Gary Rosenblatt writing in The Jewish Week (an excerpt):
Some see this as a race between Birthright and assimilation.
It is clear that the project is the community’s most dramatically successful Jewish identity program in memory. But can Birthright reverse the trend of a young generation of American Jews increasingly distanced from their history, heritage and religion?
To date, follow-up efforts to involve Birthright alumni in Jewish life back home have been less than successful, but studies indicate that the Birthright experience often has a profound and lasting effect on participants.
The embattled federation movement is calling for more efforts to bring young people to Israel. Some hope The Jewish Federations of North America, the recently renamed umbrella group, will dramatically increase its budget for Birthright from the current one percent, in an effort to help ensure a Jewish future and gain relevancy and respect for the movement.
But dollars are harder to come by because the other dramatic story of the decade in American Jewish life has been the economic meltdown and Madoff scandal’s negative impact on organizations and philanthropies in the last year. The financial shockwaves have been far-reaching and it will be a long time before the community recovers fully, if ever.
We can expect to see more prudence and less risk, more collaboration and transparency, less excess and ostentation. But the question remains as to what creativity, leadership and programming will be lost in the drive to sustain communal institutions.