A newly released study reveals that non-Orthodox participants of an Orthodox Union (OU) summertime Israel experience for teenagers are more engaged Jewishly than their peers in a number of key areas.
The study-authored by Professor Steven M. Cohen of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Israeli researcher Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz-compared responses from alumni of OU’s The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) to data from the Pew Research Center’s 2013 survey of Jewish Americans, the 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York, and a Taglit-Birthright Israel program survey of applicants who never participated.
According to the study by Cohen and Kopelowitz, 86 percent of TJJ alumni said it is very important to raise their children Jewish, compared to 69 percent of Birthright applicants. Eighty percent of TJJ alumni reported fasting for the entire duration of Yom Kippur, compared to 48 percent of Jews ages 18-29 polled in the 2013 Pew survey. Seventy-five percent of TJJ participants said it is very important to marry a Jew, compared to 55 percent of Birthright applicants. Seventy-five percent of TJJ alumni usually attend a Shabbat meal, compared to 34 percent of Birthright applicants.
A program of NCSY, the OU-affiliated international youth movement, TJJ is a four-week summer program “designed for public high school teens looking to learn more about their Jewish heritage through hands-on, meaningful experiences,” and to “gain an appreciation for all the historical and modern sites of Israel,” according to a press release.
Cohen said the survey results not only “testify to the power and potential of The Anne Samson Jerusalem Journey,” but also “testify to the educational power and potential of Israel and, specifically, of teen trips to Israel.”
“Not every teen will have the opportunity to take a Jerusalem Journey,” he said. “But in a world where they will soon be facing enormous challenges to their commitment to Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish people, young people before college need to have the opportunity to encounter Israel, its meaning, and its complexities.”