New Study Finds Exposure to Israel’s Social Challenges Boosts Commitment to Serve

Contrary to a common assumption in the organized Jewish world that exposing young Jews to the complex issues underlying Israeli life diminishes their commitment to the country, a newly released study found that more deeply understanding these dynamics intensifies a bond to the Jewish state.  Commissioned by Repair the World and The Jewish Agency for Israel, the study, Serving a Complex Israel: A report on Israel-based Immersive Jewish Service-learning, shows that the more these young men and women learn about Israel – warts and all – the more they are motivated to engage in more Israel-based service.

According to the study, IJSL programs, which integrate full-time direct service with structured learning and reflection, offer alumni of Birthright Israel and other short-term Israel programs an opportunity to return to Israel for a longer immersive experience. Moreover, these programs answer a widespread desire among millennial Jewish adults to create change in the world, grow as leaders and connect to Jewish life.

The study found that volunteering in Israel often deepens versus distances a young Jew’s feelings for the country precisely because of its social complexity. Exposing young Jews to multifaceted issues underlying Israeli life like the divide between secular and ultra-Orthodox society, the security situation, the status of Arab-Israelis, and the growing income gap in Israeli society can, in fact, bolster their desire to serve and enroll in future opportunities. For example, as a result of participating in IJSL programs, 82% of respondents reported that they have strengthened their commitment to social justice and at the same time, 92% said they felt more attached to Israel.

Key findings include:

  • 96% of respondents gained a more nuanced understanding of Israel;
  • 79% felt more connected to their Jewish heritage and identity;
  • 78% more connected to global Jewry;
  • 85% want to learn more about Israel; and
  • 85% of respondents reported that their conversations about social justice have increased.

The study demonstrates that respondents, like many Jewish young adults, place a premium on social change work. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the survey respondents indicated that it did not matter to them if they were serving Jews or non-Jews. Their primary motivations were to serve and to grow, which is the basic value proposition of any service-learning experience.

The study was funded in part by the Jim Joseph Foundation and The Morningstar Foundation.