The Numbers Game

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?

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