Letter to the Editor: It’s a demographic cliff; not a fiscal cliff

Last week, (16-22 Kislev) Mark Pearlman wrote an erudite proposal for minding the Jewish communal coffers.  He asks how we can adequately fund an engaging and vibrant Jewish community.  Eight causes are given for the fiscal deterioration of the community.  Unfortunately he missed entirely the main and intractable cause: not enough Jewish children.

To illustrate this case, please look at the weekly obituary pages of the Jewish Journal   It’s actually very much the same story each week; one that’s almost unnoticed, while it screams about our Jewish demographic crisis.

The Nov. 23rd issue, for example, reported thirty Jewish deceased over the age of 70.with a total of 99 reported grandchildren. That’s 3.03 grandchildren per person.  Remember though, that the numbers surely include some Orthodox families, bringing up the grandchild total significantly. Now those 99 not only represent one decedent’s grandchildren; but two grandparents.  So the news is this: Jewish L.A. now seems to average about 3 grandchildren per Jewish couple.

But wait. There’s an extra. Don’t forget to look at the names listed. There are some decidedly non-Jewish sounding names of spouses and grandchildren.  This is not a subtle reminder that not all those 99 grandchildren may actually be Jews.

The implications should be self-evident, but for those who don’t get it, I’ll be explicit: Those in generation now passing have been the prime financial stalwarts of our community.  As they depart, they leave behind few Jewishly committed children and grandchildren.

In desperation, some temples are making a survival effort by sort of rearranging the chairs in their gradually emptying Sunday schools. (L.A. Hebrew High went from 500 to 200 students in the last decade.)  Today, the JFC is attempting some heroic initiative to make up for generations of massive non-affiliation by creating shallow ‘on-ramps’ for Next-Gens to enter the Jewish community. They’ve created a proliferation of programs serving the needs of non-Jews in Los Angeles.. What’s the ‘Jewish’ link?  Of course, it’s ‘Tikkun Olam’., as if the United Way isn’t already in that business.  Our few and Jewishly illiterate youth are saving seven billion people on earth, while they disappear as Jews.

“Not to worry” once declared a Jewish Journal demographer as he suggested that a great many of the Orthodox will become Reform and Conservative just as happened with immigrants 70 years in the past. They, according to the theory, will replenish the lost numbers of secular Jews. Anyone who’s ever seen the inside of an Orthodox day-school today has to laugh at such a farcical hope. It’s not going to happen.

No discussion of solutions to the ‘Jewish fiscal cliff’ should ignore the issue of the Jewish fertility crisis. No matter how much you slice and dice budgets, there will soon be too few liberal/secular Jews to support the temples, Federations and all the other secular Jewish organizations. Who’s going to pay staff and support their pension plans? Oh, yeah, I forgot, the Koreans:

Now, we must give credit for creative efforts: One mega-temple is investing over $100 million to rebuild their neglected edifice and establish a free medical / dental clinic for local Koreans. Perhaps their plan is that in 30- 40 years the Koreans will help support the Temple?

Ask any president of a smaller Reform or Conservative Temple.  If they are growing, it’s because they have attracted Jews from other temples. But for many, current discussions about potential mergers are critical for survival.  Welcome to the beginning of a steep slope.

Some have said: “Well that fertility rate just reflects what’s going on in all of American society today.”  True. It’s one of the ‘benefits’ of assimilation.  But “Non-Jewish” is not a People; Jews are.  It’s a demographic fact that any People wishing long-term survival culturally and fiscally, must rear enough progeny to repopulate and carry on their culture. It now appears that the Boomer generation mostly opted to be Americans first and Jews, well maybe 25th.?

Now I fervently wish someone had a happy solution for this predicament. The solutions offered by Mr. Pearlman last week are a possible a band aid. But of the many liberal rabbis I’ve consulted in this matter, not one had any realistic solutions to offer about the demographic cliff. 

