Birthright Leads to Jewish Marriages, Study Says

By Gal Beckerman

Published October 27, 2009, issue of November 06, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The donors who have sent more than 200,000 young Jews on free trips to Israel over the last decade have been rewarded with a bit of reassuring news: Those returning from the trips are more likely than their peers to marry other Jews.

‘Tipping Point’: Barry Shrage touts the findings.
File Photo
‘Tipping Point’: Barry Shrage touts the findings.

According to a new study about the long-term effects of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program, 72% of married alumni are wedded to other Jews, compared to a rate of 46% among a control group of young Jews who never went on one of the fully subsidized, 10-day trips to Israel. In this finding, the researchers from Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies even factored out individuals raised in Orthodox homes.

According to the study’s authors, the uniqueness of the survey, which was funded by Birthright, was that it was able to track behavioral change over a longer time period than previous research. It included more than 1,000 individuals who had applied to go on Birthright trips between 2001 and 2004, both participants and those who did not end up going on the trip.

Studies had been conducted in the past that showed attitudinal changes, said Leonard Saxe, the lead researcher, but those were done while the participants “still had hummus in their bellies.”

The study’s results were met with satisfaction when they were presented October 26 to a roomful of Birthright supporters, including the program’s founders, mega-philanthropists Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt.

The president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Barry Shrage, characterized the report’s findings as a “tipping point.” He called Birthright’s success “some species of miracle,” but also warned, as many of those present did, that more had to be done both to ensure Birthright’s future by bringing in more donors and to follow up with returning participants.

“If we act now, future generations will remember that at exactly this moment, the Jewish community rose to the challenge, and we will be blessed,” Shrage said. “If not, it will be one more example of us failing to make the most of an opportunity.”

Other report findings included that over two-thirds of participants said the trip made them feel closer to Israel and that Birthright alumni were 50% more likely than non-participants to feel “very confident” about explaining the current situation in Israel. The study also revealed that participants were slightly more likely than non-participants to engage in religious activities, such as lighting Shabbat candles and participating in a Passover Seder.

Steven M. Cohen, a Hebrew Union College sociologist who was not part of the research team but attended the presentation at Brandeis House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said that the study’s findings “eminently check out.”

Saxe told the Forward that the dramatically higher figures for in-marriage among Birthright alumni could not be attributed to any factor other than the trip’s “effect” on participants. “There’s really no explanation other than that they participated in Birthright and this changed their view of their identity,” Saxe said.

The only voice to pierce the self-congratulatory tone of the gathering was that of Birthright co-founder Steinhardt. During a question-and-answer session, he stood up and railed against the notion of time and energy being spent on reports and what he called “dialogue.”

“This study is an important study, and I think it says some very significant things,” Steinhardt said. “But do you recall any Jewish study meaningfully changing the Jewish world over the last 20 or 30 years? I don’t.”

Contact Gal Beckerman at beckerman@forward.com






Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.