LAHSA volunteers report low homelessness rate in San Fernando Valley

Tally sheets in hand and layered up against the weather — though they were instructed not to leave their vehicles — volunteers took to their cars and spread out into the night to seek out the homeless around Encino as part of the 2016 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count on Jan. 27. 

Their ranks included a pair of roommates in the real estate business who were looking to deepen their involvement in the community, a counselor who works with veterans at the West Los Angeles Medical Center, a UCLA economics professor collecting research data and several members of the Homelessness Task Force at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), which served as the evening’s home base — one of 150 around the area to host volunteers.

“My husband I are super sensitive to homeless people,” said Claudine BenArosh, an advocate for children of incarcerated parents. “When we learned about the count, I said I’d like to try it. I thought it would be a good way for me to really get involved in something bigger than just giving people change [when we’re] coming off of the freeway.” 

After training was completed at 9 p.m., 40 volunteers began searching the streets north and south of Ventura Boulevard between the 405 Freeway and Reseda Boulevard. Working in groups of three of four, they spent the next two hours cruising underneath freeway overpasses, and poking into the alleyways and parking lots along the mostly closed businesses along Ventura. 

Many volunteers returned to the Conservative synagogue without a sighting, only to be reminded by VBS officials and administrators from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) that “zero is an acceptable number.” Indeed, within certain areas of this affluent San Fernando Valley community, expectations among the volunteers of finding even a single person on the streets — much less small communities of tents — were low. The final tally for the 18 Encino census tracts covered by the volunteers was just over 50 people, according to count coordinators. 

“On the one hand, the volunteers were happy not to be seeing people on streets, but they wanted to make sure they did their job well and get accurate data,” said Shannan VerGow, regional coordinator of the San Fernando Valley area of LAHSA. “People were almost disappointed when they didn’t find homeless people. They wanted to make a difference. They know that collecting data translates to money for programs in an area of need.” 

Taking a census of the area’s homeless population is required for local homeless programs to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

Moshe Buchinsky, graduate vice chairman of the department of economics at UCLA, said he took part in the count because he will be part of a team that uses the data to help determine spending allocations and because he considers the effort a mitzvah.

“It’s kind of weird for me to be working on an issue involving the homeless, since I don’t really know what a homeless person is,” Buchinsky said. “I have never been homeless. I don’t know what it’s like.” 

Many of the volunteers were VBS members who have participated in past service or advocacy efforts that the temple makes on behalf of the homeless. Rabbi Noah Farkas has implemented several social service programs addressing homelessness, including feeding programs and an advocacy coalition. In working with other service organizations and Los Angeles District 3 County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Farkas helped author an affordable housing bill that was passed in late 2015.

“As we developed our working knowledge of issues related to the homeless, we felt like everyone was just telling us to do soup kitchens and help out, and we felt like that wasn’t enough,” said Farkas, who was appointed an LAHSA commissioner by Kuehl. “We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to continue bringing this issue in front of the eyes of our folks, and doing the count is a huge and deeply important part of this work.”

Census puts U.S. population at 320.09 million, up 0.7 percent from year-ago

The U.S. population is seen at 320.09 million people as of Jan. 1, up 0.73 percent from a year earlier, the Census Bureau said on Monday.

The Census Bureau said in a statement that the figure represents an increase of about 11.35 million people, or 3.67 percent, since the last population count on April 1, 2010.

“In January 2015, the U.S. is expected to experience a birth every eight seconds and one death every 12 seconds. Meanwhile, net international migration is expected to add one person to the U.S. population every 33 seconds,” the Census Bureau said.

It said the combination of births, deaths and net international migration would add at least one person to the U.S. population every 16 seconds.

The Census Bureau projected the world population on Jan. 1 at about 7.21 billion, a 1.08 percent increase from New Year's day in 2014. It estimated that about 4.3 births and 1.8 deaths will occur worldwide every second in January.