One main reason is that rearing children as ‘Jewish’ may require painful life-style changes, leaving some assimilated non-Jewish baggage behind: like the joys of bacon and eggs in the morning, a Christmas tree in the living room or golf and mall hopping on Saturdays.  A Chanukah-bush, just doesn’t cut it.

This is the price of a ticket to secure the American Jewish future. Another expensive Federation program or more gold-leaf on a painting doesn’t come close. The real cause of the Jewish fiscal crisis is the fact that today’s American Jews of parenting age have not produced enough Jewishly educated children for a future ‘vibrant’ secular/liberal Jewish community.

Unless more secular/liberal Jewish parents are willing to pay the price of having more children indelibly indoctrinated into Jewish culture, the liberal Jewish enterprise of the past 200 years will indeed roll off a cliff. 

What is the solution?  The fact that this might sound crazy to most, further reveals the problem, but there is like 3,400 years of experience with this:  Let every Jew turn Saturdays into Shabbat. Then, as surely as Spring follows the Winter, more babies and funding will follow, naturally.   Simple.  Right?

Gary Dalin

Friends Found a World Away

Every other year, our congregation travels to a different part of the Jewish world to meet and, if necessary, help our fellow Jews. Having traveled to Israel, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union many times, as well as Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Argentina and Brazil, our experiences have mostly been with communities under political, demographic or economic siege. This trip was different.

Imagine this scene: We’re in Sydney, Australia, in a neighborhood known as The Rocks, where in the 18th century exiled British prisoners disembarked and experienced their new home. Most were convicted of petty crimes — poor people who stole a loaf of bread — and some were political prisoners whom England feared. After 1776, the penal colony in Georgia was no longer available, so convicts were sent to Australia, both to get rid of them and for future colonization.

In Australia, one’s yichus is enhanced by being descended from an exiled British convict. Everyone, if lucky enough, brags about it. Even in shul, on Shabbat, before we asked someone how long his family has been in Australia, a macher proudly kvells and shares his imprisoned family tree.

So, here we were, at The Rocks, chanting Havdalah, singing and swaying outdoors, with arms around each other, gazing at the incredible beauty of Sydney Harbor, proud and free as Jews. We were even joined by locals George and Adele who, though Jewish (at least George), hadn’t seen a Havdalah service in quite a while. When we finished, a woman approached and asked from where we were visiting. When we answered "Irvine, California," she asked: "Do you know Natalye and Howard Black, because I’m their machatenester [in-law]!"

"Not only do we know them, but we brought them," we answered, "and they’re right over there!"

It’s a small Jewish world, much less than "six degrees of separation." A day before, the waiter at Doyle’s Restaurant was curious about another couple on our tour, the Hemplings, and when asked by them what kind of fish does he recommend, the waiter answered: "Do you, by any chance, like gefilte fish?"

Voila — another landsman!

Although there are only 100,000 Jews out of a population of 18 million, we managed to meet many of them in both expected and unexpected places.

Of course, our synagogue visits were delightful. For our first Shabbat in Sydney, we visited Temple Emanuel, a liberal congregation, whose rabbi, Jeffrey Kamins, is from Los Angeles. A week later in Melbourne, we met Rabbi Fred Morgan born in Syracuse, N.Y., who showed us his synagogue’s incredible stained-glass windows that portrayed holidays and history. They were created by the foremost stained-glass artist in Australia.

At both synagogues, the services were familiar, albeit more formal. We were delighted that we chose liberal congregations, since most tourists only visit Orthodox synagogues since they’re in the oldest parts of the inner city and tour guides can get to them more easily. The problem is, however, that tourists, who are usually non-Orthodox, rarely meet and worship with their religious peers.

At the Jewish Museum in Sydney, we were impressed by the beautiful Star of David design in the floor, ceiling and walls. Most moving, however, was Lotte, a Holocaust survivor from Bratislava, who spoke to us and emphasized what is now too familiar a story — how a majority of European Jewish children perished. By killing them first, the Nazis hoped to put an end to future generations of Jews.

