UJA Federation wanted to understand the role of Israel in the lives of Jews in Greater Toronto who are in some way connected to Israel and to Israelis. In particular, it wanted to know which of the interventions it supports — such as March of the Living; Birthright Israel; Onward Israel; camps, day schools, youth movements; and Masa programs — has the deepest impact, and on which demographic that impact is most seen. The Federation also wanted to establish a baseline for these findings, essentially serving as a dashboard of Israel engagement to which it could look in years to come to measure its impact. The Jewish Agency for Israel — which supported the study as well — hoped this would be a model for other communities to emulate in assessing outcomes of their own efforts.
UJA Federation of Greater Toronto was the first organized Jewish community in North America to undertake a broad and systematic look at Israel in the lives of its denizens — both adults and young adults. To conduct a study of such a robust scope, Rosov Consulting developed an approach to garner information from people representing diverse Jewish backgrounds, levels of involvement in the community, and of varying ages. Specifically, RC worked closely with 21 community organizations to send a survey to everyone on their contact lists, gathering data from 1,554 people. RC also conducted 19 focus groups, gathering even more information from 98 people. The results, compiled and analyzed in The Israel-Engaged in the Toronto Jewish Community, paint a rich picture of how Toronto Jews think, feel, and act in relation to Israel.
The data gathered provide UJA Federation with a baseline against which to compare changes in the community over the coming years, and they enable community planners and educators to understand the distinct and different ways in which various age cohorts and demographic groups engage with Israel.
Of great interest was an analysis of survey responses that surfaced nine broad but distinct expressions of Israel engagement. Feedback from community professionals indicated that four of these broad expressions (image on right) are especially useful in capturing the main dimensions of Israel engagement that a plurality of community programs seeks to nurture. These expressions convey succinctly the cognitive and emotional content of what “being engaged with Israel” means in Toronto, and the distinct behavioral expression of engagement.
Other key findings gleaned from the data:
- The under-30 age-cohort is actually the most active when engaging in personally initiated Israel-related activities, especially of a cultural sort such as watching Israeli movies, or through talking about Israel with friends.
- The levels of personally-initiated engagement with Israel for Secular Jews is similar to those of the Modern Orthodox — and actually is significantly higher than all other denominational groups — but Secular Jews’ engagement with community events is significantly lower than other groups.
- Which neighborhood someone lives in is a big predictor of their level and type of Israel engagement, particularly as it relates to political concern with Israel, involvement on social media, and emotional concern and activism when Israel is at war.
How UJA Federation’s Interventions Influence Participants’ Engagement with Israel:
- Israel visits: The more often a person visits Israel, the more actively engaged they are with it. This is something of a virtuous circle: frequent visits contribute to more intense engagement which in turn results in further visits. Related, Birthright Israel has an additive effect but is not a substitute for a mix of experiences in Israel.
- Shinshinim (young Israeli leaders who defer their army service for one year to volunteer in the GTA): While relationships that GTA denizens have with Shinshinim may not be “transformative” in the way that trips to Israel are, these relationships do constitute a more intimate and continuous part of people’s lives.
- Jewish day schools and Youth Groups: These settings increase one’s connection to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, their knowledge about Israel, and their levels of personal and communal involvement with Israel. However, surprisingly, participating in overnight camps did not seem to enhance these relationships, except for communal involvement with Israel outcomes.