Research Institute for New Americans (RINA)
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Reducing Intermarriage To 6%, Can It Be Done? - Research Institute for New Americans (RINA) Publishes Groundbreaking Study on Strengthening Jewish Identity Among Russian Speaking Jewish Youth
New York, NY: The Research Institute for New Americans (RINA), led by Dr. Sam Kliger, published a groundbreaking study on the effectiveness of the RAJE program model in strengthening Jewish identity and reducing intermarriage among Russian speaking Jewish youth in New York and Philadelphia. The RINA study findings were first made public with a front page article in The Jewish Week, on Wednesday, January 7th 2015. The article was written by Gary Rosenblatt, the Editor and Publisher of the newspaper and titled; ‘Young Russians Seen Edging Closer To Community - New study shows high Jewish identity among grads of RAJE program; in-marriage rate 94 percent’.
According to the Pew study and the RINA institute, there are approximately 750,000 Jews from the Former Soviet Union and their children, who live in North America. Due to 70 years of systematic communist repression of Jewish education and communal life, this group represents the largest unaffiliated Jewish community of its type and hence its Jewish future is of great importance in shaping the next generation of Jewish life in North America. RAJE was founded in 2006 with the goal of finding a systematic and comprehensive approach of ensuring a Jewish future for this vital community.
To achieve its mission, RAJE developed a unique system of community wide change, known as the RAJE Fellowship program. This program focuses on the millennial age group of 18 –30 year olds. This is a pivotal age when most important decisions regarding future identity and affiliation are made, and hence, can be seen as an hour glass shaping the future generation. The RAJE Fellowship program consists of ten, 4.5 hour sessions, 2 weekend retreats, as well as other social, educational and community building activities outside formal program hours, culminating in a two week educational trip to Israel. A total of 250 hours of highly impactful and transformative programming - a higher level of deep level engagement than any program of its type within the Jewish community. Since 2006, 3260 participants, or over 11% of all 18 –30 year old Jews of Russian-speaking background in New York and Philadelphia have completed the RAJE Fellowship program. With hundreds completing the program each year, it has become a rite of passage for Russian Jews in these cities.
To examine the long-term effects of the RAJE fellowship program on participants’ Jewish identities and on their engagement with Israel, RAJE commissioned the Research Institute for New Americans (RINA), led by Dr. Sam Kliger, to conduct a study of RAJE program alumni, who participated in the program between October 2006 and December 2011.
The specific goal of the study was to measure the impact of RAJE programing on four basic areas of Jewish identity and peoplehood affiliation, which the RAJE program set out to impact.
Two years or more after completing the RAJE program, were participants more likely to:
- Establish a Jewish household?
- Affiliate with and be involved in the life of the Jewish community?
- Fulfill their spiritual needs through the study and practice of Judaism?
- Develop a strong connection to the State of Israel?
Executive Summary of the RINA study findings:
RAJE attracts participants with less formal Jewish education then US based Taglit-Birthright Israel trip participants of Russian-speaking Jewish background. 68% of RAJE participants had no prior formal Jewish Education and attending the RAJE program was their first experience of Jewish learning, compared to 45% of Birthright participants of Russian-speaking Jewish background who had no prior formal Jewish Education. Formal Jewish education in this context could refer to as little as attending Sunday School for Bar/Bat Mitzvah preparation or trying out a local Jewish day school for a few months.
The RAJE program greatly impacted alumni choices in finding a Jewish marriage partner. Of the 35% of RAJE alumni who got married since completing the program, 94% married a Jewish spouse and of them, 52% report having met their spouse at the RAJE program. This translates into an incredibly low 6% intermarriage rate, a striking contrast to the prevailing trends in intermarriage prevalent in Jewish communities worldwide.
RAJE alumni are much more likely to give charity to Jewish organizations, to volunteer and to become active participants in Jewish communal life. Over the past year, 78% of RAJE alumni have made a charitable donation, with 82% of them choosing to donate funds to a wide range of Jewish organizations. This rate of charitable giving to Jewish organizations can be contrasted to the 27% of Birthright alumni, of all backgrounds, who reported making a charitable contribution to a Jewish organization over the past year. 35% of RAJE alumni report that they have volunteered for a Jewish organization over the past year. 73% of alumni report participating in activities sponsored by a Jewish organization.
RAJE alumni are much more likely than their peers to fulfill their spiritual needs through the study and practice of Judaism. Over the past year: 59% report attending a Jewish educational program or class, 82% report visiting Jewish websites, 52% report having read a Jewish book(s) and 85% report that they own Jewish book(s). 78% lit Hanukah candles and strikingly, 38% report having celebrated the holiday of Shavuot; a Jewish holiday which was practically unknown to almost all of the students prior to entering the RAJE program. Participation in Shabbat has become common among RAJE alumni with 74% reporting having attended Shabbat dinner in the past year. The enthusiasm among RAJE alumni for Jewish spiritual expression even translates into ritual observance, an area where stereotypically Jews of Russian-speaking background tend to fall far behind other American Jewish groups. While the rate of Shabbat observance is practically non-existent among students entering the RAJE program, when program alumni were asked if they observe Shabbat: 22% responded ‘Yes’. In all, 67% of RAJE program alumni consider observing Shabbat as being an important part of Jewish practice, a major shift in attitude for a community very much removed from any kind Jewish ritual observance.
In contrast to the growing alienation from Israel activism among many young American Jews, RAJE alumni report a high rate of participation in Israel advocacy activities and in taking the support for Israel strongly into account in their voting decisions. 38% reported having taken part in ‘a meeting, demonstration or other action in support of Israel’ over the past year. A striking 99% of RAJE alumni reported that they take Israel into account when voting for ‘a US Senatorial, Congressional or Presidential candidate.’
The RINA study demonstrates strong supporting evidence for the effectiveness of the RAJE program model in systematically strengthening the Jewish identity of a vital, at risk Jewish community. The 750,000 Jews of Russian background who reside in North America are highly concentrated in major metropolitan areas, where the RAJE program can be implemented and scaled to reach a majority of the target population. This represents a very unique opportunity to ensure a Jewish future for an entire generation of young Jews and a realistic solution to help stem the tide of assimilation in North America.
The Research Institute for New Americans (RINA), a founding organization of COJECO, is a widely respected independent research and analytical center. RINA was established with the goal of providing a deeper understanding of the social, demographic, identification, and integration processes of the FSU Jewish immigrant community in North America and Israel. Studies conducted by RINA include two major surveys for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a comprehensive study of the FSU community for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and studies commissioned by COJECO. RINA’s work in political polling, includes commissions by the US government to conduct exit polling both in the US and Israel in partnership with Michigan State University. RINA’s research on new immigrants has been featured in a New York Times front page article and in other major media outlets.
RINA’s team: Dr. Sam Kliger, Kristina Shmatok, RINA’s program coordinator, and Ketevan Chkhikvadze, RINA’s program coordinator. The RAJE study was partially sponsored by RINA’s board of directors, by private donors, including Dr. Igor Talis, and by COJECO, of which RINA is a member of organization and beneficiary. RINA expresses deep gratitude to all individuals and organizations that supported the study. Dr. Sam Kliger serves as the Director of Russian Jewish Communal Affairs at the American Jewish Committee (AJC). An interview regarding the study, with Dr. Sam Kliger, titled ‘Can a Jewish Demographer Find a Reason To Smile?’, was published by eJewish Philanthropy, on January 14th.
Click Here To Download The Presentation Version of The Study and Background Information About RAJE
Click Here To Download The Full Study
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