The Numbers Game

This entry was posted in History on by .

UJC reported this week that the number of young Jews who applied for Birthright Israel was far greater than the number who became bar or bat mitzvah this year.

Over the past 12 months, 44,675 Americans have applied to the Birthright program, which offers free 10-day educational trips to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18 and 26. Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz, director of United Jewish Communities‘ research and analysis department, projects that between 29,000 and 31,000 American Jews celebrate becoming bar and bat mitzvah each year. (Kotler-Berkowitz used data from the National Jewish Population Survey of 2001, which has been criticized for undercounting the number of American Jews and the level of observance.)

“Taglit-Birthright Israel has become a new Jewish rite of passage, a new life cycle event onto [sic] itself,� said Jeffrey Solomon, president of The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. The Bronfman Philanthropies is one of the foundations that initially seeded the program. (MORE)

The article does make it clear that this number could be very misleading for a few reasons:

1) Orthodox females do not have bat mitzvahs but, like all Jews are eligible for Birthright.

2) B’nei Mitzvah only incorporate the age window of 12-13 (more or less), while birthright is open to Jews between 18 and 26.

3) Birthright applicants may be reapplying, having been rejected or unable to go on a previous trip.

The question becomes if those three factors are enough to make up the 15,000 person difference.

It would be interesting for the involved organizations to investigate further. If the trend shows that Birthright numbers are in fact larger than the b’nei mitzvah population, the community truly has something to celebrate.

In that case, Birthright would be, arguably, the only initiative that is successful  in engaging the mysterious “unaffiliated Jews.” These students, who are so unaffiliated as to not have had a bar or bat mitzvahs, likely include some of the “unreachable” populations, for example children of intermarried couples and immigrants.

If however, the studies show the statistics to be misleading, we left to again ask ourselves, how do we know if our engagement tactics are quantitatively successful?

Posted on June 28, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

3 thoughts on “The Numbers Game

  1. hotshot2000

    “Orthodox females do not have bat mitzvah”

    Untrue. See http://www.jofa.org/social.php/life/batmitzvah for the history of the Orthodox discussion surrounding acceptable ways of celebrating a girl becoming bat mitzvah.

    (Also, the terminology is imprecise — one becomes a bar or bat mitzvah (= becomes subject to mitzvot) at 13/12 respectively whether or not one has a ceremony.)

  2. Meredith Kesner Lewis Post author

    Hotshot,
    While it is true that orthodox females to become bat mitzvah, the researchers note themselves that they only include those children who actually lead services in a traditional setting.

  3. Summer Intern

    In the orthodox tradition, females are not allowed to lead services, so does the research count girls who participate by giving a d’var torah or some kind of a speech? That’s typical for orthodox girls to do at the age of bat mitzvah, no?

Comments are closed.