Making an Orthodox sense of an unorthodox census

The Pew survey, reported last week in major news outlets, inadvertently mischaracterizes Orthodox demographic trends quite dramatically and necessarily undercounts us significantly, for the same reason that other random-digit-dialing and surveying techniques do.  I previously have analyzed these statistical phenomena at such places as:

Two very brief examples:

1.  Prior generations — older people — who never really were Orthodox will tell pollsters, in all innocence, that they were Orthodox but later became Conservative or Reform, or that they were Orthodox but their children became less pious and perhaps intermarried.  Similarly, their children will so report about themselves and their parents.  That self-reporting advises fair-minded pollsters that Orthodox Jews have a reduced retention rate, marked by Orthodoxy’s presumed significant losses over a generation to non-Orthodoxy.  Pollsters therefore project “continued” Orthodox losses in the future based on those “past trends.”  However, a great number of non-Orthodox respondents who self-report to pollsters that they (or their parents) once were Orthodox in fact mischaracterize and erroneously denominate themselves.  They may have thought they were Orthodox because they affiliated with an Orthodox shul for a while or once had attended an Orthodox cheider.  But profoundly large numbers of self-reporters never lived a life that even remotely resembled Orthodoxy.  Maybe they went to an Orthodox shul for Yizkor, and maybe they had an Orthodox rabbi bury their deceased or went to the Orthodox shul’s bingo game or casino night.  But they never were Orthodox. 

I have learned and encountered this phenomenon repeatedly during the thirty years since I began practicing as a congregational rabbi. Individuals would meet me for pastoral counseling or to begin reciting kaddish to mark a parent’s passing, and they would describe their deceased parent as having been Orthodox.  As we would talk a bit more, I would learn that the parent’s kitchen had only one set of dishes, that the family never ate at kosher restaurants, that they never observed Shabbat, that the children never had heard of Shavuot or Shmini Atzeret or even a “Lulav and Etrog.”  Somehow, they had internalized self-reporting as Orthodox, even as their children, reared in decidedly non-Orthodox homes, grew to be non-Orthodox and even to intermarry.

As the years have moved on, a new — accurately denominated — Orthodox community has arisen, one defined by Orthodox education and self-awareness, inculcated in Orthodox practice and values at yeshiva day schools and at Orthodox summer camps, and in youth programs like NCSY, where I was a rabbinic advisor for a decade and where all four of my children participated actively.  Thus, those who now self-report to pollsters that they are “Orthodox” in fact are profoundly more likely to be Orthodox.  At the same time, increased advocacy and identification by Reform- and Conservative-Judaism institutional leaders has educated people who are not Orthodox that they are not, but rather are Reform-or-Conservative-denominated.  As their children have proceeded to intermarry, now at a rate well exceeding 50%, even as their birthrates have dropped dramatically and as their children have delayed marrying and starting families later than ever before, the demographic advance of the Orthodox community has become ubiquitous both here and in Israel. 

(Perhaps the last remnant of the innocently confused are those particular immigrants to America from South Africa and from other British Empire redoubts who innocently tell people that they are Orthodox even though they eat outright forbidden foods, observe nothing of Shabbat and the like — but do “affiliate Orthodox” and attend Orthodox on Yom Kippur, as an atavistic carryover from having grown in a society where Orthodoxy essentially was the only institution at hand.  Their children predictably show consistent signs of being profoundly non-Orthodox, and their intermarriage rates closely parallel those of their non-Orthodox peers. 

In sum, although a fair-minded pollster will interpret from self-reporting that Orthodoxy follows the same attrition trends as Reform and Conservativism, the more sophisticated observer better understands that Orthodox retention and replication rates in fact are dramatically higher.

