 9, or 10.
Why did I say "surprisingly?" Well, let's face it, Israelis do not generally gush with expressions of appreciation for the role that Diaspora Jews play in the development and welfare of the Jewish state. Quietly, however, it appears that Israelis do recognize and value their fundamental connection to Jews all over the world.
What about American Jews? How connected do we feel to Israeli Jews? In general, American Jews reciprocate the feelings of their Israeli cousins, although not quite so ardently. According to the 2011 Survey of American Jewish Opinion conducted by the American Jewish Committee, 68% of American Jews feel either fairly close or very close to Israel. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that 72% of American Jews, regardless of age, believe that American Jews and Israelis share a common destiny (National Jewish Population Study, 2000).
What does this all mean? It means that Jews, whether in Israel or here in the United States, still validate the bonds that unite us. We are a people not limited by the usual constraints of geography.
This sense of interconnection is well reflected in the programs at AJU. Each summer, our BCI program brings together young Jewish men and women from all over the world to enjoy four weeks of Jewish culture and Jewish learning on our Brandeis-Bardin campus. This summer alone, we will have representatives from Argentina, China, Ghana, Israel, India, UK, Russia, Sweden, and Uganda.
AJU also maintains three academic programs in Israel in cooperation with Young Judaea, Aardvark, and the Sephardic Educational Center. These programs, as well, cater to Jewish students from around the globe who spend a year in Israel between high school graduation and their first year in college.
Most recently, we have begun conversations about developing a new partnership between our Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and a rabbinic school in the Federal Republic of Germany. This venture will allow AJU to expand its influence into Europe.
The faculty at AJU also maintains links with Jewish communities around the world. In this edition of On the Record, you will read about AJU Professor Michael Berenbaum and his recent visits to Mexico, Israel, Poland, and even Macedonia.
The belief in a shared destiny of the Jewish people may be widespread, but it is certainly not automatic. At AJU we carefully nurture this idea among our students, campers, and other participants in our many programs. We also encourage each of them to develop both a personal feeling of connection to their fellow Jews throughout the world as well as an enduring commitment to our mutual responsibility.