Pew Survey on Jewish Identity

Birthright Israel, a program that since 1999 has brought more than 800,000 young Jewish adults on a ten-day trip to Israel to introduce them to the country’s ancient roots and modern wonders, significantly strengthens American Jewish young adults’ connection to Israel and commitment to leading Jewishly engaged lives. This finding was based on recent analyses of the Pew Research Center’s survey of nearly 5,000 American Jews conducted from late 2019 through mid-2020 and released last year.


Pew’s survey included questions about Jewish identity, religious observance, cultural involvement, connections and attitudes toward Israel, perceptions of anti-Semitism and political leanings. Prof. Leonard Saxe, the director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and his team analyzed the raw data made available by the Pew Center. The findings, to appear in the academic journal Contemporary Jewry demonstrate that, compared to younger adult respondents with similar Jewish backgrounds who did not visit Israel, Birthright participants were:


• 85% more likely to be “somewhat/very” attached to Israel (63%, compared to 34%)

• 54% more likely to feel a “great deal” of belonging to the Jewish people (40%, compared to 26%)

• 58% more likely to feel “a lot” in common with Israeli Jews (71%, compared to 45%)

• 160% more likely to have a spouse who is Jewish (39%, compared to 15%)

• 45% more likely to have attended a Seder the previous Passover (77%, compared to 53%)

• 53% more likely to have donated to a Jewish charity (29%, compared to 19%)


“Pew’s 2020 survey of American Jews provides independent evidence of Birthright’s broad impact on the American Jewish community. This is the first time there is enough data from a national study of Jews, like the Pew survey, to evaluate the effects of a specific Jewish program like Birthright. The findings validate multiple evaluation studies of Birthright’s impact conducted over the past 20 years,” said Saxe. “They demonstrate that Birthright Israel creates meaningful changes in Jewish identity and engagement that are shaping the future of American Jewish life.”


Prof. Saxe and colleagues’ analyses of the Pew data estimated that among age eligible Jews (18-46 at the time of the survey), 25 percent of those who were not raised Orthodox have participated in Birthright. Many of the younger people in this group remain eligible to participate and many of the older individuals had only a narrow window during which they could have participated. Nearly 30% of Jewish parents with an adult child have a child who participated.


“Once again, we are getting confirmation that Birthright Israel is the most successful social Jewish venture and one of the programs with the greatest impact on the Jewish people’s future,” said Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark. “This study also indicates that Birthright has been shaping the face of the Jewish people for the past 20 years, with more than 800,000 participants, who in turn are part of extended families from around the world.”


According to Pew, 7.5 million Jews live in the United States, including 5.8 million adults of whom 2.6 million were part of the age eligible Birthright cohort. 


The Cohen Center at Brandeis University is the pre-eminent academic research center concerned with Jewish life. The Center’s mission is to apply rigorous social science theory and methods to enhance understanding of Jewish life through its of studies of socio-demography of the American Jewish population, as well as studies of Jewish identity, Jewish education, engagement with Israel and antisemitism. The Pew analyses were conducted by Leonard Saxe (Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies), working in collaboration with Center scholars Dr. Graham Wright and Shahar Hecht.