2.  Intermarried non-Jews who convert outside of Orthodoxy often are eager or comfortable recounting their “Jew-by-Choice” journeys.  They often affiliate with temples that primarily service such populations.  By contrast, Orthodox converts are more discreet and less comfortable discussing their non-Orthodox origins, for a variety of reasons extraneous to the instant analysis.  Meanwhile, other Orthodox Jews adamantly refuse to accommodate census takers because their Orthodox teaching forbids them from allowing themselves to be counted.  (See, e.g., 2 Samuel 24.)  Other numerous Orthodox Jewish enclaves — in their tens of thousands — reared with xenophobic tendencies that inhere in their utmost demographic insularity, bear intense suspicion of “goyim” who phone them to ask about their Judaism, and they disproportionately refuse to engage their callers.  And then there are the obvious additional contributors to undercounting the Orthodox: Families with larger numbers of children, a demographic reality found more predominantly among Orthodox Jews, are less inclined to answer 30-or-more minutes of telephone questions.  Moreover, the best time to get someone willing to “sit on the phone” for 30-plus minutes is over the weekend, but Orthodox Jews are forbidden from taking phone calls for half of each weekend, and they find themselves needing to crunch into Sunday what they could not do secularly on Friday evening and night, and all-day Saturday.  Therefore, despite the best of professional intentions, Orthodox Jews are inherently undercounted in telephone-based polls that are premised on random-digit-dialing and other efforts to find and poll Jews by phone.

As a further striking reflection of the Pew survey’s clear misunderstanding of the Orthodox community and the survey’s failure to tabulate aspects of Orthodox demographics with precision, the poll “found” that (only) 76 percent of “ultra-Orthodox” Jews do not handle money on Shabbat.  (Pages 77-78) To the survey reporters, that number was striking for how large a number of Orthodox Jews do not handle money on Shabbat, but informed observers of the community immediately recognize that the survey number clearly is flawed, whether in the tabulating, the interviewing, or the wording of the underlying question.  There are exceptions to every rule and among individuals within every community, but the reported statistic that one in four “ultra-Orthodox” Jews handles money on the Shabbat is beyond any definition of professional failure.

My interest in the subject of how Jewish surveys dramatically undercount the Orthodox and underestimate future Orthodox demographic trends started 25 years ago when the Jewish Federation sponsored a census in Los Angeles, emerging with projected numbers and trends paralleling last week’s reported Pew numbers and trends.  I was fascinated: the pollsters reported finding that Orthodoxy was not reproducing in Los Angeles and that Orthodox percentages among Jewish Angelenos had remained stangnant over ten years, but my eyes saw something so very different:  Virtually every Orthodox shul and yeshiva day school throughout all of Los Angeles — virtually without exception — had conducted its own respective major expansion during the prior ten years.  Beth Jacob of Beverly Hills, Young Israel of Century City, Shaarey Zedek in Valley Village, Emek Hebrew Academy, Yavneh, Maimonides, Hillel Hebrew Academy, Beit Hamidrash of Woodland Hills (where I then was rabbi, and where we had grown from 9 families to more than 60 families in under than three years, also launching the West Valley Hebrew Academy yeshiva day school with seventy children by its third year).  Virtually none had reduced or closed, while lots more yeshivot and synagogues had opened: Shalhevet yeshiva high school, Maimonides Day School, Ohr Eliyahu in Culver City, the Streisand School in Venice.   Kosher pizza stores had doubled or tripled, and kosher pizza stores do not lie. (A line that I should have copyrighted.)  Likewise, kosher restaurants nearly had tripled.  So I returned to immerse myself in the poll’s internal methodologies, while thinking about the challenges facing fair-minded pollsters who are not intimately conversant with the quirks of Orthodox Jews, the xenophobic insularity of many, how so many innocently mischaracterize prior generations’ denominations — indeed, whether we even will cooperate with being counted.  The same challenges marked last week’s Pew results.

Although Orthodox Jews are reported as comprising 10 percent of the population counted by Pew, in fact we are undercounted by pollsters accumulating the samples from which they project their results. We thus comprise probably 20-25 percent of American Jewry today, and our much-better-than-projected replication rates (despite acknowledged losses, too) probably assure that our numbers and percentages, under current trends, will have us in the majority of American Jewry quite a bit sooner than Pew imagines. Strikingly, the more recent New York Federation census validates those expectations of an emerging Orthodox majority in the Jewish community, not merely a plurality, as do recent polls published in Israel.

