Birthright Israel Experience Significantly Lowers Rate of Intermarriage

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.

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Comments

  1. Daniel Brenner says

    Dan,

    Kudos to you for asking what I think is a key question. I want to add a bit of a correction here — Birthright Israel NEXT is targeting adults in the 25 – 30 age bracket and is reaching them in record numbers. In our largest program, NEXT Shabbat, which has reached over 50,000 young adults, 64% of our over 3,000 hosts are age 25 and above.

    Most of the participants in this program and in Birthright Israel NEXT programs in general are not alumni — our programs are about 40% alumni and 60% friends of alumni who did not go on the trip. (You have to keep in mind that 90% of 25 -30 year olds did not go on a Taglit trip!)

    What we are learning is that Taglit alumni are an amazing network of people who can inspire the vast majority of their Jewish peers (who are not Taglit alumni) to get more involved in Jewish life. At our current level of activity, we will see over 70,000 young adults be invited to peer led events in the coming year through the actions of 5,000 Taglit alumni.

    It is by seeing this bigger picture that we can truly measure the impact of what Len Saxe has termed the “Birthright Generation.”

    Rabbi Daniel S. Brenner
    Birthright Israel NEXT

  2. rf says

    How does this data compare to teen Israel experiences? I suppose that this trend would apply to all Israel experience alumni and not just BRI alumni.

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