Birthright Israel NEXT is ceding its follow-up role in connecting young Jews to their Jewish identity after the free trips they take to Israel via the Taglit Birthright Israel program.
The 4-year old program is replacing its staff in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and other cities where there are large concentrations of Birthright alumni, for whom NEXT, until recently, directly created and hosted activities. Instead, NEXT has hired regional directors who are directing alums to already established organizations. These include Jewish federations, Hillels and synagogues that host religious and social events on a regular basis.
“As the number of Birthrighters increases almost exponentially each year, the notion that one organization can provide sufficient outreach and opportunity to such a diverse audience was called into question,” said Morlie Levin, CEO of Birthright NEXT. She described NEXT’s new role “as a catalyst and concierge basically.”
The reduced role, which began in January, is designed to end two years of uncertainty surrounding the program, Levin said. Her own hiring as NEXT’s CEO in 2010 followed a March 2009 report that found that 44% of Birthright alumni no longer in college did not attend any Jewish program after their Birthright trip. The study, by Leonard Saxe of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, found that 39% reported attending just one or two programs. Only 4% of Birthright alumni took part in more than five follow-up programs.
The disappointing findings appeared to have swift consequences. Following the 2009 study, Birthright’s financial support for the separately incorporated NEXT dropped to $968,000 in 2010 from its peak of $6.5 million the year before. NEXT’s total revenues from all sources in 2010 came to about $4 million, down from $8 million the previous year.
In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, Birthright allocated just $702,000 to the group.