The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has released the executive summary of a study it commissioned on the socioeconomics, public health and demographics of Jews living in Greater Philadelphia.
The key findings were formally announced at a press conference at the Independence Visitor Center this week. The data was presented by Jewish Federation staff and lay leaders, and local representatives from the Jewish community, including author Jennifer Weiner and City Councilman Allan Domb, spoke about their connections to Philadelphia’s Jewish communities.
According to “Community Portrait: A 2019 Jewish Population Study,” there are an estimated 351,200 Jews living in Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery and Chester counties. That marks a 66% increase from a previous study done in 2009 — sort of. Overall population growth, along with a slightly broader definition of being Jewish, contributed to the sharp increase.
At the press conference, Jewish Federation Board Chair Susanna Lachs Adler spoke of how the study’s results will affect local nonprofits, including the Jewish Federation itself.
“We now have the concrete data that will help us retool, rethink the way we allocate resources, the way we raise money, the way we grant and the way we structure ourselves for the 2020 decade ahead of us,” she said. “We will use the feedback to help continue to build an inclusive model Jewish community, one that embraces the growing number of interfaith families, and one that embraces the growing number of Jews of color.”
Westat, a Maryland-based research firm, was hired by the Jewish Federation to conduct the study. The firm mailed survey questionnaires to 79,496 addresses — some gleaned from Jewish organizations, others picked at random. It is the first study of a Jewish community in the United States to use address-based sampling, a difference from the 2009 community study, which relied on landlines.
Using landlines for a survey can be problematic, as many households have transitioned to cellphones or have phone numbers from other area codes Address-based sampling reaches more people, thus leading to a more accurate — and different — results.
About 58% of the population increase is believed to be attributable to the change in survey method, while about 3% derives from population growth and another 4% comes from the study’s broader definition of Judaism.
The study defined a Jewish household as one containing at least one adult who identifies as Jewish by religion, ethnicity, culture or heritage. Unlike in 2009, it also asked if the household contained any adults who had a Jewish parent or who participated in Jewish activities as a child but do not identify with any particular religion today. Researchers said that definition is more inclusive and allows for a more accurate reflection of the community.
In all, 2,119 Jewish households responded to the survey in English or Russian. In addition, 17 in-person focus groups were conducted between Jan. 28 and July 16, 2019. The focus groups allowed researchers to compile qualitative data to supplement the other material and to delve deeper into subset communities, like Israelis, Russian speakers, older adults, college students and more.
The study results show that the Philadelphia area is home to the United States’ third-largest Jewish community, after New York City and Los Angeles. However, cities including New York and Chicago have yet to release their own population studies, which will also use the new research method, so that ranking may change.
In the five-county area, Jews account for 9% of the entire population.
As for denominations, 26% of Jewish households that responded are Reform, 26% are Conservative, 8% are Orthodox, 6% are Reconstructionist, 1% are Renewal and 6% described themselves as “other.” Some respondents identified as multiple denominations and 43% didn’t identify with any denomination — a threefold increase from 2009.
About 10% of the Jews in Greater Philadelphia are Jews of color, meaning they identify as Hispanic, black, Asian or other nonwhite races.
In terms of sexual orientation, 4% identified as lesbian or gay, with another 5% identifying as bisexual or other.
The study was organized by a lay leadership committee co-chaired by Adam and Sara Laver. At the press conference, Adam Laver spoke about the importance of carrying
out such studies.
“By gaining an understanding of the nuances of our communities, we will be able to tackle issues such as food insecurity, emergency services and educational needs in a much more informed manner,” Laver said. “Quite simply, the information in this study can save lives.”
About 6% of Jewish households are at or below 100% of the federal poverty level, with that number jumping to 20% for Jews of color and 22% for those from Russia or the former Soviet Union.
The study indicated that 5% of Jewish seniors and 10% of Jewish families with children live in poverty. Also, 11% of the region’s Jews ages 18-64 do not have health insurance. About 47% of Jewish marriages are interfaith, an increase from 28% in 2009, which was believed to be an underestimate.
Other findings include:
- 24% of Jewish households have synagogue membership, down from 35% in 2009.
- 74% of Jewish adults reported having heard anti-Semitic or anti-Israel comments in Greater Philadelphia
- 40% are in favor of a two-state solution.
At the press conference, Councilman Domb said he looked forward to putting the study’s findings into action to improve the local Jewish community, a thought echoed by state Rep. Jared Solomon.
“What I would say is the importance of the work is that what Allan and I need is collective data, otherwise we’re flying blind,” Solomon said. “So this is just critical work in getting the data set that will best inform the work that we do in communities every day.”
The Jewish Federation plans to host a series of community meetings to further disseminate the study’s findings.
Town Halls are scheduled for March 12 at 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community Services Building at 2100 Arch St. Other meetings are scheduled for community centers and synagogues throughout the region.
More information can be found at JewishPhilly.org/populationstudy.
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