Ten Days of Birthright Israel: A Jour­ney in Young Adult Identity

Leonard Saxe; Bar­ry Chazan
  • Review
By – January 27, 2012

Why would a Jew­ish young adult choose ten days in Israel over a vaca­tion in Can­cun? That’s the ques­tion pro­fes­sors Leonard Saxe and Bar­ry Chaz­an set out to answer in their analy­sis of Birthright Israel’s mis­sion and suc­cess. Draw­ing upon the find­ings of a rig­or­ous soci­o­log­i­cal study, the authors con­clude that the free trip to Israel” has been key in allow­ing the col­le­giate and young pro­fes­sion­al set to devel­op a Jew­ish iden­ti­ty — par­tic­i­pants are more like­ly to form a stronger con­nec­tion to Israel, become involved in Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions on cam­pus, and mar­ry and raise their chil­dren Jewish. 

Though the authors’ enthu­si­asm for the largest edu­ca­tion exper­i­ment ever attempt­ed” is obvi­ous, they also exam­ine the claims of skep­tics who called Birthright a fol­ly borne of found­ing phil­an­thropists “[Charles] Bronfman’s blun­der and [Michael] Steinhardt’s stu­pid­i­ty.” But they are quick to point out that Birthright has seen expo­nen­tial growth despite the odds. In 2007, near­ly 30,000 young adults — up 50 per­cent from 2006— joined a Birthright trip, vis­it­ing the land they would have fought to pro­tect had their grand­par­ents immi­grat­ed to Israel rather than North America. 

Read­ers no longer eli­gi­ble for a Birthright trip may still expe­ri­ence Mount Her­zl, Yad Vashem, and the beach­es of Tel Aviv as more than 150,000 par­tic­i­pants have since Birthright’s incep­tion in 2000. The authors are reli­able guides who accu­rate­ly cap­ture the mood of a trip, both on and off the bus. 

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