‘Tis the season of Birthright! Once again we are starting to notice the ubiquitous Birthright and Israel Experience teen-tour buses on the roads of Israel. One of the proven paths focusing on an enhanced understanding of Israel to strengthen Jewish identity is the Israel experience trip. Gil Troy (2006) notes that,
There is a positive association between a visit to Israel and measures of Jewish identification, community affiliation and religious practice.
David Mittelberg (1999), concurring with Troy and numerous other researchers, claims that, “An Israel visit continues to reflect or to serve as an extra powerful element in the Jewish identity of the individual.”
The point being that the strength and nature of one’s connection with Israel is often used as an indicator of Jewish identity among Diaspora Jews. An Israel experience complements both Jewish identity formation and Israel education providing that the Israel experience focuses on Israel as a modern dynamic society full of rich diversity and issues it is facing and grappling with, then there is great potential for the participant’s personal connections to Judaism and the Jewish State.
My “Amazing Israel” Birthright Group
Steven Cohen’s (2008) research considers differences in identification and identity between Israeli and American Jews, as well as between American Jews who have visited Israel and those who have not. His results indicate that the relationship between the Israel education and Jewish identity is so significant that placing an Israel trip on the Jewish/Israel education agenda, according to Cohen,
“An Israel trip may be the most policy relevant action organized Jews can undertake to stem the erosion in Israel attachment (and resulting Jewish identity) among younger adult Jews”
Cohen’s survey specifically concluded that the impact of an Israel trip is essential for fortifying Jewish identity and commitment and preventing alienation from Israel and the Jewish faith. This is clearly more significant for younger people. The research would seem to lend credence to the commonly held belief that an “Israel experience” will reverse the tendency among younger Diaspora Jews to be more distant from Israel, and the Jewish faith, and will indeed help reinforce their engagement with both Judaism and the Jewish State.