November 15, 2019

The most surprising findings of the New York Jewish community study

The authors of the study on the Jewish community in New York participated in a conference call for the press today, hours after the release of their much-anticipated findings. The study ‎contains a lot of information – some good (growing population), some bad ‎‎(increased poverty rates) – but there were one or two eyebrow-raising results.‎

So we asked the authors: A lot of the study reinforces many of the things we already knew, ‎but what did they view as the most surprising findings?‎

Dr. Steven Cohen (research team director, Jewish Policy & Action Research): I was struck not by the amount of poverty but by the growth of poverty. ‎For me it was really significant and I had a spiritual experience, sitting in front of the ‎computer screen, running those numbers, seeing those masses of Jews in front of my ‎eyes, and realizing that 361,000 people who are living in my community were living in poor ‎households. To me that was striking inasmuch as that number was 244,000 in 2002. ‎

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I was also surprised by the number of people who are in Jewish life, who arrived in Jewish ‎life even without Jewish parents and even without conversion. To me, that’s indicative of ‎the fluidity of Jewish boundaries in America, which I know we don’t experience in Israel. ‎

Scott Shay (chair of the UJA-Federation’s Jewish Community Study of NY Committee): Another surprise was diversity – 12% [of the New York Jewish community] is ‎biracial. It’s not a typical stereotype of the old “you don’t look Jewish” joke. What we found ‎that there’s substantial numbers of families who have adopted Asian children; there are ‎folks who have intermarried and converted from a variety of faiths, and become part of ‎the Jewish community. So that I think is very, very important.  ‎

The other surprise – and I think it should be underscored – is the growth of the community. ‎A lot of people did not think the Jewish community was growing in the way it has been. ‎Another surprise is that this is really a day school town – 64% of all [Jewish] children in New ‎York attend day school, so that there’s more intensity in education and that applies in ‎higher percentages than one might expect in conservative and reform [households] as ‎well. ‎

Dr. John Ruskay (executive VP and CEO, UJA-Federation of New York): Someone made a joke the other day, that someone was moving to New York ‎from another part of America and said it’s a “mini form of aliyah”, because of the vitality ‎and dynamism of the New York Jewish community. This report reflects the Israeli ‎community here, the significant LGBT, the Russian Jewish community, the Syrian ‎community, or the Orthodox community.  ‎

So this is a remarkable experiment in Jewish living in the open society, multiple ‎manifestations of that, and this report documents what many of us experience day in and ‎day out when we traverse this remarkable community. ‎