The Cost of Free

Gary Rosenblatt writing in The Jewish Week:

Can Anybody Critique Funders’ Choices?

In several articles and presentations questioning whether free programs like Birthright ultimately are good or bad for the Jewish community – whether they coddle and spoil young people rather than prepare them to pay their own way – David Bryfman of the New York-based Jewish Education Project has said that “free initiatives often have solid research that supports them – and in almost all cases this research has been commissioned by the same people who fund the initiatives.”

The implication is that such practice is improper and highly suspect. But some social scientists say that it is common and does not pose an ethical dilemma.

The latest round of debate on the subject took place at a panel I moderated on “The Cost of Free” at the international conference of the Jewish Funders Network in Los Angeles last week.

Bryfman, director of the New Center for Collaborative Leadership at the JEP and a rising star in the field of Jewish education, summarized some of the reasons why he questions the widely praised practice of free programs, from Israel trips to books for children to synagogue services. He said that providing them at no cost might cheapen their value rather than heighten Jewish identity down the road.

He was challenged most directly by fellow panelist Mark Charendoff, a board member of Birthright (and of The Jewish Week) and former president of the Jewish Funders Network. He argued that Birthright donors had confidence in their program and, like businesses that increase brand loyalty by giving out free samples of their product, the donors were succeeding in increasing Jewish identity among participants as a result of the trips.

The complete article can be found on The Jewish Week website.