A groundbreaking study of Chabad’s work on American college campuses nationwide was published this week, and concluded that the impact that Shluchim and Shluchos leave on their students is quite significant.
The research, performed independently of Chabad, 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.
Almost 90 percent of participants of Chabad on Campus do not come from Orthodox homes. 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 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 their Shliach or Shlucha 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.
“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 producing results for a study is not necessarily the motivation of Chabad on Campus, seeing the results and the hard data regarding the impact we’ve always believed we were having is gratifying,” said Rabbi Yossy Gordon, the Executive Vice President of Chabad on Campus International. “I was pleased to see that the authors of the study also spent time learning about the underlying philosophy and goals of the Rebbe, which were to welcome and befriend each and every student regardless of their background or level of observance. Chabad on Campus is there to create real and lasting relationships with students and to help each student according to his or her own needs. The Rebbe’s accepting and kind philosophy lies at the core of that work and, as the study shows, is the real key to the Shluchim’s success.”
The full, 125-page study can be accessed here.