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Some Things Never Change
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June 09, 2010, 10:54 PM
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Former New Republic editor Peter Beinart has gotten a lot of publicity for "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment," which claims that young American Jews are less obsessed with Israel than old American Jews, and that that marks a profound generational shift which will have far reaching consequence.

Perhaps.

But, first, having a Republican-allied government in power in Israel has recurrently been off-putting for American Jews, most of whom are Democrats.

Seond, and more importantly: I`m older than Beinart, and in my recollection, what he`s noticing now has been observable for a long time. It seems as if Jews tend to get more obsessed with Israel the older they get.

Jack Shafer writes in Slate:

For a more rigorous critique of Beinart`s views on young American Jews, see a recent piece in Tablet in which academics Theodore Sasson and Leonard Saxe accuse him of misreading the data. They write:

Moreover, as we pointed out in our published responseto the original Cohen-Kelman report, younger Jews have reported lower levels of attachment to Israel in most surveys going back as far as there are data to analyze. Younger Jews were less attached to Israel in the National Jewish Population Surveys of 2000 and 1990. They were less attached in the AJC surveys going back to the mid-1980s. If, in fact, young Jews are always less attached than older Jews, then the differences in age groups are likely related to lifecycle rather than generation. As Jews age, they become more attached to Israel. In other words, the younger Jews who reported a middling level of attachment to Israel in the mid-1980s grew up to become today`s over 60 group, which reports a high level of attachment.

This tendency toward increased ethnocentrism among Jews as they age is an old one. For example, Paul Johnson wrote in A History of the Jews about the great early 19th Century German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, "Like thousands of brilliant Jews before, and since, he came to associate the Hellenic spirit of intellectual adventure with health and strength, while age and pain turned him to the simplicities of faith."

But there`s something else going on, as well. When you are young and want to make your mark on the world, you want to break free from the shackles of tradition. In contrast, when you are old, ethnocentrism becomes a favored strategy for preserving your mark on the world after your death.