Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

Birthright Israel’s Impact in the Shadow of the Israel-Hamas War: Findings from the Summer 2023 Cohort

Graham Wright, Shahar Hecht, Sasha Volodarsky, and Leonard Saxe

April 2024

Report cover for Birthright Israel Summer 2023

In the summer of 2023, over 10,000 Jewish young adults from the United States participated in a Birthright Israel trip. For 10 days they experienced and learned about Israel by visiting historical and cultural sites, hearing about Israel’s history as well as contemporary life, and exchanging views with their Israeli peers (many in the IDF). These trips took place before Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack and the start of the Israel-Hamas war. In the wake of October 7th, and the intense animosity directed at Israel around the world, recent Birthright alums encountered a new reality. How did these events influence how they understood their personal experiences in Israel? How did their Birthright experience impact how they thought and felt about the war and Israel’s actions? How did participation in Birthright impact Jewish identity and Jewish connections in a world of heightened antisemitism, where “being Jewish” meant something very different than it did in the summer of 2023?

Key findings:

  • Participants overwhelmingly reported that the trip was a meaningful experience. Seventy-three percent of participants reported that the trip felt “very much” like a learning experience, and the same percentage reported that it felt like a journey to their Jewish roots. Over half described it “very much” as “a life-changing experience.”
  • Participants were mostly satisfied with the scope and content of the educational program. The vast majority felt the trips spent the right amount of time discussing key topics, although about a third of participants felt the trip spent too little time discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, roughly the same proportion who felt this way in 2022.
  • Young Jews in general became closer to Israel in the wake of the war, but this change was substantially larger for Birthright participants than for nonparticipants, pointing to the independent impact of Birthright Israel. The impact on connection to Israel was also evident for participants across the ideological spectrum, with the largest increase in connection observed among politically liberal participants. Birthright participants also became more interested in learning about Israel and more confident in their understanding of the situation in Israel, as a result of their trip.
  • Birthright influenced participants' reactions to the Israel-Hamas war. After controlling for any differences in background between participants and nonparticipants, Birthright participants were more likely to closely follow the news about the war, more concerned for the lives of Israelis, and more likely to say they “supported” Israel.