This is not about Orthodox triumphalism.  If anything, it is more about the heart-rending and tragic disappearance of a million and more Jews outside Orthodoxy.  We once were 6 million among 200,000,000 Americans, comprising 3 percent of the country’s population. By contrast, today our proportion has dropped by 50 percent in the United States, as we number fewer than 5 million among 300,000,000 Americans. The policy ramifications of the real numbers are enormous for us as Jews, as our influence inexorably wanes with continued declines marching towards disappearance, offset by increased percentages of Orthodox Jews en route to becoming the American Jewish majority within, say, thirty-to-fifty years.  As those realities set in,  a new symbiosis between American Orthodoxy and local Jewish Federations will have to be recalibrated on both sides.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, formerly Chief Articles Editor of UCLA Law Review and an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School, is founding spiritual leader of Young Israel of Orange County and is author of Jews for Nothing:  On Cults, Assimilation and Intermarriage.  He blogs at

Why counting counts: Who knows who L.A.’s Jews are?

Susan Goldberg, rabbi of Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, grew up in nearby Echo Park.

“There were no Jewish families around when I was growing up,” Goldberg, 38, said. Now that these neighborhoods are being gentrified, and a young, creative crowd is moving in, the Jews are coming, too.

Some five years ago, Temple Beth Israel, a nearly 90-year-old congregation, counted 30 individual members. Today, she said, “We’re bursting at the seams with young families, parents in their 30s and 40s who are living here, in Mount Washington, in Highland Park, in Eagle Rock,” Goldberg said.

But for all the anecdotal evidence that Jews are moving eastward, no one knows exactly how many Jews comprise this trend.

“We know they’re out there, because when we have events, they come,” Goldberg said. “But it would be so, so tremendously helpful to know where they are, who they are, how many there are.”

Los Angeles hasn’t done a Jewish community survey since 1997, and with nothing concrete in the works, organizations are “flying blind,” in the words of one demographer.

“No other large Jewish community has been without a study for such a long period of time,” said Jacob Ukeles, president of Ukeles Associates Inc., a firm that helped conduct New York’s recently released survey.

And that can have serious implications for how effectively a community responds to needs.

“We need to know who lives where, what they do Jewishly, what diversity exists among Jews, what needs they have, what resources they have and what they think on a variety of issues,” said Sarah Bunin Benor, associate professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. “That’s my take on it, from the perspective of somebody who wants to help Jews have a better life.”

Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, said conducting such a study is “rising to the top of our agenda.”

“We really need to do it. We know we need to do it, and I believe we will do it. We have to figure out the resources and how we’re going to pay for it,” Sanderson said in an interview.

A study of Los Angeles’ Jews, who are believed to number between 500,000 and 600,000, would likely cost somewhere around $1 million. In most cities with large and medium-sized Jewish populations, Federation pays for a survey once a decade. Los Angeles conducted community surveys in 1950, 1958, 1968, 1979 and 1997.

When Sanderson took office in 2010, no study was in the pipeline, and he said he had initially hoped to launch one quickly. But as the impact of the recession became more severe, Sanderson said, funds continued to be redirected to such programs as the Emergency Cash Grants, which has provided more than $2.6 million in relief to 5,350 recipients since 2009.

“Now, with everything we’re doing, we’re still trying to put a survey on the front burner,” Sanderson said.

Federation hopes to launch the process in the next year, Sanderson said — if he can figure out where the money will come from.

But the more time that goes by without a survey, the less efficiently the community is spending its dollars, demographers say.

“If you have a Federation that says they are the planning body of the community, where are they getting their information?” asked Pini Herman, a principal at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. Herman was the L.A. Federation’s research coordinator for the 1997 survey; he has also worked on surveys in San Francisco, Houston and Seattle.

