This study, commissioned and funded by the Hertog Foundation, and conducted by a team of academic researchers, was undertaken to learn about Chabad on Campus International, an organization that seeks to enhance Jewish identity and practice among Jewish college students at almost 200 American college campuses. Campus centers are run by Orthodox married couples trained at rabbinical schools and seminaries run by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The study was designed to learn who comes to Chabad at college campuses, how Chabad works with undergraduate students, and what impact Chabad involvement during college has on the post-college lives of young Jewish adults.
The authors conducted both qualitative and quantitative research at 22 Chabad campus centers across the United States with the cooperation of Chabad on Campus International. Qualitative data included interviews and/or focus groups with rabbis and their wives, current students, alumni, parents, faculty, university officials, and Hillel leaders at a sample of the campuses. Quantitative data was obtained by surveying alumni. The analysis utilized more than 2,400 responses from alumni ages 21 to 29 who graduated in 2007 or later.
Major Findings of the Study
- Chabad on Campus attracts students from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. Relatively few are Orthodox.
- Many students are attracted initially by the social scene, food, and family environment at Friday night Shabbat dinners, rather than an interest in Jewish learning or ritual.
- College alumni who were more frequent participants at Chabad during college had higher scores on post-college measures of Jewish attitudes and behavior than those who were less frequent participants, once other influences on post-college attitudes and behaviors were taken into account.
- The apparent impact of involvement with Chabad during college is pervasive, affecting a broad range of post-college Jewish attitudes and behaviors. These include religious beliefs and practices, Jewish friendships, Jewish community involvement, Jewish learning, dating and marriage, emotional attachment to Israel, and the importance of being Jewish.
- The impact appears to be greatest among those who indicated they were raised as Reform and those who were raised with no denominational affiliation. Effects are slightly smaller for those raised as Conservative. Based on the measures used in the study, Chabad participation appears to have little impact on those raised as Orthodox.
- Relatively few students change their denominational affiliation to Orthodox as a result of their involvement with Chabad on Campus, and virtually none subsequently choose to identify with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
- The data suggest that the majority of those who are frequent participants are affected in ways that bring them closer to the mainstream Jewish community after college.
- Personal relationships are central to Chabad’s work with students. Greater involvement with Chabad and subsequent change in Jewish belief and practice are most likely to occur when a student develops a personal relationship with the Chabad rabbi or the rebbetzin (the rabbi’s wife).
- Gender matters. Men tend to be closer to the rabbi and women tend to be closer to the rebbetzin.
- Relationships with the rabbi and rebbetzin tend to continue after college, especially among those who were frequent participants at Chabad during college.
- Of those undergraduate students who participate in Jewish activities on campus, most attend both Chabad and Hillel. There are smaller groups of students who attend one and not the other.