She spoke painfully , as if it were yesterday, of being called a "Jewish pig" and how ashamed she was, as a teenager, of having to undress in front of and be shaved by male Nazi officers.

Although she and other Jews generally feel safe in Australia today, they remember how only one group boldly advocated saving the Jews of Europe 64 years ago. It was a few weeks after Kristallnacht when the Aborigines League protested to Hitler’s consul in Melbourne. A few weeks before we arrived in Australia, the Aborigines were honored for their heroism by the Jewish community at Melbourne’s Holocaust Museum; Jews are now in the forefront of advocating on behalf of aboriginal land rights, including placing markers on Jewish buildings naming the aboriginal owners of the land.

Australia’s Sept. 11 was Oct. 12, 2002, when its tourists were murdered by Islamic terrorists in Bali. Australians are strong supporters of the United States in its fight against terrorism and are worried about the J.I. (Jemaah Islamiah), an Australian Islamic organization that aims to create an Islamic state in Australia "even if it takes 100 years."

When we visited the U.S. consulate in Sydney, we were briefed in regard to Australia’s strong support for the United States, as well as its ambivalence about our nuclear policy. Nevertheless, one gets the feeling that Aussies genuinely like Americans, without wanting to become like us. Their culture is slower, more laid back and easy going, in part due to an amazing amount of physical space — only 18 million people on land the size of the United States.

Physically, Sydney looks like Vancouver, and Melbourne like Chicago, and each feels its rivalry with the other. Jewishly, Sydney is comparable to Tel Aviv with its cafes and nightlife, while the more staid Melbourne is like Jerusalem — especially with the largest day school in the world (2,500 students) and a more observant population.

Historically, Jews were quite instrumental in the intellectual and economic development of Australia — no surprise to us — founding museums and universities, establishing newspapers and large businesses and finding prominence in the legal profession.

No trip to Australia would have been complete without cruising on a boat in Sydney Harbor, visiting the Opera House and strolling through urban parks, gardens and charming neighborhoods. Wherever we went, the food was delicious and plentiful, even in modest restaurants, and people were incredibly unpretentious, gracious and friendly, with a lovely self-deprecating humor.

Of course, another not-to-be-missed visit was to an animal sanctuary, where we held and watched baby kangaroos hop in and out of pouches and where we fed koala bears. The animal and plant life of Australia is vividly colorful and fascinating in its diversity.

So, too, when we traveled to the Great Barrier Reef, we were mesmerized by the bluish green clarity of the water and the fantastic fish. Some of us also met Golan Ayalon, one of the few Jews and the only Israeli in Cairns, one of the towns near the reef. He’s one of the major distributors of Aboriginal art and a friendly hippie type who liked Cairns, because it reminded him of his hometown of Eilat — full of water sports, muggy and relaxed. In Cairns, we also met a Jewish couple from Kentucky; the man’s brother belongs to a Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia.

When we visited the Aboriginal village of Kuranda, we passed through forests and by waterfalls galore, captivated by birds and butterflies of every imaginable hue. We walked through rainforests, learned about making fire, listened to Aboriginal folklore and playing of the didgeridoo.

The sad history of the indigenous people of Australia was truly heartbreaking. Like our own Native Americans, they were pushed further and further inland to make way for "civilized Europeans." Then, as a "favor," they were converted to Christianity, but still treated in a segregated, second-class way. Disease and violence destroyed too many lives and families and there was forced separation of children from parents in order to "educate" them. It has left permanent societal scars. (The 2002 film, "Rabbit Proof Fence," details this misery through a true personal story describing an arrogant social policy that only ended in 1970.)

The xenophobic anti-immigration policy of Australia, only modified in recent decades, created a smug, racially insensitive and insular society that many Australians now realize was a mistake. The challenge to Australia today is accepting that, over time, it will continue to become a more Pacific Rim, less Eurocentric country, with diverse religions and races, and seeing this development as a strength.

