Spending a year in Israel with the British Jewish youth movement the Federation of Zionist Youth significantly reduces assimilation and highly strengthens commitment to the State of Israel, according to a first-of-its-kind study to be published next month for the organization’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

Obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, the study included an online survey questioning some 400 graduates of the year in Israel program between the years 1987/88 and 2006/7. The survey group makes up a little more than 50 percent of all former FZY Year Course participants from the past 20 years.

Ninety-six percent of married respondents said they had married Jews; 92% said Year Course had strengthened their commitment to Israel; 89% reported that Year Course strengthened their Jewish identity; and 88% said they were extremely or very attached to Israel.

“The marriage rate highlighted by this research is very significant and even surprising, considering that the most conservative estimate for intermarriage in the UK is 30%,” said Dr. Talya Greene, an experienced Jewish educator with a doctorate from Kings College London in Israeli military psychology, who carried out the study a year-and-a-half-ago. “With such a high percentage of intermarriage in Britain, for 96% of the married respondents to have married Jews is very significant.”

Greene, herself a former director of FZY’s rival youth movement, RSY-Netzer, said the fact these young people had spent a year involved in an ideological program with clear core values was a highly influential factor in their Jewish identity and commitment to Israel.

“It is more than just spending a year in Israel,” she said. “Anyone can come and spend a year in Israel, but it will not have the same impact. Exploring ideology, beliefs and values is what makes a person feel more committed.”

Greene said that perhaps the most interesting statistic from the study was that more than two-thirds of Year Course graduates had gone on to hold leadership positions within the British Jewish community.

“They are not only connected to Judaism and Israel but also to becoming Jewish leaders, motivating and inspiring others,” she said.

Sixty-seven percent of the respondents said they had held a leadership position within the Jewish community; 60% said they had donated money mostly or exclusively to Jewish charities and 58% had engaged in Jewish volunteer work in the previous year.

In addition, 82% of those questions had attended at least one Jewish community event in the previous year and 41% said they’d met their spouse through FZY or FZY connections.

“This is the first time any British Jewish youth movement has looked into the impact of their long-term Israel programs on Jewish continuity,” FZY’s Israel Director Michael Freeman told the Post. He added that since the late ’80s the number of Year Course participants has increased dramatically, from 20 to about 120 people last year.

This year, however, due to the economic crisis in Britain, the number of participant fell to 53, said Freemen, adding that requests for financial assistance to pay for the £11,500 program now came from 50% of applicants.

The Federation of Zionist Youth was founded in 1910 as a pluralist Zionist youth movement and its Year Course program was started 30 years ago in conjunction with the US youth movement Young Judaea. For the past decade FZY has been the largest Zionist youth movement in Britain, touching more than 2,000 young British Jews through its weekly regional meetings, seminars, summer camps, Israel tours and Year Course.

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