Study: March of the Living participation boosts Jewish, Zionist identity

Participants in the program, typically high school students, walk the 3-kilometer path from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day before touring the Nazi death factory.

January 29, 2016 01:53
2 minute read.
march of the living

A PARTICIPANT in a previous March of the Living walks along the railway spur leading into Birkenau. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A study sponsored by an organization that brings young people on tours of the Nazi death camps in Poland has found that its Jewish participants have higher levels of identification with Israel and are more likely to value marrying Jews than the general Jewish population.

Conducted by sociologist William Helmreich of the City University of New York, the study was conducted on behalf of March of the Living, which brings 10,000 to 20,000 students to Auschwitz and Israel every year.

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Participants in the program, typically high school students, walk the three-kilometer path from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day before touring the Nazi death factory.

Participants frequently follow up their experience in Poland with a trip to Israel to celebrate Independence Day.

Around half of participants surveyed stated that they have subsequently visited Israel, while 94 percent of those who went on the program a decade ago have since come here.

Helmreich also found that half of respondents have stated that they would consider immigrating here and 86 percent have said that it is “critical” that their spouse be Jewish.

According to a landmark study of Jewish Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013, “intermarriage rates seem to have risen substantially over the last five decades” and “among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly six-in-ten have a non-Jewish spouse.”

Around 90 percent of respondents have also stated that their participation had strengthened their Jewish identity and that they have a heightened awareness of anti-Semitism as a result.

“What’s most remarkable about the March is how deeply it impacts participants over a period of many years. These include life choices like selecting a mate, moving to Israel, and career choices. In addition, it greatly impacts not only on Jewish identity but also on compassion toward other people as well,” Helmreich commented.

Programs such as March of the Living and Birthright are generally positively viewed by Jewish establishment organizations, which have struggled in recent years to create follow-up programs to capitalize on the resultant gains in communal affiliation that many believe they generate.

A study conducted during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge by Brandeis University researcher Dr. Leonard Saxe found that former participants in Taglit-Birthright trips were more likely to support Israel’s actions in Gaza than most young Americans.

“We are very pleased with the results of this study” said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of The International March of the Living.

“To think that the march is such a successful program in terms of ensuring and enhancing Jewish identity and in making people realize the importance of engaging as a Jew within their communities and caring for those outside of them, truly illustrates the goals that we had when initially forming the first March so many years ago. The International March of the Living looks forward to the next generation of participants and instilling in them these same values.”

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