“The longer you don’t have a survey, the more you have to guess, and basically you’re snatching ideas and data out of thin air. And without any community study, there is no way to confirm or refute what they say,” Herman said.

Community leaders say they are eager to have current data.

“Synagogues call all the time, wanting to know where the Jews are moving. Are they moving into our area? Out of our area? Are we losing members because Jews are leaving this area, or for some other reason?” said Bruce Phillips, a principal, with Pini Herman, at Phillips and Herman Demographic Research and a professor of sociology and Jewish communal studies at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles. Phillips has conducted or published research on more than 20 Jewish community surveys.

Other questions in Los Angeles also need answering. How many Iranian Jews live here, and what is there economic profile? Their Jewish identity? Their integration patterns?

What areas are people moving to and away from? Are nearby cities that are experiencing growth, such as San Francisco, Phoenix and Las Vegas, doing so at the expense of Los Angeles, or along with Los Angeles? How many French and Latin American Jews have moved into the area, and are they being served? Has the Orthodox population increased, and if so, in what sectors?

Anecdotal evidence about subpopulations can be deceiving, Phillips said, as it’s easier to count visible Jews who are frequent users of community resources — for instance, the Orthodox, or immigrant populations. The unaffiliated are more likely to go undetected if you rely on visibility or data from Jewish organizations.

A topic open to debate is how many Israelis are in Los Angeles. While some estimate there are hundreds of thousands of Israelis in Los Angeles, Herman says his own research points to a number closer to a maximum of 25,000, a figure corroborated by the official Israeli count of how many people have left their country.

The Los Angeles Jewish population, once concentrated on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, is migrating toward the East Side and north to areas such as the Conejo, Santa Clarita and Simi Valleys.

Several organizations are investing both money and resources in the East Side, including Federation, which has funded a new staff person at East Side Jews, a nondenominational Jewish community that has attracted hundreds of young, hip Jews to its irreverent monthly holiday celebrations and social events. East Side Jews recently became part of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center, an organization that is on a short list to receive significant Federation funding for a renovation and expansion project.

At the same time, Temple Beth Israel’s Goldberg said, Jews in the area remain underserved. When she needs to refer people for social services, she is often told that Jewish agencies don’t extend out to her part of town. In addition to leading Temple Beth Israel, Goldberg serves as rabbi-in-residence for East Side Jews, a position co-supported by Wilshire Boulevard Temple, which is also interested in being part of the East Side Jewish renaissance.

Indeed, Wilshire Boulevard Temple is in the middle of a $150 million project to restore and revitalize its historic sanctuary and campus in Koreatown. Before embarking on that project, the congregation commissioned its own demographic study of the area — roughly from West Hollywood on the west to Eagle Rock and Pasadena on the East, stretching from Adams Boulevard on the South up to Studio City and Glendale.

“I intuitively felt that young Jews were moving eastward, but intuition is not always right,” Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Rabbi Steven Leder said.

Their study, which cost them about $25,000, found around 30 percent growth in the area over the last 10 years, with the most significant increases in the population of childbearing and -rearing age. That information convinced the synagogue’s leadership to buy up the rest of their square block to make room for more parking, an expanded day school, religious school and social service center.

Having data has also made it easier to approach donors, Leder said.

“It’s important to know that there is hard data to support your assumptions when you’re trying to raise money,” he said.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s study was based on Jewish surnames in voter registration listings — a method that may have left out Jews who have a non-Jewish parent or who are married to non-Jews, a population that, anecdotally at least, accounts for much of the growth on the East Side.

A dialogue on Jewish life in America today

Following the publication of the New York Jewish Population Study, Shmuel Rosner interviewed Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at NYU Wagner. So, how many Jewish people are there exactly?

Dear Steven,

A couple of years ago, you made a name for yourself by provoking the Jewish world to consider the possibility of a growing divide between two kinds of Jewish people — the in-married and the intermarried. Of course, no consensus ever was reached on the matter — yet consensus is hardly a Jewish value. However, your description stuck and is still quoted in articles and discussions.

