This report examines the impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel on its alumni five to nine years after their visits to Israel. The data are derived from the second year of a longitudinal study of Jewish young adults. The broader study, of which this research is a part, examines the ways in which Jewish young adults make decisions about marriage and family, participate in the life of the Jewish community, and view the role of Israel in their lives. Findings from the broader study, including those not related to the impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel, will be explored in a separate report.
The first year of the study was conducted in 2009 with a sample of individuals who applied to Taglit-Birthright Israel in the years 2001-2004. In 2010, the original sample was contacted again for the second year of the study. In addition, the original sample was expanded to include a sample of individuals who applied to the program in 2005. Although not perfectly representative of young adult Jews, the Taglit applicant pool—now including more than 300,000 individuals—is remarkably diverse. These young people represent virtually every combination of secular and religious upbringing, as well as the geographic and socio-economic diversity of American Jewry.
The survey was a dual-mode telephone and Web survey. The survey instrument included questions about Jewish educational and family background; connection to Israel; involvement with Jewish organizations and activities; and dating, marriage, and children. The section of the survey pertaining to spouses and children included detailed questions about the Jewish characteristics and choices of those with young families. To ensure a high response rate, the number of questions was kept to a minimum. Interviews were conducted with 1,677 eligible respondents. The overall response rate was 61.9 percent.
Survey analysis focused on non-Orthodox respondents and compared the responses of Taglit participants to a control group of individuals who applied to the program and did not participate.
In parallel to the findings from the study’s first year, strong evidence was found that the Taglit experience influences participants’ Jewish identities and feelings about Israel:
- Participants were 46 percent more likely to feel very much connected to Israel than their counterparts who applied but did not go, and the Taglit effect was greatest among participants from relatively weaker Jewish backgrounds.
- Participants were 28 percent more likely to report feeling very confident in their ability to explain Israel’s current situation than their counterparts who did not go.
- Participants were 51 percent more likely to marry a Jewish person. Taglit’s influence on marital choice was related to age (impact was greatest among participants who went on trips at a younger age) but not to Jewish educational background (the effect was consistent across the spectrum of Jewish educational experience).
- Taglit’s influence extended beyond participants to their spouses: Among respondents whose spouses were not raised by Jews, participants’ spouses were more than four times as likely to have converted to Judaism as the spouses of nonparticipants.
- Participants were 28 percent more likely to rate marrying a Jew as somewhat or very important.
- Participants with no children were 35 percent more likely to view raising their children as Jewish as very important. However, for those with children there was no evidence of differences with respect to the religion in which children are being raised, the practice of Jewish circumcision and naming ceremonies, and the choice of Jewish day care or preschool.
The significant and substantial differences in attitudes and behavior indicate that the program has had substantial impact. Additional consequences will undoubtedly unfold as the research respondents grow older and as their adult lives evolve. Along with tracking the attitudes and Jewish engagement of the panel, future studies will examine the impact of participation on others spouses of Taglit participants and their children. The scale of the Taglit initiative suggests that it has the potential to transform, not just individuals, but the community at large. Understanding how and the extent to which this happens will be the focus of ongoing study.