In our closing circle, at the end of our 16-day journey, many spoke of the incredible physical beauty of the land, the vastness of each country and the genuine warmth and kind humor of the people. We shared a deep feeling for the importance of meeting Jews from all over the world — especially in these less visited Jewish communities — and how instantly we bonded with our fellow Yidden. Even more, we understood the time-honored Jewish maxim that "all Jews are responsible for one another."

Arnold Rachlis is rabbi of University Synagogue in Irvine.

The Jewish Future

I have seen the Jewish future and, to my surprise, it still belongs to the Baby Boomers. By now I’d guess that Boomers would happily cede attention and civic responsibility to Gen Xers and Gen J but nothing doing. One in three Jews today are between ages 35-53, and the needs and demands of this group will dominate Jewish life well into the coming decades.

In fact, Pini Herman, research coordinator of the Planning and Allocations department at the Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, tells me that the Boomer demographic is so strong that we can expect Boomers, their children and grandchildren to dominate Jewish life for most of the next century, perhaps as long as 60 years.

“There will be a population decline, eventually,” he told me. “But you won’t see it.”

What we will see, instead, is a Jewish population that actually continues to grow, despite on-going predictions of its demise. An American Jewish population of now 5 million will grow to 5.5 million through the first and second decades until, sometime after 2020 it begins, slowly to ebb.

In the meantime, get ready for more of the well-intentioned experimentation and improvised earnestness that Boomers are known for.

By now it’s an old story. After three decades of social upheaval, starting with the civil rights, Vietnam and women’s movement, American Judaism is by now almost unrecognizable both in form and feel from the religion which our grandparents brought over from Europe.

“Most Boomers have no ties to the old country,” Pini Herman says. Without direct experience of the shtetl and the limitations which have guided Jewish life for most of its history, the Boomers had no compunction in applying contemporary American standards to Jewish life. They take for granted that whatever they need, whether child care, or assistance with fertility, or support for their aging parents, the Jewish community will be there for them. And if they can’t find it in their local synagogue, then there’s one down the block.

From my standpoint, the Boomer creative approach to Judaism, however trivial or idiosyncratic it may at times appear, have been largely for the good. Judaism has been opened up, and as a result, the old angers at exclusion by now dissipated. The adult bat mitzvah, chief among rituals, has brought healing across the generations. Jews-by-choice, gays, women among the outsiders now brought in have each added flavor and power to Jewish life. We are a fuller richer people for their energies.

Democracy and voluntary participation are not Jewish values, but by now that point is moot. The American Jewish community “voted” for inclusion at the time when its members were fleeing.

Much as the Baby Boomers have changed Judaism, Judaism and all its options has changed the Boomers, too. They are almost unrecognizable from their former selves, softened, like a weathered rock, over time. The generation that notoriously postponed responsibility is today sandwiched between their children and their parents, creating supportive communities to help them get by.

That’s why it’s unfair to think of them any longer as the “Me Generation.” Today, Boomers think of “Us.” If it is true that the nuclear family is not what it once was, at least the generation gap has healed. The first generation to pay for children’s private education from kindergarten through college are in debt to their parents, who are glad to help out. Today, the fastest growing group is 85+, and the Boomers know that this is their obligation; unlike their narcissistic reputation, they don’t flee.

And where does all this leave Jewish leadership? Jewish community and its resources are in flux while trying to meet Boomer needs. All the infrastructure needs, for new pre-schools, day schools, basketball courts and social halls for b’nai mitzvah and weddings, will continue at least for decades hence. Jews in the coming years will continue their push from the central city and the suburbs for the new exurbs, the growth areas like Calabasas, California, where three new synagogues are under construction. Look about you: American Jewish life is undergoing a building spurt unlike anything since the post-war swing to the suburbs.

Is it good news when Jewish men outnumber women? You be the judge. My conversation with research analyst Herman suggests that the “gender mismatch” which have plagued women over 40 for many years may be ending. Analyzing the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey, Herman found the following:

Among those 50-64, 56 percent are women, 44 percent men.

For those 40-49, 53 percent are women, 47 percent men.