Enter the latest New York Jewish Population Study (which you authored, together with Jacob Ukeles and Ron Miller) with its many details, and it seems to me that a new Jewish divide should be considered.

On the one side — the progressive and secular Jewish world, with its many components: A community that isn’t always much connected to Jewish identity and practice, but is educated, affluent and quite successful, economically speaking. They have less by way of daily Jewish life, but more resources with which to make Judaism available for all.

On the other side — the Orthodox Jewish world: Fast-growing, vibrant and highly affiliated, Jewishly educated, well-connected to Israel, with a very low rate of assimilation and very high number of children. And it is relatively poor. The more they are affiliated, the less resources they have to support the high cost of Jewish life.

Can this divide be bridged? Can we find a way to somehow overcome the seeming contradiction between affiliation and financial resources?

I’m turning it over to you …

Dear Shmuel,

Your call to focus on the divide and differences between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is, indeed, well-placed. As our study amply demonstrates — and as your comment underscores — Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews differ on so many dimensions of Jewish engagement, demographic patterns and worldviews.

But I think it would be a mistake to ignore another critical divide (as maybe you are suggesting) among the non-Orthodox: That distinguishing the intermarried or the children of the intermarried from the majority of non-Orthodox Jews who are the children of two Jewish parents and are either non-married or in-married. In other words, rather than divide the world into two (either Orthodox/non-Orthodox or in-married/intermarried), I prefer to divide the world into three (Orthodox; in-married or unmixed ancestry non-Orthodox; intermarried and mixed ancestry). The differences across these boundaries are real, even as the groups do bleed into one another.

In fact, each camp I’m suggesting may itself be divided in two. Among the Orthodox, we found incredibly large differences between the Modern Orthodox and the Charedim, especially with respect to participating in the larger Jewish community. Among the in-married non-Orthodox, we found substantial differences between Conservative and Reform Jews, especially if affiliated, countering the widely held notion that the two venerable denominations are no longer meaningful. And among the intermarried population (be it by ancestry or current circumstance), Jews divide significantly between those who see Judaism as their religion and those who do not.

In short, Orthodox/non-Orthodox obscures and distorts reality too much. It leads you to obliquely characterize the non-Orthodox Jewish world as “progressive and secular” and to speak of the Jewish community within it in the following way: “A community that isn’t always much connected to Jewish identity and practice.” The data that Jack, Ron and I analyzed in depth say otherwise. The (non-Orthodox) Jewish community — those who are engaged in Jewish life but do not identify as Orthodox — is very much “connected to Jewish identity and practice,” sometimes “progressive,” and does not see itself very much as “secular.”

In short, the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide, when unqualified, leads even some very smart, sympathetic and experienced observers in Jewish life in the United States to a downwardly biased assessment of Jewish life and vitality among the non-Orthodox.

As much as I value the focus on the demographic issues of in-marriage and birthrates for analytic and policy purposes, I believe we need to see Jewish demography and Jewish communal vitality as related but with distinct dimensions. As important as is population growth/decline, it is not the total measure of cultural, communal, and spiritual success (or failure). From a policy point of view, we cannot assume that inspiring communities automatically promote in-marriage, high birthrates and Jews (or non-Jews) choosing Jewish engagement. Just as we need policies and practices that strengthen Jewish communities and life, so, too, do we need separate policies and practices that improve the likelihood of Jews marrying Jews, Jews parenting Jews, as well as Jews and non-Jews engaging in Jewish life.

In short, we need to think of at least three population segments, not two; and two sets of policies, not one. The Orthodox, in-married and intermarried merit our distinctive attention. So, too, does Jewish vitality and Jewish demography.

In a follow-up letter, Rosner asks Cohen: Do you have to have money to be Jewishly engaged?

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your response. I have many follow-up questions but will have to start with the question I’ve already asked. Interestingly, while my original question was a lot about the economics of the Jewish community, your response doesn’t at all deal with it — you highlight the differences among three groups but do not write about Orthodox financial constraints. I guess what I need to know first is if there really is such difference that is affiliation-based. And if there is such difference, what do we do about it?

