Most Birthright Applicants Functionally Illiterate about Israel according to New Brandeis University Study

November 26, 2015

Source: The Times of Israel 


A new Brandeis University study finds that among surveyed Birthright candidates, over 50% couldn’t correctly answer even half of the basic questions requiring minimal knowledge of the Jewish state. In a continuing multi-year project, researchers from Brandeis University’s Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies are working together with a broad team of experts to understand and assess Israel literacy. According to the authors, Israel literacy is “the requisite knowledge to participate in productive conversations about Israel.” Dismally, the team found that regardless of their Jewish background and the ranking of their universities, relatively few students are Israel literate.


During the project’s evolution, the targeted scope eventually moved from creating a tool to assess the general public’s knowledge to focus on the Birthright candidates. And, after interviewing some 1,000 Jewish and non-Jewish students, the researchers found that even those from select universities knew little about Israel.


“Jewish undergraduates, particularly those with Jewish education, knew somewhat more. This was not surprising, but we were surprised that Jewish graduate students, including some who were training to become Jewish professional leaders, lacked some of the foundational knowledge that would equip them to engage in Israel-related activity and education,” according to the authors.


“We have found that students who lack basic knowledge do not have the ability to construct sophisticated narratives about Israel. Using their critical thinking skills, students can discuss newspaper articles and infer some concepts, yet their lack of background knowledge results in misunderstandings and unfounded conclusions,” said the authors. The researchers ask whether a person who cannot find Tel Aviv on a map can truly dialogue over Israel’s borders. Likewise, how can a student fully participate in discussions about religion and state if he thinks that the ultra-Orthodox are the majority?


What is perhaps most concerning in the researchers’ findings in that the students’ level of Jewish education did not significantly enhance their Israel knowledge. According to the report, students who had Jewish education (part-time, day school, or both) received an average score of 47% correct answers, compared to those who had no Jewish education, who scored on average 42%.


Is this, perhaps, a wake-up call for those parents who spend some $20,000 a year for day school education?

Read more at The Times of Israel.

Updated: Dec. 02, 2015