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What I Learned from the Birthright Israel Report

I have just read with interest the latest report about the impact of Birthright Israel. This celebrated 10-day Israel immersion program proves once again that its impact on participants is robust and–the point of this latest report–long-lasting. Even a decade after participating in the trip, participants show greater Jewish engagement on a wide range of measures (compared to similar kids who applied to the program but never got to go)–from feeling connected to Israel, to celebrating Jewish holidays, to synagogue membership. But the focus of this report seems to be the finding that:

Taglit alumni inmarry at rates greater than would be expected based on socio-demographic research, and at significantly greater rates than others who did not participate. (Page 30)

More precisely, Birthright participants are 45% more likely than nonparticipants to marry other Jews.

That this should be highlighted as the study’s most important finding is disappointing. Intermarriage by itself should not be seen as an ultimate ill plaguing the Jewish community, disengagement should. We know that, from a sociological standpoint, intermarried households who are Jewishly engaged look very similar to inmarried households; and additionally, unengaged Jewish households look very similar as well, regardless of whether both spouses are Jewish or only one.

I would like, instead, to highlight a different finding of this same report:

“Taglit participants and nonparticipants who are intermarried are equally likely to be raising their oldest child Jewish.” (Page 24)

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