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Study: Birthright Does What It’s Supposed To

Which doesn’t help the unlucky few who don’t get on trips

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A new study finds that American Jews who go on free Taglit-Birthright organized trips to Israel change in ways that Taglit-Birthright’s donors almost certainly want them to: They are more supportive of Israel, feel a stronger connection to Israel, and—most importantly?—are a full 51 percent more likely to marry a fellow Jew. (Probably because they met them on their Birthright trip. I kid! Sorta.) Moreover, they are 35 percent more likely to consider marrying a Jew important, and any non-Jews they choose to marry are four times more likely to convert.

Robert Aronson, Birthright’s president, noted that the data included comparisons between Birthright-ers and people who applied for Birthright but could not go, frequently due to a lack of space on the trips; the report, he said, indicates the extent to which “the lives of those who were turned away from the trips would have been changed.”

In other words, the study proves that, if, hypothetically, there were a 26-year-old American Jew—in his final year of eligibility—who applied for a trip, say, this summer, it would be especially important to find a spot for him. One might argue that if this 26-year-old American Jew were a person who had a larger-than-normal platform from which to expound on issues of Jewish concern—if he were, for example, a blogger at a daily magazine of Jewish life and culture—then it would be that much more important to put him on a trip, and that much weirder if he had applied for a trip in his final year of eligibility and had just been told (like an hour ago) that as of now he has not been placed on one. You know, hypothetically.

Study: Birthright Alumni Better Israel Advocates, Marry Jewish [JTA]

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Brendan Howard says:

1) Spellcheck your deck.

2) Must you, like other bloggers, use your bully pulpit to beg? Is this the place for schnorring, as Jewish as that is?

The article would have been more convincing were it to be a random choice who to take. I don’t believe that the decision is made randomly. In which case, the take-away is that people who Birthright believes make better Birthright candidates turn out to make better Birthright success stories. Not much news there, I’m afraid.

1. The interviewers weren’t blinded to Birthright status.
2. No indication in the full report of the reason why the non-attendees didn’t go – or even if they were asked the reason.
3. Non-response in the survey was quite a bit higher (11% versus 4%) among non-attendees. That difference alone could account for some of the results.
4. No error bars in the graphs.
5. As Marc pointed out, the funders have a vested interest: another source of bias there.
Count me unconvinced.

Aimee says:

Birthright Israel only does what its supposed to if there is additional community follow up after the ten days.

Jed Brandt says:

I am an American Jew. My grandmother was from Bessarabia and left, like so many, from Odessa. My father is from Hesse, Germany and is gentile.

Two questions.

Is “Germany for the Germans”?

By what right do European Jews, particularly those who are prosperous enough to attend your Park Slope synagogue and who face absolutely no social oppression in America because they are Jews — by what right do you claim a birthright to live in a state run by thugs, with racist laws, that engages in non-stop terror against the people they drove from the land?

There is no political zionism in the Torah. Nor in the Talmud. Nor in anything that defined Jewish existence for centuries. Since Israel was founded, it has committed war crimes on a regular basis and enshrined a legalized system of Apartheid into its marrow. That is to say, a “state of the Jewish people” on land inhabited and owned by millions of non-Jews is disgusting. It spits on the memory of every Jew who fought for secular democracy and social justice.

You should be ashamed of yourselves for insisting on “birthrights” to colonialism. You are the reason those Jews who are from mixed marriages increasingly have no desire to be a part of the same “people” as Sharon and Lieberman.

Judaism is a religion. Israel is a settler state just like old South Africa, Rhodesia and Algeria — armed to the teeth and a threat to not just the the region, but to the United States and those Jews who were never asked if they support such crimes.

How are you any different than Kahane? I suspect not much when the chips are down.

Gene says:

Jed, I think genes of your father are now speaking in you. What was he (or his father, your grandfather) doing during WWII, by the way? And what racist laws are you talking about? Name them. Zionism appeared 3000 years after the Torah; how possibly could it be mentioned in the Holy book? Odessa is not in Bessarabia and never was. Just learn something before commenting, would you?

Jordan D'Arcy says:

I’m going to Israel on my own steam, so that I can see it with my own eyes, not those of an organization with a clear agenda

Bryan says:

Jed: The Torah doesn’t establish “Judaism” or a Jewish religion; it establishes the nation of Israel. Jewish culture and religion evolved from that in the diaspora, but can only find its true expression in the land of Israel. Read the Torah, read the Talmud, read the siddur, even the Haggadah; yearning for return to Israel and re-establishment of Jewish sovereignty there has always been a central part of Judaism.

