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.