2013 Hearts and Minds: Israel in North American Jewish Day Schools

Sponsor(s): The Avi Chai Foundation

Principal Investigator(s): Alex Pomson, Jack Wertheimer, Hagit Hacohen-Wolf

Key Findings:

2012-2013 school year study of Israel education in ninety-five North American, non-Haredi Jewish Day schools was conducted for The Avi Chai Foundation (published in 2014).  

Research team included Alex Pomson, Jack Wetheimer and Hagit Hacohen-Wolf; Internet surveys of students and day school staff conducted by Rosov Consulting.

Major Findings:

(1)    Israel Education as "Glue."

Israel serves as glue holding school communities together. "Particularly in schools outside of the Orthodox sector, Israel is the single most important Jewish common denominator binding school families together."

(2)    Two Main Types of Teachers:

• "The majority of teachers – 69 percent of those we surveyed – believe that Israel education is best done by sharing something of themselves with their students, and they’re quite certain about the outcomes they’re aiming to produce. We characterize these teachers as Exemplars."

• An important minority of teachers (31 percent) are Explorers. These teachers tend to be more circumspect about their goals. They believe that students should learn about Israel through their own inquiry and study. 

• Teachers from each of these groups are found across day school sectors, regardless of denominational affiliations.

(3)   Parental Impact on Students' Israel Connections.

"The involvement of parents with Jewish communal life is a stronger predictor of student connection to Israel than whether a student has been on a trip to Israel..."   Even when parents are not active in pro-Israel work but they are strongly involved in Jewish communal life, students are more likely to feel strongly connected to Israel.

(4) Day School Students Are Not All the Same.

"In schools of every sector, a significant minority — between a quarter and a half — are relatively detached from Jewish life and especially from Israel. Schools can have their greatest impact on Israel engagement if they build connections with these detached students. "

"While the more engaged students benefit from the school’s reinforcement of commitments absorbed in the home, the less engaged students can have their negative perceptions of Israel converted into positive ones if the school creates a culture that is connected to contemporary Israel."

(4a)  Student Israel connection vary by their grade level.  

• Among 8th graders, there are two main types: the engaged (61 percent) and the detached (39 percent).

• Among 12th graders, there are three types.

• The hyper-engaged group (just over 30% of 12th graders) seems consist of student-leaders: they exhibit the attitudes and commitments of activists, and seem passionate about all issues, with Jewish and Israel matters prominent among them.

•  The engaged 12th graders, just under 50 percent of the 12th grade sample – seem to represent an average Jewish high school student: one who is relatively motivated, generally interested in Jewish matters, and quite well-connected to Israel.

• The detached 12th graders (20 percent) are turned off mainly to religion, but not to all aspects of Jewishness. 


Internet survey of 4,030 middle and upper school students in day schools, comprising 2340 8th graders, 1134 graders, 195 7th graders, and 361 11th graders.  Page 61 of the report describes student demographic characteristics, including gender (52% male), grade level (58% 8th grade, 28% 12th grade, 9% 11th grade and 5% 7th grade), students' family denomination (33% Modern Orthodox, 10% Centrist Orthodox, 26% Conservative, 12% Reform, Reconstructionist 13% and Just Jewish 2%), and region of residence (New York area 29%, Canada 22%, etc.)

Student data file is available for downloading at the Berman Jewish DataBank.   The data file  was constructed by Rosov Consulting.  The data file has answers to the Student Survey plus answers by school officials to many questions included in the School Profile.


Sample Size: 4,030 students

Sample Notes:

The 2012-2013 Jewish day school study included site visits by members of the research team to more than a dozen of the 95 Jewish day schools that participated, observation of 3 Israel school-based trips by the research team and quantitative Internet studies of 4,030 students and 350 teachers (teacher survey data file not available for public release) administered by Rosov Consulting.

Student data file consists of 4,030 students in 95 non-Haredi Jewish day schools. The 95 schools participating in the study include Centrist Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Community day schools.  The authors noted that these 95 schools do not constitute a random sample of the universe of North American Jewish day schools, "...since the schools which participated in the study are probably predisposed to learn more about Israel education."

In addition, Haredi and Hasidic schools were not included in the survey, and were essentially "off limits" to the research team: "We did not attempt to gain access to Haredi or Hasidic schools since the schools in this sector do not engage in the kinds of educational practices conventionally recognized as Israel education."  Since the Haredi and Hasidic schools constitute the largest sector of Jewish day school education, the schools included in the initial universe definition included about 38% of all Jewish day schools.

Figure 17 on page 57 of the report compares the denominational identification of the Jewish day school student sample with the data on non-Haredi day school students from Marvin Schick's estimate of Jewish day school enrollment.  The comparisons indicate that the 2012-2013 survey under-represents the Centrist Orthodox student pool and over-represents the Community day school students (excluding Haredi and Hasidic schools). The research team noted that access to even the Centrist Orthodox schools was "challenging."

Additional methodological discussion of school and student selection in Appendix A, pp. 57-60 of the report.  Please note that the research team deleted from the student Internet-based data file all students who completed the survey in under 10 minutes, "...since this
did not indicate a serious enough investment of effort in a task that took on average 36 minutes to complete."

Study Notes:

The questionnaire and data file have been minimally revised by the DataBank staff from materials sent to the DataBank by Alex Pomson and Eitan Cooper of Rosov Consulting and Jack Wertheimer on behalf of the Avi Chai Foundation.  Please note:

•  Questionnaire: The DataBank questionnaire version combines all questions asked of students and included in the data file (pages 1-19 of the Questionnaire PDF), plus a series of questions appended to the student survey by Rosov Consulting from the School Profile that was sent to the school administrator  (pages 20-23 of the PDF).  For the school profile questions, the DataBank has added the variable numbers in the data file for ease of use.

•  Data Files: The SPSS SAV data file contains the survey responses of 4,030 students.  Variables 1-9 include a non-identifying school number, several denominational variables, and a completed/incomplete variable; variables 10-230 report  student responses to the survey; the school inventory data has been appended from variables 231-276; finally, Rosov Consulting's computed variables are largely found from variables 277 to the end of the data file.

• Denomination of school and student is reflected in multiple variables, sometimes based on students answers, sometimes based on school officials designations, and sometimes based on Rosov's re-categorization of school/student responses.  Under "labels" in SPSS, "edit" and 'find" will reveal multiple denominational categories.

DataBank users are strongly encouraged to use the SPSS SAV  data file for additional analyses in SPSS.  For users who utilize a POR portable SPSS file to import the data file into other software analysis systems, please note that variable names are truncated in the SAV to POR conversion process.  

•  For POR file users, the DataBank has created an additional document in  excel which lists all original Variable Names from the SPSS SAV file in file order.

Language: English