According to the Pew study, 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’s mission is to create a vibrant Jewish future for an entire generation of Jews of FSU Jews in North America, by inspiring young Jews to:
RAJE’s Comprehensive Strategy:
- To focus on the millennial age group of 18 – 30 year olds, an age when most important decisions regarding future identity and affiliation are made, and which hence can be seen as an hour glass shaping the future generation.
- To provide these millennials with a comprehensive 6 – 18 month Jewish educational and social bonding experience we call The RAJE Fellowship and Israel Trip program.
- To provide support for RAJE Fellowship alumni in their integration into the local framework of Jewish communal organizations.
- To facilitate the development of RAJE Fellowship alumni based Jewish communal institutions such as; Jewish life centers, synagogues, community service organizations, professional networks and Israel advocacy groups (but only where existing Jewish communal infrastructure is insufficient to care for the needs of RAJE alumni).
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.
The RAJE program 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.
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:
- 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.
RINA STUDY IN THE PRESS:
‘Can a Jewish Demographer Find a Reason To Smile?’ – eJewish Philanthropy
Reversing The Tide of Assimilation: Study Shows Success of RAJE in Reducing Intermarriage to 6% – The Jewish Link Magazine of Southern California
Her education through RAJE empowered Anna to devote her life to assisting the Jewish community. “I believe in the Jewish cause. I know what it feels like to feel alienated, not to know your place in the world. Judaism should be about embracing every Jew. It’s not about where you come from, it’s about where you’re going. We should all love each other and help each other grow in whichever way we can.”
Misha’s journey began when his family immigrated to the United States from Ukraine in 1995. It wasn’t until many years later that Misha had the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of his Jewish identity. “it was my good fortune to be introduced to RAJE.” He jokes, “I heard there were a lot of single girls at RAJE and a lot of free food.” He found “a path to the deep and the real learning of what Judaism has to offer.”
Regina wasn’t really connected to any Jewish life or Jewish organization in 2009. She didn’t feel very comfortable in those environments. “It was just not my scene.” After Regina discovered RAJE, she immediately saw the changes in her life. “Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov and Rabbi Dovid Goldshteyn put life in a different perspective; I started thinking in terms of community.
Ken grew up with two secular parents and a religious brother. He tried yeshiva at a young age but “it was not for me.” He maintained a loose affiliation with Judaism until he joined the Marines. “In Brooklyn you don’t focus on who you are. My Marine Corps experience made me appreciate the need to strengthen my Jewish identity.”
“My parents associated Judaism with danger,” says Biana. Therefore, as she was growing up, we had “absolutely no affiliation with Judaism.” It wasn’t until she came to college that Biana started having questions about her identity: “I had questions about what it meant to be Jewish, because I didn’t come from a home that had the answers.” She was searching to “learn more about my Jewish self and figure out what being Jewish meant to me.”
Growing up in communist Russia, David had very little knowledge of his Jewish heritage. “I didn’t even know what Rosh Hashanah was called. We just called it the Jewish New Year.” When David heard about RAJE, he jumped at the opportunity to learn more about Jewish subjects that had always interested him but which he was never given the opportunity to study. After the first session, he was hooked. For the first time, David found himself and his peers actively engaging with Judaism.