The cure for secular US Jews? Free trips to Israel

By Paul Berger, October 29, 2009
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Birthright Israel participants ride camels in the Negev desert. New research shows that participants are more likely than non-participants  to marry another Jew. Funding for the free trip comes from the world’s richest man, Sheldon Adelson ($20m in 2009), the Jewish Agency ($5m), the Jewish Federations of North America ($7m) and Israel’s government ($17m)

Birthright Israel participants ride camels in the Negev desert. New research shows that participants are more likely than non-participants to marry another Jew. Funding for the free trip comes from the world’s richest man, Sheldon Adelson ($20m in 2009), the Jewish Agency ($5m), the Jewish Federations of North America ($7m) and Israel’s government ($17m)

A new study claims to have found a cure for young Jews dropping out of the community. It costs about $2,500, lasts 10 days and is called Taglit-Birthright Israel.

Taglit sends Jews aged 18 to 26 who have never been to Israel, on a free, 10-day trip to the Jewish state. Its goal, when it launched in 1999, was to foster the connection between young Jews, Israel and the Jewish community.

Professor Leonard Saxe of Brandeis University this week revealed the findings of a five-month study of Taglit alumni who went to Israel between 2001 and 2004.

Taglit participants were 57 per cent more likely to be married to another Jew and 30 per cent more likely to view raising children as Jews as “very important”, compared with non-participants. One in six Taglit alumni said the trip had made them more likely to marry a Jew and/or raise their children as Jews. Prof Saxe also found that Taglit’s impact was strongest on those from “less engaged Jewish backgrounds”.

The study focused on more than 2,000 people, divided between those who went on the trip and those who applied but did not go. It was co-funded by Taglit-Birthright Israel.

About 225,000 young Jews have gone on Birthright, mostly from the US and Canada. Three hundred Jews from the UK participate each year.

The group’s annual budget is $80-$100 million. At its funding peak, in 2008, it sent 40,000 Jews to Israel. However, the recession has hit the finances of many philanthropists and foundations, in turn hurting Taglit.

“This programme works and we now have research to substantiate it,” said CEO Gidi Mark. “The only problem now is to find the money.”

    Last updated: 5:41pm, October 29 2009