Mark I. Rosen

Mark Rosen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Director of Field Experience Programs, Hornstein Program



While our primary mandate was to determine whether involvement with Chabad during college had an impact on the post-college lives of participants, we also recognized that the Jewish community did not always view Chabad in a positive fashion, which manifested in a lack of funding from foundations and federations.




Press Coverage 

eJewishPhilanthropy, September 20

Religion News Service, September 20

JTA, September 20

Chabad.org, September 21

Jewish News Service, September 23

The Jewish Week, September 28

The Jewish Chronicle (Pittsburgh), September 28

Lubavitch News Service, September 29

Crown Heights Info, September 30

JWeekly (Northern California), October 6 

Chanukah, UNC photo by Elliott Rubin at Flickr

Using Data
  to Change Perceptions
  & Demonstrate Impact –
  The Case of
  Chabad on Campus


The growth and success of Chabad on Campus caught the attention of philanthropist Roger Hertog, who decided to commission and fund a study to understand why Chabad on Campus International was so successful and what effect it was having on the students who attended.


Note: Portions of this article are excerpted from "The Hertog Study – Chabad on Campus" by Mark I. Rosen, Steven M. Cohen, Arielle Levites, and Ezra Kopelowitz which was released in September 2016.

If you received your undergraduate degree in 2000 or earlier, it’s highly likely that Hillel was the primary Jewish organization on your campus. However, in the past fifteen years, the campus environment for Jewish organizations has changed. There are now almost 200 American campuses with either a permanent Chabad center or a regular Chabad presence. Over a relatively short period, Chabad has become part of the campus establishment at virtually all American campuses with Jewish students. On many campuses, it is just as probable to find students at Chabad’s Friday night Shabbat dinners or High Holiday services as it is to find them at Hillel.

Chabad on Campus International, the counterpart of Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life, is the umbrella organization that is responsible for and coordinates the growth of Chabad centers on campus. Centers are led exclusively by Hasidic married couples who are graduates of rabbinical schools and seminaries run by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbis and rebbetzins (rabbis' wives) strictly adhere to Orthodox Jewish belief and practice. They take their inspiration from the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, who guided and expanded the movement until his death in 1994.

Despite the seeming disparity between the Orthodox orientation of Chabad and the more liberal social and religious values of most Millennial Jews, Chabad is attracting increasing numbers of Jewish students. The growth and success of Chabad on Campus caught the attention of philanthropist Roger Hertog, who decided to commission and fund a study to understand why Chabad on Campus International was so successful and what effect it was having on the students who attended. I was chosen to conduct the study, and recruited Steven Cohen, Arielle Levites, and Ezra Kopelowitz to work with me on the project. All four of us had previously conducted or were currently conducting research on Hillel.

Research Objectives

While our primary mandate from the funder was to determine whether involvement with Chabad during college had an impact on the post-college lives of participants, we also recognized that the Jewish community did not always view Chabad in a positive fashion, which manifested in a lack of funding from foundations and federations. For example, some think that Chabad attracts mainly religious students. When non-religious students do come, it is believed that Chabad actively pressures them to adopt a Torah-observant lifestyle. A few even view Chabad as a cult, intent on brainwashing students into becoming followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Our task as researchers was to use data to confirm or dispel these perceptions and to determine what sort of impact Chabad had on students. We identified three central questions as our research focus:

  • Who comes to Chabad on college campuses?
  • What is the nature of Chabad’s work with students on campus?
  • What is the post-college impact of Chabad on Campus?

To answer these questions, we acquired data from 22 Chabad on Campus centers across the United States with the cooperation of Chabad on Campus International. This was the first time in its history that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement had ever agreed to participate in such a study.

Methodology

Qualitative data included interviews and/or focus groups with rabbis and rebbetzins, current students, alumni, parents, faculty, university officials, and Hillel leaders at a sample of the campuses. Quantitative data was obtained by surveying alumni. Using email lists acquired from all 22 of the centers, an online questionnaire asked alumni about their:

  • Jewish upbringing prior to college
  • involvement with Chabad and Hillel as an undergraduate
  • current Jewish involvement and beliefs
  • post-college involvement with Chabad

Our analysis utilized more than 2,400 responses from alumni ages 21 to 29 who graduated in 2007 or later. While our data demonstrated that Chabad has a strong influence on the Jewish lives of alumni, it also dispelled some negative notions about Chabad.

Summary of Findings

Here is a summary of what we learned:

  • Chabad on Campus attracts students from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. Relatively few are Orthodox. Of those undergraduate students who participate in Jewish activities on campus, most attend both Chabad and Hillel. There are smaller groups of students who attend one and not the other.
  • Many students are attracted initially by the social scene, food, and family environment at Friday night Shabbat dinners, rather than an interest in Jewish learning or ritual. Students learn about Chabad through their friends. Relatively few had exposure to Chabad prior to college.
  • Those who were more frequent participants at Chabad during college had higher scores on post-college indicators of Jewish attitudes and behavior than those who were less frequent participants (once other influences on post-college attitudes and behaviors were considered).
  • Chabad participation affected a broad range of post-college Jewish attitudes and behaviors. These include religious beliefs and practices, Jewish friendships, Jewish community involvement, Jewish learning, dating and marriage, emotional attachment to Israel, and the importance of being Jewish.
  • The impact appears to be greatest among those who indicated they were raised as Reform and those who were raised with no denominational affiliation. Effects are slightly smaller for those raised as Conservative. Based on the measures used in the study, Chabad participation appears to have little impact on those raised as Orthodox.
  • Relatively few students change their denominational affiliation to Orthodox because of their involvement with Chabad on Campus, and virtually none subsequently choose to identify as Chabad.
  • The data suggest that frequent participants are affected in ways that bring them closer to the mainstream Jewish community after college.
  • Personal relationships are central to Chabad’s work with students. Greater involvement with Chabad and subsequent change in Jewish belief and practice are most likely to occur when a student develops a personal relationship with the Chabad rabbi or the rebbetzin. Gender matters. Men tend to be closer to the rabbi and women tend to be closer to the rebbetzin.
  • Relationships with the rabbi and rebbetzin tend to continue after college, especially among those who were frequent participants at Chabad during college.

There was extensive coverage of the study in the Jewish press. Based on the various articles that appeared, our study did appear to change the Jewish community’s perceptions of Chabad on Campus. The study also provided Chabad on Campus International with valuable information about their organization and the demographic they serve that will help to inform their strategic planning and operations in the coming years.




This article was published in the Hornstein Program's November 2016 issue of Impact. If you would like to quote any part of it, please attribute content to Mark I. Rosen, Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University, and link to this page. All rights reserved.