Dear Shmuel,

In response to your question, “I guess what I need to know first is if there really is such difference that is affiliation-based. And if there is such difference — what do we do about it?”

I offer the following: Some indicators of Jewish engagement are sensitive to income (usually, the ones that cost money), and others are not.

Those measures that are at least moderately related to higher income are a collection of indicators, all reflecting institutional involvement:

  • Going to museums or Jewish cultural events.
  • Going to Jewish community center programs.
  • Attending Jewish educational programs.
  • Accessing Jewish Web sites.
  • Belonging to synagogues.
  • Belonging to Jewish organizations.
  • Giving to Jewish causes, both UJA-Federation and others.
  • Volunteering under Jewish auspices.
  • Celebrating Passover and Chanukah (family-oriented holidays).

Among the items not related to income are:

  • Shabbat-meal frequency.
  • Monthly service attendance.
  • Keeping kosher at home (higher among the poor).
  • Lighting Shabbat candles (higher among the poor).
  • Fasting on Yom Kippur.
  • Having close friends who are Jewish.
  • Feeling attached to Israel.
  • Feeling that being Jewish is very important.
  • Talking with friends about Jewish matters.

Not surprisingly, feelings of being part of a Jewish community in New York rise with household income, from 19 percent of the poor and near-poor who answer “a lot,” to 36 percent of the affluent group.

As compared with the affluent, low- and moderate-income Jewish New Yorkers feel just as Jewishly engaged and act just as Jewishly engaged in their private and social lives. However, financial and social barriers, if not the pressures of daily living, work to restrain and constrain the participation of the less-affluent in Jewish communal life, in matters ranging from belonging, to attending programs, to volunteering.

As to what can be done about financial barriers, a few ideas come to mind:

First, we need to recognize that more committed and connected Jews find more value in acts of Jewish engagement, even when they cost money. Hence, anything that can raise commitment and connection will tend to lower the perceived cost of Jewish involvement.

Second, volunteer efforts by committed Jews with high cultural capital can significantly trim costs. Some Jewish camps, schools, congregations and minyanim can operate with relatively lower budgets than conventional counterparts because they draw upon capable volunteers or semivolunteer low-paid professional staff. But that requires a pool of people with Jewish commitment and cultural capacity. Where such people are plentiful, the cost of Jewish involvement drops. Hence, the Jewish community has an interest in educating young people who, in some time, will go out and volunteer their talents to build and sustain Jewish institutions, especially those engaged in education or prayer.

Third, targeted scholarships and fee reductions can induce some families to engage in Jewish life in various ways. The generic problem with such policies is that, if not targeted, the costs will mount dramatically with little impact on increased participation. All such programs grapple with the question of how to target the funds without insulting or offending families who would otherwise participate in the particular activity or institution.

Two studies put U.S. Jewish census at up to 6.6 million

More than 6 million Jews are living in the United States, according to two independent studies.

The two studies, using completely different methodology, discovered between 6.4 million and 6.6 million U.S. Jews, or about 1.8 percent of the population, the Forward reported.

The figure is some 20 percent higher than the 5.2 million reported by the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America, a study that was found to be faulty and said to have undercounted the Jewish population.

A study by Ira Sheskin, a human geographer at the University of Miami, and Arnold Dashefsky, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, for the North American Jewish Data Bank at the University of Connecticut reported on Dec. 18 that the correct figure is 6,588,000.

A study released on Dec. 23 by Leonard Saxe, a Brandeis University sociologist, put the number of U.S. Jews at 6.4 million.

The studies are important indicators of the size of the U.S. Jewish population, because the once-a-decade National Jewish Population Survey was not conducted this year after the Jewish Federations declined to underwrite the survey.

A spokesman for the Jewish Federations said the umbrella group is in preliminary discussions about underwriting another national study.