Last spring, with the support of the Robert K. and Myra H. Kraft Foundation, we formally launched our Jewish Futures Project. For at least the next four years, we are going to follow the lives of more than 3,000 young adult Jews who applied to Taglit-Birthright Israel in 2001-2005. The project will track their journey from college, to first jobs, to careers, marriage or lifelong partnership and the creation of their own families. We want to understand how members of the Jewish millennial generation find meaning and connection through their Jewish identities, participation in the Jewish community, and involvement with Israel. Unlike most Jewish social science which looks at a person's past for clues to the future, our goal is to accompany our respondents as their lives unfold.
Following the lives of young people on their journeys represents the "gold standard" for understanding human behavior. The Jewish Futures Project is the most important study I have done at Brandeis. My inspiration is the classic Framingham Heart study which followed families for more than sixty years. Since we began the Jewish Futures Project, a number of funding partners have joined us. We look forward to working with our funders, as well as key Jewish community organizations, to apply our research to key policy questions.
A first publication of the Jewish Futures Project is now available. It focuses on one element of the study-a comparison of those who applied to Taglit but did not participate, and those who did participate. The present study is "Wave 2" of long-term data collection from applicants (see Generation Birthright Israel, 2009) and includes a new cohort (2005) as well as additional data from our initial respondents. The findings are stunning, even to us. As we found in 2009, Taglit appears to be responsible for a 51% increase in the likelihood that a young Jew will marry Jewishly, as well as an increase in the attachment participants feel for Israel.
Although the Taglit findings are extremely important, they represent only a small part of what we can learn from the Jewish Futures Project. Our next report will begin to explore the overarching questions about the development of Jewish identity: how "millennials" find meaning and maintain a connection to Jewish life. Our bold aspiration is that the findings of the Jewish Futures Project will help to reshape how we think about Jewish education and the nature of Jewish community and Israel in the next generation.
As with virtually all of the work that we do at the Cohen Center/Steinhardt Institute, this project represents collaboration among members of a talented team. I hope that our collective enthusiasm for our work is evident in the reports we write.
Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies
Steinhardt Social Research Institute