But among those age 30-39, and the men, miraculously, return: 38 percent are women, 62 percent men.

The shortage of men over 40, and the overabundance under 40 is going to make Jewish heads spin. What will it mean when men outnumber women 2:1? Is there a precedence for it in contemporary Jewish life?

I’m eager for the future.

Join Marlene Adler Marks, senior columnist of the Jewish Journal, for a conversation with actor Edward James Olmos on “Minorities in the Media: Where are they?” at the Skirball Cultural Center this Sunday at 11 a.m.

Her website is www.marleneadlermarks.com.

Her e-mail address is wmnsvoice@aol.comHer book, “A Woman’s Voice” is available through Amazon.com.

East Coast vs.West Coast

Anyone from the Western part of the United States aspiring to national Jewish leadership has “got to be an 11 on a scale of one to 10,” Burton Levinson says. “We’ve got a lot of eights and nines in Los Angeles and elsewhere, but that’s not good enough.”

Put another way, “For American Jewry, Jerusalem is in New York,” the Los Angeles attorney asserts.

And that may well be the downer if not outright deterrent that is serving to discourage young fresh California faces from becoming active players on the national scene.

It’s not a case of sour grapes for Levinson. Despite his Western home base, he served a four-year term as national president of the Anti-Defamation League, and earlier chaired the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

There are other Angelenos who have stormed the ramparts of Gotham and Washington to become national leaders. However, even they will acknowledge that, if only for logistical reasons, it takes an extraordinary sacrifice in time, and often money, to play with the big Eastern boys on their own turf.

With few exceptions, the conventions and board meetings of national organizations meet in New York or Washington, and heavy lobbying efforts focus, naturally, on the nation’s capital. Chicago, Florida, Houston or Los Angeles are rarely chosen, and then only for specifically regional meetings.

Levinson recalls that during his 20 years on ADL’s board of directors, he would fly to New York every three weeks, come to Washington every other month and, in addition, attend three national meetings a year and three overseas conferences.

For residents along the Boston-New York-Washington axis, it’s no big deal to attend a meeting in each others’ cities by hopping on a plane in the morning and returning in the evening. For Levinson, each transcontinental trip meant an investment of two to three days.

Since he accepted no reimbursement for his travels, the constant jaunts also ran into real money.

If you live on the West Coast and want to cut a national figure, he concludes: “You really ought to be semi-retired and wealthy.”

Beyond the mechanics, though, there is a less tangible feeling among some Westerners that, like Rodney Dangerfield, they “don’t get no respect” from a smug Jewish establishment along the Eastern Seaboard.

While this perception is by no means unanimous among Westerners, and is firmly rejected by Eastern leaders, it cannot be entirely shrugged off as a provincial inferiority complex.

Levinson recalls chairing a session at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations some years back, at which an overflow audience stood in the back while scattered seats were still available in the front rows.

When Levinson asked the persons sitting next to vacant seats to raise their hands to allow standees to find places, an organization professional from New York complimented him by saying, “I’m so impressed that someone from the West Coast came up with this idea,” the New Yorker said in all seriousness.

Joel Kotkin, an astute public policy analyst and commentator in Los Angeles, believes that “Institutionally, the West Coast is out of the loop. Read the Forward, which bills itself as a national Jewish weekly, and the West Coast barely exists.”

Just as in the general society where California “is defined not by itself, but by East Coast journalists,” so “West Coast Jewry is being colonized intellectually by New Yorkers,” Kotkin asserts.

Gary Wexler, whose marketing and advertisement firm counts numerous national organizations, ranging from Chabad to Steven Spielberg’s foundations, among its clients, believes that “by-and- large, East Coast leaders discount the West Coast.”

The perceived attitude may be based on different thought processes characterizing the two coastal enclaves. Non-traditional Westerners thrive on pragmatic experiments, while New Yorkers prefer “an intellectual approach that speaks to the elite, but not to amcha,” or the man on the street, Wexler notes.

