New research released this morning by researchers from The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University backs up what many of us have known for years – Birthright participants return home with positive perceptions of their experience, increased connection to Israel, greater sense of connectedness to the Jewish people and increased interest in creating Jewish families.
The study, which has had the science behind it heavily vetted, is both the first to identify the Birthright experience as playing a part in marriage choices and the first to look at long-term impacts of participation.
Selecting both alumni and applicants who did not participate, the study focused on individuals from Birthright’s earliest years, 2001-2004.
Key highlights include:
- 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 were 23 percent more likely than non-participants to report feeling “very much” connected to Israel.
As impressive as the present findings are, the study raises a number of unanswered questions. One is whether systematic follow-up efforts are necessary to sustain or even enhance the impact of the Birthright program.
The present study does not directly assess follow-up programs, such as those currently provided by Birthright Israel NEXT. [NEXT did not exist when the alumni who were the focus of the present study returned from their trips].
In addition, most participants from these early cohorts are now beyond the ages targeted by such programs.
Finally, and in contrast to the present situation, early participants returned to campuses and communities that had fewer Birthright alumni. The present evidence suggests that a high quality peer experience in Israel, even in the absence of such programs, produces significant long-term effects. However, the needs of more recent program alumni who, on average, have lower levels of prior Jewish education, may be different.
The complete study, Generation Birthright Israel: The Impact of an Israel Experience on Jewish Identity and Choices, as well as a Hebrew version of the executive summary, are available for download.