Last spring, with the support of the Robert K. and Myra H. Kraft Foundation, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, formally launched their Jewish Futures Project. For at least the next four years, they will follow the lives of more than 3,000 young adult Jews who applied to Taglit-Birthright Israel in 2001-2005. The project will track their journey from college, to first jobs, to careers, marriage or lifelong partnership and the creation of their own families. The researchers want to understand how members of the Jewish millennial generation find meaning and connection through their Jewish identities, participation in the Jewish community, and involvement with Israel. Unlike most Jewish social science which looks at a person’s past for clues to the future, their goal is to accompany the respondents as their lives unfold.
According to Professor Leonard Saxe, the Center’s director, “Following the lives of young people on their journeys represents the “gold standard” for understanding human behavior. The Jewish Futures Project is the most important study I have done at Brandeis. My inspiration is the classic Framingham Heart study which followed families for more than sixty years. Since we began the Jewish Futures Project, a number of funding partners have joined us. We look forward to working with our funders, as well as key Jewish community organizations, to apply our research to key policy questions.”
A first publication of the Jewish Futures Project is now available. It focuses on one element of the study – a comparison of those who applied to Taglit but did not participate, and those who did participate. The present study is “Wave 2” of long-term data collection from applicants and includes a new cohort as well as additional data from their initial respondents. As they found in 2009, Taglit appears to be responsible for a 51% increase in the likelihood that a young Jew will marry Jewishly, as well as an increase in the attachment participants feel for Israel.
Saxe continues, “Although the Taglit findings are extremely important, they represent only a small part of what we can learn from the Jewish Futures Project. Our next report will begin to explore the overarching questions about the development of Jewish identity: how “millennials” find meaning and maintain a connection to Jewish life. Our bold aspiration is that the findings of the Jewish Futures Project will help to reshape how we think about Jewish education and the nature of Jewish community and Israel in the next generation.”
Among the report’s findings:
- Participants were 46 percent more likely to feel very much connected to Israel than their counterparts who applied but did not go, and the Taglit effect was greatest among participants from relatively weaker Jewish backgrounds.
- Participants were 28 percent more likely to report feeling very confident in their ability to explain Israel’s current situation than their counterparts who did not go.
- Participants were 51 percent more likely to marry a Jewish person. Taglit’s influence on marital choice was related to age (impact was greatest among participants who went on trips at a younger age) but not to Jewish educational background (the effect was consistent across the spectrum of Jewish educational experience).
- Taglit’s influence extended beyond participants to their spouses: Among respondents whose spouses were not raised by Jews, participants’ spouses were more than four times as likely to have converted to Judaism as the spouses of nonparticipants.
- Participants were 28 percent more likely to rate marrying a Jew as somewhat or very important.
- Participants with no children were 35 percent more likely to view raising their children as Jewish as very important. However, for those with children there was no evidence of differences with respect to the religion in which children are being raised, the practice of Jewish circumcision and naming ceremonies, and the choice of Jewish day care or preschool.