The past two decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in the extent and focus of concerns about Jewish life on campus. The Jewish community is increasingly occupied with the education of the next generation and the rise of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on campus. Outreach to Jewish students—from the expansion of Hillel and Chabad to the flourishing of Birthright Israel, as well as the growth of Jewish and Israel Studies—have engaged formerly uninvolved students with Jewish education and Jewish life. This article describes the situation on campus: the proportion of Jewish students, Israel-related activity, and perceptions of anti-Semitism. It discusses academic programs such as Jewish and Israel Studies and informal programs, such as Hillel and Chabad, that engage students in Jewish life. It also describes organizations and programs, both experiential and advocacy-oriented, that help students identify and combat attempts to delegitimize Israel and intimidate Jewish expression.
In the present accountability-oriented policy environment, funding and replication of educational and public health programs are contingent upon evidence-based evaluations and demonstrable outcomes. In many cases, resource constraints preclude the delivery of interventions to all potential beneficiaries. It is possible, however, for program reach to be extended through consideration of the effects of the program on secondary groups in the social networks of the targeted population. Using a single case of a targeted educational program, this dissertation examines methodological issues in the explicit identification and measurement of such effects, referred to here as “ripple effects” and defined as the dissemination of indirect outcomes of a program through the social network ties of targeted individuals. Specifically, the study assesses the impact of the Taglit-Birthright Israel travel program for Jewish young adults on connections to Israel among parents of participants.
This three-paper dissertation utilizes a mixed-method approach, drawing on semistructured interviews as well as pre- and post-trip surveys of parents conducted between November 2013 and May 2014. The first paper describes the theoretical social network framework within which ripple effects operate and recommends methods to incorporate the measurement of ripple effects in program evaluation. The second paper utilizes a framework of emerging adulthood and focuses on the process of persuasion through which emerging adults influence the views of their parents. This paper concludes that changes in the parent attitudes appear to result from the persuasive efforts of their children. The last paper shows that, for Jewish parents, the primary impact of Taglit is on increased interest in visits to Israel and reduced concern about the safety of Israel travel. The effect of the program was most pronounced for parents who had never been to Israel themselves.
Policy implications of this research include findings specific to Taglit as well as to other programmatic interventions in education and public health. Evidence of ripple effects on secondary groups can lead to the design of programs to maximize and capture those effects. By ignoring these indirect effects, the actual effects of programs might be underestimated.
The Israel Literacy Measurement Project is an attempt to create a valid and reliable measure of knowledge of Israel. Beginning with the question, “what does it mean to be literate about Israel?” the team worked to establish assessment standards. Drawing on definitions of literacy in other social science disciplines and in consultation with subject experts, the research team developed a test bank of validated Israel-related questions. The question bank can be used with college-aged young adults to assess the extent and content of their Israel-related knowledge.
Taglit-Birthright Israel has brought hundreds of thousands of diaspora Jewish young adults on tours of Israel. Drawing on data from a large-scale program evaluation, we ask how the program affects participants’ feelings of homeland attachment and political views on contentious homeland issues. North Americans who traveled to Israel with Taglit between 2010 and 2012 were surveyed together with a comparison group of applicants to the program who did not participate. In multivariate analysis, Taglit sharply increases feelings of connection to Israel but has no effect on attitudes concerning the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The program modestly increases scores on a “favorability” scale and modestly increases opposition to a possible division of Jerusalem in a future peace deal. In contrast to Benedict Anderson’s theory of long-distance nationalism, the findings suggest that feelings of homeland connection can be fostered without triggering ethnonationalist attitudes associated with the political right.
By analyzing the constitutive role of tour guides narratives, this article addresses the recruitment of tourism as a means of forging transnational ties between diasporans and their ethnic homeland. Combining theoretical frameworks from linguistic anthropology and the sociology of tourism, it examines the narratives told to American Jewish youth at three graves at a military cemetery in Israel and analyzes the discursive, linguistic, and rhetorical strategies in the narratives, including stancetaking, reported speech, and pronominal usage. Attending to the growing phenomenon of diaspora homeland tourism, it analyzes how tour guide narratives about the past work as a form of social action in constituting present day transnational identifications.
The practices of American Jews relative to Israel seem increasingly to break with patterns established during the second half of the 20th century. Lobbying by American Jewish organizations on the political left and right increasingly competes with the consensus-oriented efforts of organizations such as AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (CPMAJO). Direct giving to Israeli civil society organizations has replaced the federations’ annual campaigns as the primary vehicle for diaspora philanthropy. The number of American Jewish teens and young adults visiting Israel has surged, but most are going with private tour companies under the auspices of Birthright Israel rather than programs of the North American denominations. Aliyah is up, but managed by Nefesh b’Nefesh, a private not-for-profit organization, rather than the Jewish Agency for Israel. In short, how American Jews relate to Israel is very much in flux.
This study argues that the mass mobilization model that organized American Jewish practices relative to Israel since the founding of state has declined, and a new direct engagement model has emerged alongside it. Increasingly American Jews relate to Israel directly, by advocating their own political views, funding favored causes, visiting frequently or living there part time, consuming Israeli news and entertainment, and expressing a distinctively "realistic" rather than idealistic orientation toward the Jewish state. Their new homeland practices have given rise to (and been encouraged by) a new set of organizations that operate privately, beyond the orbit of the semi-public agencies of the established American Jewish polity.
Pomson, Alex and Howard Deitcher. "Day School Israel Education in the Age of Birthright." Journal of Jewish Education 76,1 (2010): 52-73.
What are North American Jewish day schools doing when they engage in Israel education, what shapes their practices, and to what ends? In this article, we report on a multi-method study inspired by these questions. Our account is organized around an analytical model that helps distinguish between what we call the vehicles, intensifiers, and conditions of day school Israel education. Our discussion explores the possibility that when it comes to Israel education, schools have shifted from a paradigm of instruction to one of enculturation. This shift, we suggest, is indicative of a generalized anxiety about students’ commitments to Israel and about their capacity to advocate for Israel when they “come of age” at university.