Los Angeles civil rights attorney Douglas A. Mirell says his long service as board member and president of the regional American Jewish Congress chapter validates his belief that the “Torah comes down from Manhattan.”

Mirell cites the constant friction between centralized national control exerted from New York and independent initiatives by outlying regions as one factor in the recent split between the national AJCongress and the Los Angeles chapter. The latter has reconstituted itself as the Progressive Jewish Alliance, with Mirell as president-elect.

In general, Mirell says, “We on the West Coast attempt to push the envelope and frequently serve as early-warning systems for the rest of the nation. Some national organizations find that helpful, others view it as an annoying disruption,”

For Donna Bojarsky, a young Jewish leader who is well-connected to politics and the entertainment industry, some of the fault may well lie with her fellow Angelenos.

“It seems that many leaders here don’t follow or play a part in national Jewish issues, or are as familiar with the structures and challenges of national Jewish organizations,” she says. “I’m not certain whether that’s due to lack of interest or geography.”

Smaller cities, like Cleveland and Detroit, are more active on the national Jewish scene, because, among other reasons, such involvement is passed on as a family responsibility from generation to generation.

By contrast, Bojarsky says: “There appears to be less of a tradition or expectation here and it seems fewer of the younger generation are involved. We see too few fresh faces. While we have some good, innovative ideas, we’re not part of the national structure, so we don’t have as much impact.”

Many Jewish leaders on both coasts take issue with these arguments, but grant that some power imbalance is inevitable, given the basic demographics.

In 1997, the most recent year cited in the American Jewish Yearbook, 46.8 percent of America’s 6 million Jews lived in the Northeast, compared to 20.5 percent in the West, the latter overwhelmingly along the Pacific Coast.

While a continuing long-range trend shows a steady flow of Jews moving from the Northeast and Midwest to the Southern and Western sunshine states, the demographic heft remains along the Boston-New York-Washington line.

As a result, the latter area supplies 75 percent of the 54 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, its executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein says.

But he discounts any prejudice against the West Coast. “The New York centrism of Jewish life in America was broken as the communities dispersed across the country,” he says.

Steven Grossman of Boston, past president of AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby, says: “I have never heard a disparaging word about the non-East Coast leadership. On the contrary, the wider the geographic spread of an organization, the more effective it is.”

Grossman did a quick count to show that among AIPAC’s 44 national directors, 26 live east of Chicago, 14 west of Chicago and four in Chicago.

Historically, the initial Jewish migrations westward produced small outlying communities devoid of a Jewish agenda, but in a very short time, they created a Jewish infrastructure, says George Kekst, chairman of the board of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Good ideas can come from anywhere, he adds, and cites the Brandeis-Bardin Institute near Los Angeles as an institution that East Coast educators have repeatedly tried to emulate — so far without success.

New York lawyer Robert Rifkind, the immediate past AIPAC president, agrees that it’s the force of ideas that power organizational life, more than location or even large check books.

“I resist the notion that 20 people sitting in New York, like some Elders of Zion, make up the Jewish agenda,” he says.

Rifkind advances the frequently heard argument that the technology of the information age, from e-mail and faxes to teleconferencing, has made the geographical location of participants irrelevant.

“I may join in a phone conference linking New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, London and Jerusalem,” says Rifkind. “Where is the center of the conference? It’s in the heart of AT&T.”

The concept of instant, worldwide communication replacing long, weary flying schleps is an attractive one, but it is met with skepticism by some.

“There is still a certain premium on being at the table when discussions are held,” says Grossman in Boston. “Especially in citizen lobbying, nothing is as effective as being there in person. It shows that you’re serious about the matter.”

Levinson of Los Angeles agrees that nothing can replace face- to-face contact. “When you live in New York, you socialize with other national leaders. You have power breakfasts at the Regency. You develop fraternal relationships,” he says.

Those who argue against the existence of an Eastern Seaboard power monopoly have one persuasive exhibit — a list of Angelenos (and leaders from other Western cities) who have made it to the top of national organizations.

