Reshaping Jewish Lives? - American Jewish College Students and the Trip to Israel


Source: Hagira – Israel Journal of Migration vol. 5, 2016 pages 78-98

The goal of this paper is to look at trips to Israel as a vehicle for Jewish engagements of the millennial generation — those born after 1980 — and to assess the relationship between connections to Israel and Jewish involvement both in the private and the public spheres. The analyses are based on the Demographic Study of Jewish College Students, 2014, an online survey of four - year institutions of higher education in the U.S. with over 1,100 Jewish students. The road to Jerusalem on an educational tour does lead to the Kotel, the Western Wall, yet it does not elevate religious observance. However, visits to Israel connect or reconnect young people with their Jewish cultural roots, elevate Jewish pride, and create a sense of peoplehood. This is true of any kind of visit, whether with Taglit, another educational program, or family. A personal visit to Israel, in any capacity, seems to be a stronger predictor of feelings of Jewish pride and commitment to Jewish peoplehood more than growing up with two Jewish parents.

This paper has primarily covered the short - term impacts of educational tourism to Israel. As noted earlier, to better understand the long-term impacts, we plan on tracking the same students over time. The advantage of tracking the same people, as opposed to drawing different samples from the population with each study, is that it would be easier to establish cause and effect. The demographic study of Jewish college students in 2014, as the first stage of the longitudinal study, created the baseline results, which were presented in this paper The results provide ideas for communal policy makers about the target population(s) for educational tourism and validate the need to continue and develop programs that enrich the Jewish lives of young people and harness strong and enduring Jewish social connections. The Brandeis’ post-trip approach of panel studies of the lasting impact of the Birthright Israel program (Saxe, et al., 2011; 2012) is another medium to follow up participants and non-participants and evaluate in what ways, if at all, the trip to Israel is truly life changing.

A taste of milk and honey with visits to the Jewish homeland seems to be connected with young people’s awareness of belonging and commitment to the Jewish people yet not to religious observance. The troubles in the Middle East seem never-ending. On a personal note, it was heartwarming to watch the Taglit buses continuing to roll in the summer of 2014 while Israel was under rocket attacks. The visits of young Jews to Israel have endured. Let us continue to track these educational journeys in the hope of closing the geographical and metaphysical distancing.

Updated: Sep. 08, 2016