Evaluation research conducted since its inception, shows that Birthright Israel has had a strong and consistent impact on participants’ Jewish identities, but only a small and inconsistent impact on their Jewish behaviors. This report seeks to understand the paradox of engagement by examining the extent to which program alumni find adequate means to express their heightened interest in Jewish life on their campuses and in their communities.
The post trip experience of program alumni was assessed through focus group interviews on campuses and in communities. Fifteen focus groups were conducted in Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C., Seattle, and Austin. In addition, to learn about the opportunities for Jewish engagement post trip, campus and community-based professionals engaged in programming for Jewish young adults were interviewed.
The report explores four key themes relevant to understanding and increasing post-trip engagement.
The Challenge of Recruitment
Inconsistent recruitment for post trip explains, in part, the low level of reported engagement.
The Importance of Peer Networks
To a great extent, participation in Jewish life for alumni is a social network phenomenon.
Dynamics of Organizational Engagement
Many Birthright alumni do express a desire for Jewish communal engagement, but they seek such engagement in a community of their peers, and in a setting that features the right social mix. Many believe that the primary Jewish organizations in their immediate environment do not meet their Jewish needs.
Demands for Young Adult Jewish Community
Many participants did not feel that desirable Jewish peer community opportunities were readily available in their immediate environments.
The present research indicates that much can be done to extend the Birthright Israel experience. It includes specific implications for successful post trip programming, and related policy dilemmas.
(From the executive summary of the report)