Three cheers for Birthright Israel.
Thanks to this vital program, it seems, there is good news to report on the Support Israel front as it relates to young non-Orthodox Jews. A new survey conducted for the Workmen’s Circle shows that young Jews in the United States, defined as people under 35, support the State of Israel in higher numbers than some of their elders, reversing a trend that has been only too noticeable in recent decades.
The sociologist Steven M. Cohen and the political economist Samuel Abrams conducted the survey during April and May. They deliberately avoided young Orthodox Jews, for whom support for Israel is assumed to be a given.
The long-term trend is clearly visible. People aged 55 and over are more supportive of Israel and feel a greater attachment toward it than any other age group. Those who are 45 to 54 years old, however, have less of an attachment than the older group. The decline continues for the 35-44 age group, in which attachment to Israel is markedly down. The trend reverses in the non-Orthodox under-35 age group. Support for and attachment to Israel within that group mirrors somewhat the 45- to 54-year olds.
Cohen refers to this reversal as the ” Birthright Bump.” The reference is to the Taglit- Birthright program, which has brought more than 300,000 young Jews to Israel since 2000. Birthright was the brainchild of an Israeli politician named Yossi Beilin, who brought it to the Jewish Agency for Israel in the mid-1990s. It was not until it received the financial support of the philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman, however, that the program took off. Today, the chief financial backer is casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. (For more about him, see below.)
Adelson, for those who do not know, is right-wing politically, at least when it comes to all things Israel. Not so young Jews, however. While Birthright apparently has succeeded in reawakening support for Israel among them, curiously it has not moved them to support right-wing agendas or politicians in the Jewish state.
Cohen is quick to point out that the data do not prove the existence of a “Birthright Bump.” Birthright, however, is the only serious factor in the last 20 years that can explain the trend reversal. He anticipates that as more data on the subject emerge, the Birthright Bump will become proven fact.
We, too, choose to see Birthright as the cause, and therefore we cheer its effect. Finally, something is working the way it should be working in the Jewish world. We all will be better off because it does.