‘Community Portrait’ Study Evaluates Population

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A new population study looks at Jewish activity, religious and ethnic identity, philanthropy, social service needs, health, anti-Semitism and perceptions about Israel in Greater Philadelphia’s Jewish community.
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A “Community portrait” study of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish population is underway to help identify and meet needs for services and engagement.

The study, which is being commissioned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, looks at the Jewish population in Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties. It poses questions about socioeconomic status, philanthropy and volunteering, perceptions of Israel and more.

“If we don’t do a study, then we have no idea because if you ask a Jewish organization, then they only know the people they serve,” said Kelly Romirowsky, director of evaluation, research and knowledge management at Jewish Federation. “That’s exactly why we need to do this study.”

The preliminary results are expected in November, and the full study will be ready in early 2020. The results will be made widely available so that different Jewish organizations can use them.

The study is led by Romirowsky, who is supported by a lay leadership committee and a technical advisory committee. The Jewish Federation selected Westat as the research firm to conduct the study.

The study is more than just a census because it has practical goals, said Adam Laver, who, along with his wife Sara, is co-chair of the lay leadership committee. That goal is for the community to better prioritize resources based on need.

“If we have true numbers on the extent of that need, it can help us delve deeper into meeting the needs and finding ways to respond,” said Laver, who is on the board of trustees of the Jewish Federation, board chairman of Jewish Family and Children’s Service and a member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel.

The participants are randomly selected to ensure the sample isn’t biased.

The first stage is a screener that asks the participant basic questions. The invitation to complete this screener, either online or with a hard copy, is mailed out. This step includes both Jewish and non-Jewish respondents, but only those who identify as Jewish are invited to complete the next stage: an in-depth 20-minute survey, either online or via hard copy. The survey can also be done over the phone for those who need extra assistance, and is available in Russian.

It’s been a decade since this kind of study of the local Jewish community has been done. Romirowsky said such studies usually take place every 10 years in similar cities.

One of the differences between the last study and the current one is terminology; for example, the current survey uses the phrase “interfaith” instead of “mixed” to refer to marriage. This study also has more questions about anti-Semitism, Israel, health and transportation.

“I don’t believe in the past we asked much about transportation,” Romirowsky said. “I know, being an evaluation director here, that transportation is a huge issue for our community members, both young and old, in being able to access both religious Jewish and just general social services.”

The survey 10 years ago defined Jewish engagement as synagogue membership or participation in rituals like lighting Shabbat candles or attending a Passover seder. The new survey has broadened that definition by including visits to a Chabad House and less traditional ways to celebrate holidays, such as a Shabbat hike.

“My major goal with this stuff is to look at and measure on a continuum the range of Jewish practices that … folks today might be doing,” Romirowsky said.

She also said the new study may reveal an uptick in concern about anti-Semitism, at least since the last survey was done. She’ll also be interested to see the new demographic information.

“We know that we have an older population than some other Jewish communities,” she said. “That proportion we know about. The question is, because the last study was done and didn’t include cell phones at a time when cell phones would have represented at least some portion of the population, there may have been an underrepresentation of the young population. We don’t know.”

They are holding focus groups to gather qualitative data that can supplement the information they collect through the study.

“We can’t ask everything because you really want to keep it to about 20, 25 minutes,” Romirowsky said. “That’s why we’re following up, and we’ve already started doing focus groups to really get the story and the why for people and really get a rich picture of what people are experiencing.”

The focus groups allow researchers to delve deeper into issues facing specific subsets of the Jewish community, such as Russian speakers, Israelis, older adults, college students and more. Focus group participation is open to the community; participants do not need to have been selected for the study.

“This is Abraham’s tent,” Adam Laver said, “and it’s open to all.”

People interested in participating in focus groups can call 215-832-0863.

[email protected]; 215-832-0729

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