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Friday, April 22, 2011

More Birthright grads are marrying in, says new study

A follow-up study of the impact of Taglit-Birthright Israel suggests that more participants are marrying within Judaism but are less concerned with the religion of their children. However, participants are still more likely to be interested in their babies being Jewish than non-participants.

The Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies published findings last month indicating that participants on the program, which gives Jewish youths free trips to Israel, are 28 percent more likely to place "high importance on marrying someone Jewish" and 35 percent more likely to give "high importance" to raising Jewish children than non-participants, the center announcement this week.

Birthright has brought more than 250,000 Diaspora youths to Israel with the goal of significantly strengthening participants' Jewish identity. The center conducted its first study in October 2009, comparing the attitudes of Birthright participants with those of youths who applied for the trip but were not accepted in a lottery.

The study found that participants' connection to Israel and the Jewish people was "significantly enhanced, as was the importance they attach to marrying a Jewish person and raising children as Jews." The study spoke also of "substantial increase in the rates of in-marriage."

Rates for in-marriage, or endogamy, rose equally for both participants and non-participants between the two studies, from 72 to 77 percent and 46 to 51 percent, respectively.

The 2009 study was based on interviews with 1,223 youths who applied for Birthright trips between 2001 and 2004. For the new study the same youths were contacted again, plus a sample of the 2005 trip cohort (300 participants and 400 non-participants ).

On the other hand, the rate of participants and non-participants who considered it "very important" to raise their children as Jews dropped from 74 and 57 percent to 66 and 49 percent, respectively. Leonard Saxe, who directs the center and headed up the studies, says the drop can be explained by the exclusion of the Orthodox from the updated study.

A comparison of the non-Orthodox cohorts shows a decrease of about five percent from 2009 to the current study. "The [new] findings are slightly less dramatic, but the difference is very small [and] non-significant," Saxe told Anglo File.

"Even if we want to treat the difference as indicative of a trend, all that it indicates is that many of those who said that they 'very much' want to raise Jewish children in 2009 are now married (to Jews )."

However, Saxe admits there is a significant decline in the percentage of non-Orthodox participants who value endogamy. In the 2009 study, 51 percent said it is "very important" to marry a Jew. Only 38 percent said the same in the current study.

While Birthright's power to influence participants is generally recognized, not everyone agrees this can be proven with the Cohen Center's research.

"There is undoubtedly a positive impact on participants' Jewish identity, but one has to take into account that those who participate already chose to be more interested to begin with," Sergio Della Pergola, who teaches Jewish demography and statistics at Hebrew University, told Anglo File. "People come to Israel because they are more Jewish, and didn't [necessarily] become more Jewish because they came to Israel."

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