Besides those already mentioned, the Angelenos include past AIPAC presidents Edward Sanders and Lawrence Weinberg; William Belzberg at Israel Bonds; Irwin Field and Bram Goldsmith, past national chairmen of the United Jewish Appeal; and Max Greenberg at ADL.

Sanders recalls that when President Carter asked him to serve as the White House adviser on Jewish and Middle East affairs, the Los Angeles lawyer called the 12 most prominent Jews in America for advice.

“It didn’t matter where they lived, in New York, Chicago or elsewhere, they all said ‘go.’ There was certainly no prejudice because I was from Los Angeles,” he recounts.

Last year, the national associations of both the Reform and Conservative rabbinates were headed by Los Angeles rabbis. The national president of the American Jewish Committee is Bruce Ramer, one of the top lawyers in the entertainment industry.

“The old idea of a kind of continental tilt no longer applies,” Ramer says.

New York-based journalist J.J. Goldberg, author of “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment,” thinks that Los Angeles Jews just don’t realize how much influence their leaders actually wield on the national stage.

“The New York people listen very carefully when they talk to a Bruce Ramer, an Irwin Field or a John Fishel,” Goldberg says. “Then there’s the Hollywood crowd with its money and tremendous impact on the popular culture, like a Barbra Streisand or a Lew Wasserman. And the Wiesenthal Center also exerts considerable influence.”

John Fishel, president and top professional at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, says: “In all the national Jewish organizations I’ve dealt with, I find an eagerness for more input from the West Coast. We, in turn, have to recognize that what happens on the national level affects our community.”

The Westerner

An interesting aspect of the East Coast vs. West Coast discussion is raised by Dr. Jack Wertheimer, provost and professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Based on an extensive study, he found that Conservative congregations in the West were markedly more open to innovation and change, especially in the participation of women and in ritual practice, than their East Coast brethren.

Along the same lines, he found a much more casual attitude in the West toward traditional denominational boundaries, with easy transitions among Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregants.

Wertheimer’s conclusions reinforce a study conducted 3 years ago by the Council of Jewish Federations, which asked whether there was a distinctive Western Jewish identity, contrasted to Eastern and Midwestern Jews.

With a nod to the Hollywood cliche of the Westerner as an individualistic, independent-minded loner, the study showed that Western Jews, compared to their counterparts in other regions, shunned religious and community affiliation, suspected central authority, gave least to charities and were less concerned about intermarriage and the fate of Israel.

The Results Are In

Rumors of the imminent demise of theJewish population of Los Angeles are a little premature. For yearswe’ve been hearing that the rate of intermarriage in Los Angeles islikely among the worst in the nation — probably more than 50percent, perhaps as high as 70 percent in some areas.

Preliminary statistics from a new demographicstudy conducted by the Jewish Federation seem to show that our worstfears are not true. Among couples who married during the five yearsending in1997, the rate of intermarriage is 41 percent — nothing toboast about, but not as bad as we’d heard. The percentage ofintermarried couples among all existing married Jewish households(from newlyweds to long-married) in the region is 22 percent,compared to 20 percent in the Federation’s last study in 1979. Thisapplies to the area that runs from the Simi and Conejo valleys in thenorth to the border of Long Beach and from downtown to the PacificOcean, including an estimated 519,000 Jews the Federation serves.

Surprisingly, the intermarriage rate (during afive-year period between 1985 and 1990) measured by the NationalJewish Population Study of 1990 was higher — 52 percent.

The results came as a surprise to Dr. Pini Herman,research coordinator of the Federation’s Planning and AllocationsDepartment, which oversaw the study. The western part of the countryis often considered a hotbed of intermarriage, Herman said. “Peoplehere tend not to be as observant of their religion, so you wouldexpect to see a higher intermarriage rate in Los Angeles.”

