Judaism has faced a lot of challenges throughout the years. Toward the end of the 18th century, for example, assimilation skyrocketed following the Jewish emancipation in Western Europe. The Jews aimed to better integrate into non-Jewish society, but it was also because there was no state where they could actualize their national and religious Jewish identity.
Today, this issue still poses a challenge: Traditional, religious faith is waning, mixed marriage is climbing and other disconcerting phenomena are gaining speed.
Earlier this month, a Pew poll revealed that 58% of American Jews who got married since 2005 had a non-Jewish spouse. If you remove the Orthodox Jews from the equation, the assimilation figures are far higher, reaching 71%. We would be wise to apply our minds to these alarming figures, because the future of the Jewish people is vital to the continued existence of the State of Israel and to the continued existence of Jewish communities around the world.
As someone who is closely familiar with the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, I can attest that there is a proven solution to the problem of assimilation: Connecting to Jewish roots and to Israel. The Taglit-Birthright program was established to combat assimilation among young Jews in the Diaspora and to bolster the ties between young Jews and the State of Israel. Today, after 13 years of successful operation of the program, the results speak for themselves: 73% of young Jews who participated in the program marry Jewish spouses. The reason for this incredible figure is the fact that the experience prompts participants to reconnect with the Jewish heritage and to seek a Jewish lifestyle.
Over the course of the last decade, the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University conducted a series of studies on the impact of the Taglit-Birthright Israel experience on its alumni. The studies focused on the choices made by Taglit alumni as they grew older, got married and had families. These life events are seen as central indicators for individuals' commitment to remaining a part of the Jewish collective. The studies found that there was a significantly higher likelihood (45%) that Taglit alumni -- who underwent an experience that connected them to their Jewish roots -- would marry a Jewish spouse, as opposed to Jews who did not participate in the program.
Looking to the future, the greatest challenge currently facing the Jewish people is the ability to preserve, develop and improve the Jewish identity, especially in a universal environment. We all have to be a part of advancing the Jewish identity in the Diaspora and bolstering Diaspora Jews' connection with Israel. We have to promote closeness and belonging among all the Jewish people and especially among the future generations.
The Taglit-Birthright project has so far touched the lives of more than 350,000 young Jews from 60 countries around the world, who got to experience a ten-day tour of Israel, closely accompanied by Israeli youth (mainly Israel Defense Forces soldiers). Our shared vision is to prevent the assimilation of Jews and to build a bridge connecting the Diaspora to Israel. The power of the Taglit-Birthright program, and its impact on young Jews, are an honor for the State of Israel.