Generation Birthright Israel: The Impact of an Israel Experience on Jewish Identity and Choices

Published: 
Oct. 06, 2009

Source: Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

 

This is the first long-term study of Taglit-Birthright Israel alumni to document the program's impact on early participants and their decisions and attitudes regarding marriage, community, and connection to Israel. The report finds, most dramatically, a deepening attachment to Israel and commitment to Jewish family.

Since 1999, Taglit-Birthright Israel has sent nearly 225,000 young Jewish adults from more than 50 countries on free, 10-day educational tours of Israel. Established by a group of Jewish philanthropists in collaboration with the Israeli government and Jewish communities around the world, Taglit aims to encourage Jewish continuity, foster engagement with Israel, and forge a new relationship among Jews around the world.

 

Methods

A sample of U.S.-based Jewish young adults who applied to go on Taglit trips between 2001 and 2004 was surveyed by telephone and the Web. The population studied included both applicants who went on a Taglit trip and applicants who did not go. Those who applied but did not participate served as a natural control group for assessment of program effects.

 

A total of 2,266 eligible applicants were randomly selected, and interviews were conducted with 1,223 respondents. The study achieved a high response rate of 62 percent for Taglit participants and 42 percent for nonparticipants. In addition, researchers interviewed a parent or a close relative of nearly 300 applicants who could not be interviewed directly. Relatives were asked a few basic questions about the individual’s Jewish affiliation and marital status. Including these cases, the response rate was 72 percent for participants, 56 percent for nonparticipants.

 

Using statistical models that controlled for any significant pre-trip demographic differences between participants and nonparticipants, as well as any other factors that appeared to mediate or interact with Taglit’s effect on the outcome in question, the analyses reported in the study isolate the long-term impact of Taglit on participants.

 

Among the findings of the study:

  • Among married respondents who were not raised Orthodox, participants were 57 percent more likely to be married to a Jew than non-participants. (Virtually all married respondents who were raised Orthodox were married to Jews.) Among unmarried respondents, participants were 46 percent more likely than non-participants to view marrying a Jewish person as “very important.”
  • Participants were 30 percent more likely to view raising children as Jews as “very important.”
  • Participants were 16 percent more likely than non-participants to report feeling “very much” connected to the worldwide Jewish community. Participants, however, were no more likely to report feeling connected to Jewish customs and traditions or their local Jewish community.
  • Participants were 28 percent more likely to attend religious services monthly than nonparticipants. The effect of Taglit on attendance at services was greater for those who had less Jewish education growing up.
  • Participants were 23 percent more likely than non-participants to report feeling “very much” connected to Israel.

Among the researchers' conclusions:

This study demonstrates that an intense 10-day educational experience can produce a powerful, lasting impact. The findings are consistent with earlier studies of Taglit, which showed clear program effects on participants’ feelings of connection to Israel and the Jewish people, and on their views regarding the importance of marrying a Jewish person and raising children as Jews. Moreover, as in earlier studies, this research finds the program had little or no observable influence on participants’ religious observance, communal involvement, and on their feelings of connection to Jewish customs and traditions and to their local Jewish community.

 

Although Taglit is not a panacea for the challenges of Jewish continuity in North America, this study suggests that it has been a highly successful educational experiment with positive, long term effects on attitudes and behavior. Furthermore, Taglit’s impact appeared to be stronger for those from less engaged Jewish backgrounds, as measured by ritual practice, years of Jewish education, or parental intermarriage.

 

As strong and clear-cut as the present findings are, we need to learn more about how the program affects participants from later years and the dynamics of the educational intervention. Taglit has provided an extraordinary laboratory to understand the development of Jewish identity and a window on how contemporary Jewish young adults think about their lives and find meaning.

Updated: Nov. 08, 2009
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