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Jewish Federation Releases Landmark Study of Jewish L.A.

The initial findings examine the L.A. Jewish community’s demographics, diversity and well-being.

Harvey Farr is a local community reporter for the Jewish Journal.

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Harvey Farr
Harvey Farr is a local community reporter for the Jewish Journal.

According to a study commissioned by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Jewish community has grown by 25% over the last 25 years, to 564,700 individuals and nearly 300,000 Jewish households, making it the second largest Jewish community in the United States. The study’s findings were announced at a June 22 launch event at the Skirball Cultural Center.

The initial findings examine the L.A. Jewish community’s demographics, diversity and well-being. Additional sections will be unveiled over the summer and cover Jewish education, Israel, engagement profiles, Jewish life/connections and religious and ritual life.

“While patterns of affiliation continue to decline, emergent forms of Jewish belonging thrive.”
– Rabbi Noah Farkas

“The future of Jewish life is creative and bold,” Rabbi Noah Farkas, federation president and CEO said in a written statement. “While patterns of affiliation continue to decline, emergent forms of Jewish belonging thrive.” 

According to Farkas, Jews under 40 are more engaged than Jews over 50 in almost every category. “They discuss Jewish topics more, consume more types of Jewish culture, wear Jewish symbols more and study Jewish texts more than their elders,” he said. “Interestingly, the celebration of Shabbat in some form – perhaps the hallmark of engaged Jewish life – is celebrated by younger people with much greater frequency than older community members.”

Emphasizing that the report is meant to serve as a roadmap for how the needs of the L.A. Jewish community can best be met, Dr. Shira Rosenblatt, associate chief program officer at Federation said, “The data was collected on behalf of our entire Jewish community to provide critical information, to guide strategy for every organization and community member invested in creating the most vibrant and welcoming Jewish community. Our goal is to inspire collaboration, creativity and strategic thinking to address challenges and to leverage the strengths of our Jewish community.”

The last study by the Federation was conducted in 1997. While the current study has been in the works for several years, the work was postponed until 2021 so the COVID-19 pandemic would not skew the findings. 

“We didn’t want to do a demographic study when things are unstable due to a global pandemic,” Leonard Saxe, professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Brandeis University, who, along with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, conducted the study, said. “We couldn’t try to find out how many people went to synagogue last month when nobody goes due to COVID.”

Key funders of the study included the LA Jewish Federations, Cedars-Sinai, Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, The Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation.

The 30-page report provides a statistical snapshot of Jewish L.A. and covers multiple regions including the Westside, East Valley, North County Valley, West Valley, Metro and South Bay.

The study shows a Jewish L.A. rich in diversity, with about 50% of Jewish households including an immigrant to the United States or someone whose parent is an immigrant. Jewish regions of origin include Russia/the former Soviet Union, Latin America, Israel, Iran and Europe. Six percent of L.A. Jewish adults identify as persons of color, as do 9% of Jewish children. 

The study places significant emphasis on engagement, to quantify how the L.A. Jewish community expresses their Jewish belonging. The researchers created five categories – Minimally Involved, Holiday, Communal, Ritual and Immersed    to illustrate how members of the community express a religious and cultural connection to their Judaism.  

The highest level of engagement (27%) was among those in the Holiday category, which was defined as participating in a Passover seder, celebrating Hanukkah and observing Shabbat occasionally. The next highest engagement pattern was Minimally Involved (23%), which was defined as participating in few Jewish activities. The Communal category (16%) was described as attending a Passover seder, celebrating Hanukkah, attending High Holiday services, attending Jewish programs and donating to Jewish causes. The Ritual (16%) and Immersed (17%) categories included much of the same, with the addition of synagogue membership.

The study showed a decrease in denomination affiliations, with 50% of L.A. Jews stating no denomination, compared to 32% of U.S. Jews. 

The study showed a decrease in denomination affiliations, with 50% of L.A. Jews stating no denomination, compared to 32% of U.S. Jews. However, the study shows that because someone has no Jewish denomination, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not “Jewishly engaged” in some manner. It still may include engagement with Jewish organizations, home-based and personal Jewish behaviors and with communal and religious life.

The next highest denomination is Reform with 25% (compared to 37% of U.S. Jews), Conservative at 15% (compared to 17% nationwide), and Orthodox at 7% (compared to 9% nationwide).

When asked what is important about being Jewish, the majority believe leading a moral and ethical life (69%), connecting family and traditions (62%) and working for justice and equality (54%) are essential to being Jewish. These responses are in line with the Jewish population nationally. 

Attitudes and personal experiences with antisemitism were examined, with three quarters of Jewish adults being concerned about antisemitism. Eighteen percent of L.A. Jewish adults indicated they personally experienced antisemitism in the previous year. These involved offenses that could be described as microaggressions, stereotypes, slights or jokes. Many experiences included public or online comments or those overheard in conversation, rather than offenses targeted directly toward them. 

The study also sought to uncover the struggles L.A. Jewry face both financially and in mental health. It shows that one-in-five Jewish households are financially struggling by stating they “cannot make ends meet” or “just managing to make ends meet.”

About one-in-four households include someone with a chronic health issue, mental health issue, special need or disability that limits work, school or activities. Of all L.A. Jewish households, 6% report that there is someone in the household with a severe and persistent mental illness, and 30% report having someone in the household who needs mental health or substance abuse treatment services.

Additional sections will be unveiled over the summer and cover Jewish education, Israel, engagement profiles, Jewish life/connections and religious and ritual life.

While the study will undoubtedly be of use to Jewish service providers, the question lingers what the average member of the Jewish community should make of the study’s findings. 

“The data tell us that we mean something to each other,” Farkas said. “It conforms to [peoples’] picture of who they are and their understanding of what it means to be an Angelino. Someone who is not engaged in the Jewish community can still find themselves inside the Jewish community, and that is something to celebrate.”

The full report can be found at: https://studyofjewishla.org/.

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