What about the 900,000+ Jews who were expelled from the Arab lands where they had lived for over 2,000 years? Should they “go back to Europe and America” too?

Israel is not a colonial/settler state; it is a state for a people who have been refugees for the last 2,000 years–expelled over and over again from lands which had been seen as safe, welcoming homes.

Only when the Arabs get over the dream of driving the Jews into the sea, there will be peace.

Gene, whatever your take on Jed’s simplistic political and ideological position, your barbed comment reveals that assign prominence to the role of genetics in Jewish identity. Doing so is a mistake. The fact that many of us are converts to Judaism flies in the face of that perspective, as do the significant genetic differences between populations of Jews with ancestry in Africa, Asia, India, and Europe. So, too, does the fact, if the above cited research is accurate, that a trip to Israel can increase an individual’s sense of Jewishness. We’re a people, to be sure, but non-Jews can and do convert to the Jewish ethnicity; once they have, they’re no less a part of klal Yisrael. Thus, genetics are a rather small part of the identity soup.

So I wrote too quickly. I got a response from one of the study authors which more or less satisfies my concerns.

Len Saxe says:

“Dear Dr. Berger,

I saw your comment on the brief article that appeared in Tablet re: our recent report on the long-term impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel. Several brief responses:

1. The interviewers weren’t blinded to Birthright status.

The majority of surveys were completed over the internet, so there is no issue of interviewer bias. For the one-third conducted by phone, the participant status of respondents is evident only because there are a few differences in the questions asked of treatment and comparison group respondents. That said, interviewers used a script and question wording was standardized. It’s not clear how interviewer bias could have affected responses. On some questions (e.g., marriage), responses can be validated independently and we have no evidence of bias.

2. No indication in the full report of the reason why the non-attendees didn’t go – or even if they were asked the reason.

This issue is discussed in several reports/papers referenced in the study. Our 2009 report (a version of which is published in Contemporary Jewry) summarizes the issue and it was extensively reviewed in several earlier reports (conducted 2001-2005; all are on our website). The bottom line is that Taglit has been able to take fewere than 50% of those who apply. Because of the scarcity of spaces on trips, and the fact that applicants are only told the date of their trips after they are registered, the process is more or less random. Also, unlike RDD studies where one does not know the characteristics of each member of the population, in this case, we know who is in each group. Repeated testing of differences in background characteristics between participants and nonparticipants finds few significant differences. Appendices to our reports (available at http://www.brandeis.edu/cmjs) detail these analyses.

(continued)

(response by Len Saxe, study co-author, to my concerns, continued from above:)

3. Non-response in the survey was quite a bit higher (11% versus 4%) among non-attendees. That difference alone could account for some of the results.

Although there is a higher refusal rate for non-participants, if anything, we believe it makes our claims more conservative. Engaging non-participants was a challenge and our anecdotal sense is that their willingness to be interviewed was related to their level of Jewish engagement. In addition nonresponse analyses were performed using information from the registration data for those who did not response. Post-stratification weights were computed to correct for any bias associated with overall nonresponse.

4. No error bars in the graphs.

The detail is in the appendix to the report (available on our website). For every reported figure, Appendix B includes models (with significance levels and standard error) and predicted values off of those models (with 95% confidence intervals) in cases where regression analysis was used, and cross tabs with Chi Square tests and 95% CIs in cases where crosstabs were used. This provides much more information than a singe error bar. It can thus be seen that all reported results are statistically significant.

5. As Marc pointed out, the funders have a vested interest: another source of bias there.

We take pride in our hard-nosed scientific approach. If bias or errors were found in the report then, perhaps, the vested interest of funders would explain such bias. But it is not an indication of bias in and of itself. As a tenured professor, I have no motive other than to provide the more accurate/useful understandings of complex phenomena.

Regards,
Len Saxe
Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies”

Jed Brandt says:

The issue is “birthright” not genetics. That is exactly my point. The Birthright program equates a given right to a political monopoly in the land of Palestine to Jews. It trains American Jews to believe this by cultivating intimate relationships in a Zionist context through dramatic, yet pleasant Potemkin village tours.

Believe as you will. But next year in Jerusalem doesn’t mean somebody else’s home has to be demolished. There is no birthright to that, which justifies what is necessary for Israel to exist as a Jewish-supremacist state in a poly-ethnic, multi-religious land.

We have a right to secular democracy. To live as free people amid other free peoples.

Jed Brandt says:

And I was mistaken, my father’s German father is from the state of Baden-Württemberg. But that also may explain why I have no birthright there either. Ancestors and identity are not the means by which democratic states are constituted.

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Study: Birthright Does What It’s Supposed To

Which doesn’t help the unlucky few who don’t get on trips

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