by Kara A. Kaufman, Moment Magazine
A landmark study of Jewish life released today reveals the deep and sometimes surprising changes the Jewish community has undergone over the past decade. The study, conducted by the UJA-Federation of New York and based on nearly 6,000 interviews in eight counties in New York, is the largest North American Jewish community study to date. The data help us better understand the contours of who we are as modern Jews in America, challenging popular stereotypes and pointing out the connections between trends within the Jewish world and those within broader American life.
The report illustrates several clear developments over the past decade. First, the size of the New York Jewish population has been growing over the past nine years, reaching 1.5 million in 2011. The study’s authors ascribe this rise to three primary factors: A rise in birth rates; increasing longevity (two factors that contribute to a ballooning of both young and old populations); and more fluid boundaries within the Jewish community. The number of people identifying as “Jewish” includes people of a wide spectrum of beliefs and backgrounds, including 12 percent of participants who self-identified as “partially Jewish.” Immigration, a driving force in population increases in the past, was not a prominent factor in the observed rise of the past decade.
Second, the report illustrates that New York’s Jewish community is increasingly diverse. People vary in their self-reported religious affinity, Jewish engagement, gender, race, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. Five percent of study respondents live in an LGBT household (one in which at least one member identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender). Twelve percent of Jewish households surveyed are biracial or non-white. Fourteen percent of households in the study are Russian-speaking (most of whom live in city centers rather than the suburbs). These statistics paint the picture of an increasingly diverse Jewish family, in which parents may marry interracially, adopt non-white children and/or convert to Judaism from other religions.
Within New York’s Jewish world, nuanced sub-populations are growing. For instance, the Orthodox population, which some may consider homogeneous, is far from monolithic. Respondents self-identified with sub-groups such as Modern, Hasidic, Yeshivish, Haredi, Chabad and Lubavitch. While the striking diversity of New York is not representative of the entire United States, these statistics nonetheless suggest that Jews in America are individualizing the Jewish experience.
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