Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Birthright graduates - limited Jewish identity

Forward reports:

Nearly 160,000 young Jews from North America have taken part in Taglit-Birthright Israel, a 10-day free Israel trip aimed at revving up their Jewish identities.

Of those no longer in college, only half have attended any Jewish event since their return.

That’s one of the findings of “Tourists, Travelers and Citizens,” a new report by the Cohen Center of Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. The report is based on interviews and online surveys of 1,534 Birthright alumni in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto, the four largest Jewish communities in North America.

“It means we have a lot of work to do,” says Daniel Brenner, executive director of Birthright Israel NEXT, a national organization that tries to steer alumni toward greater Jewish involvement in their home communities.

The Birthright program was instituted in 2000 by mega-philanthropists concerned about what they perceived as the younger generation’s lack of Jewish involvement. Numerous formal and informal evaluations show participants’ connection to Israel and the Jewish community are enhanced by their trip, but that does not translate into ongoing Jewish involvement, according to the new report

“Years after their trip, Taglit alumni continue to look more like ‘tourists’ than ‘citizens’ in the Jewish community world,” the report’s authors write. “Although they value their Jewish identities, most have only limited participation in Jewish communal life.”

The report shows that 44 percent of Birthright alumni who are no longer in college have not attended any Jewish program since their return from Israel. A further 39 percent have attended just one or two programs. Only 4 percent have taken part in more than four programs.[...]


  1. Compared to what? How many of the general Jewish population of that age range participate in those programs? Is this a "why bother?" or "look what it takes to be even only somewhat successful!" If it's 4% vs 2%, we've doubled the number of committed Jews -- and that ain't nuthin.


  2. This whole idea is an example of too much (money), too late.

    As R' J' Rosenblum often says, putting the money towards affordable mass Jewish day-school education will go MUCH much further in terms of long-term affiliation and identity.
    You will not get mass long-term numbers once the kids in question pass year 20 with zero Jewish identity.

  3. Birthright considers a person Jewish if they have a Jewish parent.

    Because most families who ARE actually Jewish do travel to Israel as a family or encourage their children to go to Israel during High School so a substantial percentage of Birthright participants are not Jewish.

    A close family friend of ours runs several Birthright trips a year (he is a professor of Jewish Studies so it works out well for him) and tells us that it is easy to know who is who because the non Jews are the ones who are not moved at all when they see the Western Wall for the first time.

    I had the opportunity to discuss the failure of Birthright with Micheal Steinhardt a few years ago because I was consulting for one of his investments. I explained to Mr. Steinhardt that the primary goal of the Reform movement was assimilation to the society at large. Now that the goal has been thoroughly achieved, there is no need for the Reform any more and it is a complete waste of money to try to promote cultural awareness without halachic observance. The Workman's Circle failed with that idea also.

    There is no such thing as Judaism without halacha because denial of the Divine Origin of the Oral Law is apikoris.

    I doubt that I was able to get through to Mr. Steinhardt or the other Birthright financier in my captive audience that day. But I did try.

  4. It is well-known, even by the Orthodox rabbis who take his millions, like Ephraim Buchwald of NJOP "crash course in Jebrew/Judaism" fame that Micheal Steinhardt is not just a man who does not believe in God and has his doubts yet keeps it to himself, but he is a proud and boastful atheist who lets it be known publicly when he speaks and he jokes about it as he dishes out millions to the Modern Orthodox and even Chabad rabbis as they come and milk him for his loot.

    So something that has such bad roots can never bear good fruits.

    The sad part is that he is trying to interfere with religion, "improve on it", when he gets involved with organizations like Buchwald's NJOP and he is granted respect and dignity by Orthodx-run organaizations when they should show him the door.


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