This study focuses on the phenomenon of Israeli backpacking as a function of traditional, observant, and secular population segments. We explored whether and to what degree backpacking features are related to the affinity of backpackers with the Jewish tradition and faith. Our study was based on a sample of 120 Israeli backpackers who had returned to Israel in the past five years. An analysis of the survey indicates a clear association between the length of the backpacking trip and the affinity of backpackers with the Jewish tradition and faith.
We also found that backpackers on lengthy trips tended to engage in events or rituals related to religion to a greater degree compared to backpackers on shorter trips. An interesting finding was that backpackers on lengthy trips felt closer to Jewish tradition and observed religious precepts more than backpackers on shorter trips. These findings imply that the longer Israeli backpackers remain abroad, the stronger their affinity with Jewish tradition. One question that arises is whether the distance from Israel fosters a sense of nostalgia for Jewish culture, or whether backpackers on longer trips undergo a more spiritual experience during their time abroad.
The backpacking trip undertaken by young Israelis after completing their army service has become a wide and well-known social phenomenon and an important part of the life of twenty year olds. Israeli backpackers take with them to the trip a significant part of Israeli culture and of the Jewish faith. In the enclaves created by Israelis the Hebrew language is often heard. Chabad Houses spread throughout the Far East serve Israelis as a place to gather, enabling them to maintain their religious life, customs, and traditions. Israelis visit Chabad Houses on festival eves and Friday nights, participate in courses on Kabbalah, and hear lessons by the Chabad emissary.
The purpose of the current study was to explore the affiliation of Israeli backpackers with the Jewish faith while on the big trip. We examined whether participants on a long trip (four or more months) show a greater level of affiliation with the faith than those on a short trip (up to four months). We examined whether participants on a long trip were more inclined to hold conversations with their trip mates about feeling close to the faith than participants on a short trip, and whether participants on a long trip were more inclined to feel close to the Jewish tradition (during the trip) than participants on a long trip. We also explored whether participants on a long trip are more inclined to observe the religious precepts than participants on a short trip.
We hypothesized that the physical distance from Israel would induce affiliation and a need to become closer to Jewish tradition. We hypothesized that the longer the trip the higher the level of affiliation with the faith. This hypothesis was refuted. Another hypothesis was that backpackers on a long trip would be more inclined to talk about feeling close to the faith than those on a short trip. This hypothesis was confirmed. Furthermore, we hypothesized that backpackers on a long trip would tend to feel closer to the tradition than backpackers on a short trip. This hypothesis too was confirmed. We also hypothesized that backpackers on a long trip would be more inclined to observe religious precepts than backpackers on a short trip. This hypothesis was confirmed.
After presenting the research hypotheses and the results of findings from the questionnaires, we can conclude that the backpacking trip is a source of attraction to and affiliation with the Jewish faith and tradition. The longer the backpacking trip the greater the affiliation with tradition, both during and after the trip. Israeli backpackers have a need to be close to other Israeli travelers, to the experience of Jewish tradition, Chabad houses, Friday night dinners, and the traditional Jewish ambience, connecting them to Israel and to their Jewish faith. We recommend further research investigating the effect of the backpacking trip on religious backpackers, their exposure and the time spent with secular backpackers, on their religious observance during the trip, and whether there is an effect on how close they feel to the faith.