Jewish Federation to Gauge Community in New Study

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For the first time in a decade, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will research and release a population study of the Philadelphia-area Jewish community. Research will begin in the coming months, and the study will be published in 2019.

The population study usually takes place every 10 years by large-city Jewish federations to measure the current state of their Jewish communities, but it is unlike a census, said Kelly Romirowsky, director of grants and evaluation. “It’s … looking for a representative sample to get an estimate of the total population,” as well as its geographic, socioeconomic and other characteristics.

The information will be used to assess current and future communal allocations, as well as to formulate a strategy for communal activities in the years ahead.

The last study was conducted in 2008 and results were released in 2009, analyzing demographic and socioeconomic information. Findings for the new study will include the geographic distribution of the community, Jewish affiliation and involvement, views on Israel, civic engagement, and Jewish education, including day schools and supplementary schools.

Romirowsky said the study will look at five counties — Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery — and the Jewish communities within them, including those who identify as Jewish in some way or live in a Jewish household.

The study will also gather participants’ thoughts on “believing, belonging, behaving types of things,” such as attitudes toward philanthropic giving, social service needs and Jewish identity.

The study is funded by the Jewish Federation through its Jewish Community Fund, an endowment fund, private foundations and individual donors. It will be conducted by the research firm Westat.

Typically, studies have been conducted over the phone. But for 2018, the Jewish Federation has chosen to offer online surveys. The firm will first mail out notifications to participants — about 1,300 to 1,500 people determined through probability sampling — with instructions to follow a link to complete the questionnaire online. (A hard copy is available, if preferred.)

Romirowsky hopes they’ll receive a better response rate with the online format, as well as a more random sample.

She added this will be beneficial for the Jewish Federation, too: They’ll be able to see where the needs are in the community in order to make data-informed funding decisions for stakeholders.

“We need to get an accurate picture of the size of the Jewish population, especially across the different counties that we have, as well as determining where people are at with their Jewish behaviors and attitudes.”

Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute has produced many community studies for large cities with Jewish populations over the years, including Jewish federations in Boston; Naples, Fla.; Nashville and Middle Tennessee; Seattle; Buffalo, N.Y.; Western North Carolina; and Greater Rhode Island.

The most recent population studies for Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., came out last month.

Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish community has grown 17 percent since its last community study in 2002 — it now has 50,000 Jewish adults and children, constituting just over 2 percent of the area population. The community is more spread out, too, consisting of highly educated and mostly middle-class people.

Almost 300,000 Jews live in the Greater Washington, D.C., area — the third-largest Jewish community in the country. Jews living in the metro D.C. area are younger than the national Jewish population; the median age of D.C.-area Jewish adults is 45, younger than the national median age of 50. The community is also diverse: Seven percent identify as LGBTQ, and another 7 percent identify as a person of color or Hispanic/Latino.

Adam and Sara Laver are co-chairing the committee overseeing Philadelphia’s population study.

“We’re very excited about having a terrific outside firm that isn’t necessarily one of the usual firms that handle these types of studies,” Adam Laver noted. “It’s very important to Sara and me and to the leadership at [Jewish] Federation that this be meaningful, and we’re aware of past shortcomings in population studies that we in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community have commissioned.”

They’re also aware of the studies commissioned by other Jewish federations, which he said call into question “how helpful they might be, and if they really are representative of Jewish populations in those areas.”

Other committees include a lay leadership and a technical advisory committee, which includes people like Sergio Della Pergola, world-renowned demographer of Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Larry Eichel, director of Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia research initiative; Kevin Gillen, senior research fellow of the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University; and a host of others, all lending their efforts to the Jewish Federation.

Laver said they will help “refine and hone down and, to the best of our ability, make this meaningful so that we can further the work of our Jewish Federation.”

Even if the findings come back with some unfavorable data, he said it’s still significant to discover where the needs of the community lie, like with the Holocaust survivor community.

“Are we meeting their needs here in the Philadelphia region?” he asked. “Can we even know how many people there are? These are one of the things we need to look into.

“We don’t want to overlook anyone.”

A lot has changed in the decade since the last study: The whole idea of Jewish identity is not the same as it used to be, Laver said.

“You may have someone who affiliates through Chabad and also through a local synagogue, or goes into the Old City Jewish Arts Center, or is just as connected through PJ Library. These artificial boundaries that gave comfort in the past, it’s much more difficult to find who is a Jew and how one expresses their Jewish identity. That’s what we’ll be seeing more of now.”

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