Study Provides New Data About Jews of Color


New data released from “Jews of Color Community Portrait: A 2019 Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia” reveals high levels of socioeconomic inequality in the area, as well as cultural differences between Jews of color and white, non-Hispanic Jews.

The study was part of “Community Portrait: A 2019 Jewish Population Study,” the larger 2019 Jewish community demographics study commissioned by Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia from the Maryland-based research firm Westat. 

The study defined a Jew of color as “any Jewish individual who identified themselves as Hispanic or any other non-white racial identity.” According to the results, there are approximately 36,300 Jews of color in the Greater Philadelphia region — about 10% of the Jewish population here — living in 18,400 households.

The last time Jewish Federation conducted a study on Jewish demographics was in 2009, when the results revealed approximately 5% of the Jewish community identified as Jews of color.

Jewish Federation Director of Strategy and Impact Kelly Romirowsky said the recent community portrait was more comprehensive and used questions and methodology similar to the American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau. It is the first study of a Jewish community in the United States to use address-based sampling rather than landlines. 

The study found households that include a Jew of color are significantly more likely to be making under $50,000 per year than households that consist only of white, non-Hispanic Jews (54% versus 21%). Households that include a Jew of color are nearly four times as likely to be living in poverty (46% versus 12%).

Fifty-four percent of households with Jews of color made under $50,000 per year. Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

Twenty-nine percent of households with a Jew of color are receiving some form of public benefits, including Supplemental Security Income Program or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, versus 13% of households that do not include a Jew of color.

Households with a Jew of color are also more than four times as likely to be at risk for food insecurity (41% versus 9%) and twice as likely to be without health insurance than households without a Jew of color (16% versus 8%). 

The study addressed Jewish identity and engagement and found that Jews of color are significantly less likely to identify as Jewish by religion (41% versus 69%). However, they are nearly twice as likely to identify as Jewish by culture, ethnicity or heritage (56% versus 27%).

Results showed that Jews of color also tend to engage with Judaism and Jewish community differently than white, non-Hispanic Jews.

“What we found is that there are some engagements that households with Jews of color are more likely to participate in than white non-Hispanic households. So they’re more likely to participate in non traditional activity, like a Shabbat hike or Jewish meditation, and they’re more likely to participate in prayer or attend a class or lecture, but they’re less likely than white non Hispanic households to participate in ritual-like activity,” said Lindsay Weicher, manager of data analytics at Jewish Federation. “Ritual-like” activities included lighting Chanukah candles or attending a High Holidays service.

Jews of color were just as likely to participate in synagogue programming as white, non-Hispanic Jews, but were less likely to do so as members. Fifty-six percent of households with a Jew of color are not connected to a synagogue.

Jared Jackson, executive director of Jews in ALL Hues, an education and advocacy organization that supports multiple-heritage Jews and Jews of color, said racism is often a barrier to synagogue engagement for Jews of color. They may face implications that they are somehow not “real” Jews because they are not of white Ashkenazi heritage. Another common issue is feeling pressured to choose between their Jewish and racial identities in certain political contexts.

“It shouldn’t be a cost of being a part of a community to take racism from people,” he said, especially in a space where people are seeking spiritual fulfillment.

In terms of affiliation, Jews of color were most likely to identify as unaffiliated (51%) or Orthodox (22%). Jackson said this data aligned with his own observations.

“I would say probably a good fifth of the Jews of color that I know are Orthodox in some way, shape or form,” he said. “A lot of them lean towards Sephardim because there are certain Sephardi communities that are more accepting of Jewish people of color.”

Data shows a large percentage of Jews of color are unaffiliated. Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia

He also said there are many Jews of color who are not affiliated with any movement whatsoever, or who say they are Reform, if asked, to avoid scrutiny.

The study also showed that households with Jews of color tend to prefer to use Jewish agencies for social services across all areas, including food, housing, senior care and child care, compared to white non-Hispanic Jews.

Romirowsky said Jewish Federation plans to use the study’s findings to inform grant writing, investments and proposals for creating inclusive community programming and social services.

“We would like for our community agencies to make sure that any services they provide, whether it be social services or Jewish engagement or education, are inclusive, and, if need be, that they are doing specific outreach in some cases to Jews of color communities,” she said. 

She said the findings could be used to create culturally sensitive outreach — publicizing a program through channels other than synagogues, for example. 

Her department plans to continue to conduct smaller follow-up studies and focus groups in areas that they believe need further explanations. They plan to commission more studies depending on what they can accomplish with in-house staff. 

“The plan is not to wait 10 years for another big study, because the world is changing too fast now,” she said. 

Jackson said the results, particularly those revealing income inequality and need for social services, showed the huge amount of work that needs to be done to provide better economic and engagement opportunities for Jews of color.

“Having a multiracial community is not a given. It has to be earned at every turn,” he said. “We need to invest in a multiracial future and a multiracial present that integrates and honors people.”

“We’re growing as a multiracial religious and cultural community, and that’s a beautiful thing,” he added.; 215-832-0729


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