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A ‘Birthright Bump’ Among Young Jews?

Survey finds increased attachment to Israel, but political ambivalence

Marc Tracy
July 09, 2012
A group of Birthright-ers in the Golan Heights.(Margarita Korol/Tablet Magazine)
A group of Birthright-ers in the Golan Heights.(Margarita Korol/Tablet Magazine)

Among the findings of a new poll commissioned by the Workmen’s Circle and conducted by Professors Steven M. Cohen and Samuel Abrams, according to a release, is that American Jews aged 18-34 who were not raised Orthodox or in a Jewish day school—that is, young American Jews most likely to have gone on Birthright or had friends who did—possess an “increased emotional attachment” to Israel, particularly compared to those slightly older than they (who were Birthright-age before Birthright existed). At the same time, the poll, whose sub-set had 888 respondents, found “decreased trust in Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.”

All told, the professors infer a “Birthright Bump.” Said Cohen in the release, “In all likelihood, the cumulative impact of Birthright Israel in bringing so many young Jews to Israel may be coming to the fore. While this finding is the first statistically significant results of its kind, it’s very suggestive and very policy-relevant.”

In an interview today, Cohen clarified that the evidence for a Birthright Bump is not definitive yet. “We have nothing past what I would call Stage 2 trials if this were a drug,” he said. “I wouldn’t prescribe this quite yet, but we’re on the way to seeing clear evidence. It’s a reasonable inference based on these data and other studies, which have been pointing in the same direction.” He added, “We also know there are social network effects: when you know people who have certain attitudes, you adopt their attitudes.” According to Cohen, Birthright Israel has no connection to the study, nor were respondents asked about it.

Interestingly, the Jews in this cohort don’t appear to be more attached to Jewishness than their older co-religionists. It’s more purely Israel. The Orthodox and day-schooled were left out of these results because those respondents are more likely to have gone on an organized trip to Israel before college and therefore have been ineligible for—and not gone on—Birthright. “Also they come out of environments that are strongly pro-Israel,” Cohen added, “and the fluctuation would mask the between-age cohort effects.”

As I reported, Birthright has brought roughly 300,000 Jews (not only Americans) to Israel since its inception in 1999, and will likely bring about 40,000, mostly Americans, this year alone.

Meanwhile, there’s the political angle. Said Abrams, the other professor, “Among those under 35, people in my own age demographic, Jews can be both attached to Israel and assume fairly independent if not skeptical stances toward Israeli government policies.” This actually mirrors what my far more informal survey of our own Birthright trip found: a strong connection with Israel (and Jewishness); and curiosity about Israeli politics that, I predicted, will lead new lovers of Israel to take issue with some of the things Israel is up to.

Related: Tablet Is Going to Israel With Birthright [Tablet Magazine]
How Birthright Changed Us [Tablet Magazine The Roll]

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.