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Detroit’s Jewish Community’s ‘About Average’ Emotional Link to Israel

The Contours of Our Jewish Community:

Snapshots from the 2018 Population Study

From the JN Staff

Editor’s Note: Each week, the Jewish News will offer insights into the findings of the 2018 Detroit Jewish Population Study with the intent of stimulating discussion about its potential meaning and impact. 

For more than a century, the concept of a nation-state for the Jewish people in the land of their biblical ancestors has been debated and advocated for by the Detroit Jewish community. To ensure the survival of Israel following its founding in 1948, Jewish Detroiters committed substantial amounts of their treasure and time.

More than 70 years later, Israel is a vibrant and often-chaotic democracy with a strong economy and military that still faces myriad threats to its existence. And today, Jews in the diaspora — including those in Detroit — look to Israel as a way to help spark, retain and strengthen their own Jewish identity as well as those of their children and grandchildren.

The 2018 Detroit Jewish Population Study provides some useful insights into the Israel-Detroit relationship, challenging some long-held assumptions while reinforcing others.

When asked about their emotional attachment to Israel, 49 percent of Jewish respondents said they were extremely or very attached to Israel; 32 percent said they were somewhat attached; and 19 percent not at all attached. Compared to the 2005 Detroit Jewish Population Study, those extremely or very attached has declined by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the number who now say they are not attached has increased by 7 percent.

In comparison to 30 other communities across the U.S. similarly surveyed on this question, Detroit’s strong emotional attachment to Israel is “about average.” In a similar 30-community comparison, only four other communities had a higher percentage of their population not attached to Israel.

Looking at the data through some additional filters, 64 percent of those older than age 75 felt extremely or very attached to Israel, the fourth-highest among 25 comparison communities in this age group. And two-thirds of all in-married couples expressed this high level of attachment. Compared to the 2005 study, one of the largest declines in emotional attachment to Israel can be found in the Orthodox community. Though currently still high at 80 percent, those extremely or very attached to Israel totaled 94 percent in 2005.

What do the 2018 data tell us about how political affiliation impacts attachment to Israel? We know that 51 percent of Detroit Jews identify as Democrats, 15 percent as Republicans and 34 percent as Independents. Among Republicans, 71 percent are extremely or very attached emotionally to Israel. Among Democrats, 46 percent share that same level of emotional attachment.

Questions:

  • The data indicate that the Detroit Jewish community’s emotional attachment to Israel is “about average” and that it has a comparatively higher percentage of respondents who have no emotional attachment to Israel. Does emotional attachment to Israel matter? What other yardsticks could be used to gauge the strengths or weaknesses of the Detroit-Israel connection?
  • How do you interpret the statistically significant gap between Republicans and Democrats on emotional attachment to Israel?

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