Are you kidding me?
We're supposed to believe this kind of "study" coming out of the Jewish community?
Communities Must Do More to Attract Birthright Alums, Sue Fishkoff's piece in today's JTA seems to inexplicably place the blame on other communities for not "attracting" (like bees to honey? like boys to girls? like steel to magnets?) Jews to Jewish life.
Here's the report: Tourists, Travelers and Citizens. Found at the Brandeis University Cohen Center website.
Let's take this argument apart.
How long did it take birthright, after it's founding, to create an official post-trip programming arm? I lost count after five years but I think the official answer is 7-8 years--on the national level for sure.
And in that time period--when I worked at Hillel at NYU, ran Brooklyn Jews, and as a congregational rabbi in what is known as an "attractive" neighborhood, I always got one answer and one answer alone when asking for lists of birthright alumni in our "attractive" area: NO.
Plain and simple: NO.
Various answers included that they were developing their own Alumni "Network," and were getting ready to roll out their own birthright NEXT program (apparently it's "attractive" to put some words in small case letters and other words in ALL CAPS. It makes things more "attractive" for the NEXT GENeration.
The thesis is flawed. The "organized" (and hey, I can tell you from the inside, it's NOT organized) Jewish community is boring and out of touch. Young people don't know it because they're not interested. Blah, blah, blah.
So we have to start all new initiatives to replace the bad, boring, broken stuff. We're what's NEXT. Get it?
Problem is, young people are savvier and they all don't appear in shiny studies paid for by academic departments that are underwritten by the philanthropists that create the "attractive" programs. It's a silly loop.
I have several birthright alumni in my weekly Basic Judaism class; one birthright alumna works here at CBE just after she got her BA from NYU; another birthright alum walked into our SYNAGOGUE today (she studies Library Science at the Pratt Institute) to interview for a gig to reconfigure our OLD SHUL LIBRARY and make it a robust learning center with some tweaking and reorganization.
You know what she told me, "I love OLD BOOKS!" I told her she was forbidden from liking anything more than 17 minutes old, unless it was 2000 years old and she saw it on a birthright trip!
We've never surveyed our attendees from the FREE Brooklyn Jews High Holy Days services but I bet we have a robust population of birthright participants there, too. You know how we found them? BY OURSELVES! Through NETWORKING and WORD OF MOUTH and PROGRAMMING that has INTEGRITY. We even raise MONEY from those attendees, teaching them the age old language of OBLIGATION, which in HEBREW is translated as MITZVAH.
Come on people: NEXT time you decide to issue one of these steamy press releases, send a preview copy to me so I can be better prepared with SPF 36 (that's double-chai to you, buster!) to protect myself from the bright lights and hot air headed in my direction.
From the trenches: Jews are made one at a time. Release the lists to those who know what they're doing and aren't afraid to say everything isn't for free.