Since the area surveyed is not precisely the sameas in the 1979 study (the increasingly Jewish Simi/Conejo area wasnot included then and the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys, now servedby another Federation, were), intermarriage may be higher in theareas the report doesn’t cover, Herman hypothesized. But still, hesaid, at the current rate of intermarriage, the Los Angeles Jewishpopulation is unlikely to disappear for another 500 to 600 years. “Myimpression is that [intermarriage] is a long, slow trend, even thoughit’s a trend that exists,” Herman said. “It’s a kitchen fire, not ahouse fire.”

Dr. Bruce Phillips, a professor of Jewish CommunalStudies at Hebrew Union College’s Jewish Institute of Religion, andthe author of a 1993 study on Jewish intermarriage, was somewhat moreskeptical than Herman. He questioned what the current data would showif analyzed in terms of generational differences. “Immigrants andchildren of immigrants don’t intermarry very much,” he said. LosAngeles’ large number of immigrants, may have affected theintermarriage rate, Phillips suggested. The survey results still meanthat more than half of couples being formed are intermarried, sincethe approximately six Jews in 10 that marry other Jews would formthree couples, while the four out of 10 who marry non-Jews wouldcreate four intermarried couples, he added.

Herman’s research corroborated with Phillips’study on one matter: among children of two Jewish parents,intermarriage has slowed down somewhat. Phillips theorized that thismight be the result of the growing immigrant population, ofintermarrieds migrating out of the Los Angeles area or of a slowdowncaused by the increasing outcry in the Jewish community againstintermarriage.

When broken down by regions, areas with thelargest concentration of Jews tend to have the lowest numbers ofintermarried Jews, and those with the least Jews have the highestnumber. San Pedro, with a very small Jewish population, has thehighest concentration of mixed marriages: 62 percent among allmarried Jewish households. Beverly Hills has the lowest number ofmixed marriages: 4 percent. In central Los Angeles, which includesHollywood and has a low Jewish density, the percentage ofintermarried and couples in which the non-Jewish partner hadconverted were equal at 38 percent each, with only 23 percent of Jewsmarried to other Jews. In areas where younger Jews have settled, suchas the Conejo and Simi valleys and the South Bay beach cities, thenumber of intermarried households is higher (29 percent and 32percent, respectively). “It’s a known phenomenon that the youngergeneration tends to marry out,” Herman said.

Data from the population survey was collected in1996 and 1997. It included random calls to more than 69,000 phonenumbers and completed interviews with 2,641 Jewish households. Forpurposes of the study, a Jew was defined as one who was born a Jew,raised a Jew and not converted out, or a person with one parent whowas Jewish. A more detailed report, including statistics onaffiliation, education and other topics, is expected to be releasedin March.

Jewish Households in Los Angeles

Another part of the study dealing with household size uncoveredseveral trends. Among these are:

  • The average Jewish household size has declined slightly from 2.27 to 2.1 persons per household, less than both the 2.91 figure for all Los Angeles households and 2.27 for non-Hispanic white households.
  • Orthodox Jewish households average 2.7 persons; Conservative Jewish households average 2.3 persons; and Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish households average 2.1 persons. Among Jewish households that don’t identify themselves with any denomination, the average is 1.8 persons per household.
  • Surprisingly, the study points out, “in a community that has always considered two-parent families with minor children as its basic building blocks, it is interesting to note that 77 percent of Jewish households are not of this type.”
  • Jewish fertility is also lower than the surrounding non-Hispanic white population at 213 children ages 0 to 4 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, compared to 449 for all Los Angeles women and 312 for non-Hispanic white women in that age group. The number is expected to decline further as baby boomers age beyond their childbearing years until the children of baby boomers start having their own children.
  • Almost half — 48 percent — of Jewish households contain only unmarried persons, compared to 42 percent in 1979. More than a quarter of households — 28 percent — contain only one person, of which one-third have never married, about a quarter are divorced or separated and more than a third are widowed.
  • There is a growing number of never-married Jews. The proportion of never-married persons over 18 has increased from 18.2 percent of households to 21.2, as the number of married persons has declined from 64.2 percent to 61.3.