Groundbreaking research reveals broad & lasting impact on Jewish students’ lives
Historic Study Reveals Wide Demographic Reach of Chabad-Lubavitch on more than 200 U.S. Campuses
Data Sheds Light on Impact of Chabad on Campus
A groundbreaking study of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s work on American college campuses nationwide published this week found that almost 90 percent of participants at the Chassidic-run Jewish student centers do not come from Orthodox homes.
The pivotal independent investigation further revealed surprisingly high levels of lasting post-college Jewish engagement following students’ involvement with Chabad on campus, in such critical life-choices such as dating and marrying Jews, broad communal involvement and volunteering, celebration of Jewish holidays, attachment to Israel, belief in G‑d, participation in Jewish learning, donating to Jewish causes, and even synagogue dues.
Overall, a student raised Reform who becomes active with Chabad on campus will see his or her post-college Jewish engagement more than double compared to a peer who does not participate in Chabad at college. (In the study’s mathematical terminology, the measure of difference is 113 percent or 2.13 times greater for students raised Reform; it is 107 percent for those raised with no affiliation, and 63 percent for those raised Conservative.)
The Hertog Study of Chabad on Campus marks the first time independent researchers have systematically examined Chabad’s transformative impact on students during and after their college years. Commissioned and funded by the Hertog Foundation in New York, the research was conducted by noted social scientists Dr. Mark I. Rosen and Dr. Steven M. Cohen, along with Ariella Levites and Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz.
Over a period of three years, they analyzed survey data from more than 2,400 alumni under the age of 30 and conducted extensive in-person interviews with students, parents, faculty, university officials, and local Chabad and Hillel leaders from 22 schools.
The scholars, who have studied the Jewish community for decades, gauged Chabad’s post-college impact according to 18 different measures of Jewish engagement, and carefully investigated the means and methods that produce this engagement.
The data indicates that “students’ involvement with Chabad on campus has a very strong impact on their Jewish lives after college,” states Rosen, the lead author of the study. “The impact is across the board, and is actually strongest for those who were raised Reform or unaffiliated.”
From Arizona State to Harvard and Yale, campus Chabad centers have sprung up at nearly every American institution of higher education with Jewish students. The Chabad centers are directed by husband-and-wife teams who by appearance stand out among the college crowd—the rabbi sporting a beard, his spouse and co-director modestly dressed, both with young children in tow. This difference in appearance alone, not to mention their “Orthodox beliefs and practices” and how they “strictly adhere to Jewish Law,” has led some observers to ask how Chabad has been able to successfully attract modern Jewish students coming from such varied backgrounds.
Yet, the researchers discovered what they describe as Chabad’s “complete acceptance” of students, and how they “do not consider students who do not follow [Jewish] practices to be any less Jewish [than they are], and they do not impose these practices upon them.”
According to Cohen, a seasoned researcher who has been studying the Jewish community for decades and is director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University, the study is a pivotal one: “In the context of American Jewry’s legitimate concern for its Jewish future, this is a vital study that’s coming at the right time.”
Some key findings:
- The vast majority of students (88%) that Chabad attracts are not Orthodox.
- Students who statistically gain most from Chabad are those raised Reform or with no denominational affiliation.
- Chabad participation during college was revealed to have a statistically significant effect upon the all study’s 18 measures of post-college Jewish engagement for those raised Reform or Conservative, and 16 out of 18 for those with no denominational affiliation.
- Three out of five respondents (60%) in the high participation category had contact with the Chabad rabbi or rebbetzin in the past 12 months, many even seven years later.
- Sixteen percent of the respondents were married, a percentage in keeping with Jewish demographic data, which indicates that most Jews do not marry until after the age of 30. Of those raised Orthodox who were married, 97 percent married someone Jewish. Among those raised Conservative the figure was 86 percent, and Reform 66 percent. Among those raised with no denomination, the percentage who married someone Jewish was 78 percent. These percentages are much higher than the general Jewish population ages 21-29.
- Chabad’s impact on college students can be felt across the Jewish denominational spectrum, in matters such as increased attendance at religious services, a desire to date other Jews, communal involvement, synagogue membership dues and an emotional attachment to Israel.
The study makes for a rich read into the modus operandi of Chabad on campus and is important for any individual or organization involved in any way with Jewish education, continuity, and the community at large.
Researchers also found a series of traits and behaviors, including intellectual and spiritual depth, authenticity, modeling a strong personal example while demonstrating a flexible, personalized approach to each student converge to form a deeply resonant experience for the student—one that has a powerful and long-lasting impact on his or her life.
“There are many external things—great food, warmly greeting people—that are practiced elsewhere, too,” explains Rosen. “But there’s a lot that Chabad does that is not easily replicated: The dedication, devotion and commitment of the rabbis and rebbetzins in both their work and personal lives. The way their entire family is involved. The Talmudic wisdom. The Chassidic teachings. The teachings of the Rebbe. Can you take a few ingredients and apply them? Sure. But can you bake a cake without all of the ingredients?”
“While studies aren’t our motivation, it’s gratifying to see the results and the hard data regarding the impact we’ve always believed we’re having,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, Vice President, Chabad on Campus International. “It is gratifying that the authors spent time not only crunching the numbers but also in digging fairly deeply into the underlying philosophy and goals of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to welcome and befriend each and every student regardless of their background or level of observance, which lies at the core of our work and which the study shows is the real key to our success. We’re here to make real and lasting relationships with our student and help each student according to his or her own needs.”
The 125-page study can be accessed at http://bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=22580, and some highlighted excerpts can be seen here http://chabad.edu/media/pdf/980/QWAW9806138.pdf, and here http://chabad.edu/media/pdf/980/psUG9806137.pdf (extended).