This study is the first comprehensive assessment to examine the religious upbringing, college experiences, and current attitudes and practices of millennial children of intermarriage. This is the first cohort born after the intermarriage rate in America crossed the 50 percent threshold and currently comprises half of the young adult Jewish population. Based on a survey with nearly 2,700 respondents (ages 19-32) and interviews in four cities, the study finds that college Jewish experiences can have a profound impact, with the potential of closing the gap between children of intermarriage and children of inmarriage on many measures of Jewish engagement.
- Children of intermarriage were less likely than children of inmarriage to have attended a Jewish day school or supplementary school, observed Jewish holidays, and participated in informal Jewish social and educational activities during their childhood or teen years.
- As a result, children of intermarriage were less likely during their college years to participate in a Jewish group (e.g., Hillel or Chabad) or take a Jewish or Israel-related course. Among applicants to Birthright Israel, they were less likely to go on a trip, and less likely to do so during their college years.
- Among the substantial number of children of intermarriage that did participate in Jewish activities during college—in particular Birthright Israel and campus-based Jewish groups —the impact was profound. At the time they completed the survey, they were much more likely to observe Jewish holidays and practices, feel connected to Israel and the Jewish people, have Jewish friends and partners, and believe that it is important to raise children Jewish.
- College Jewish experiences were, for most outcomes, more influential for children of intermarriage than children of inmarriage, nearly closing the gap on many measures of Jewish engagement.
Why does participation in Birthright Israel and campus - based activities such as Hillel and Chabad have such substantial effects? These programs and interventions reach college students and other young adults at a time when they are deciding for themselves who they want to be and how they want to live their lives. For millennial children of intermarriage in particular, the stage of life that begins with college appears to open wide the gate for exploration of new ways to think about and enact Jewish identity. With exposure to programs that create Jewish community among peers and enable even young people with very sparse Jewish backgrounds to experience Jewish life, children of intermarriage learn that being Jewish is a framework of meaning rooted in memory, action, and connections to other people and to community.
Our findings are a challenge to the Jewish community to continue expansion of opportunities for children of intermarriage, to learn about and experience Jewish life at all stages of their lives, including during the critical years of college and young adulthood.
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