Latest Jewish Population Data Show Gains In Manhattan, Loss In Suffolk


The Jewish population in the Washington Heights/Inwood communities on the northern tip of Manhattan has soared by 144 percent since 2002, while Suffolk County, with a 4 percent decrease in Jews during that time, is the only suburban county to experience a Jewish population loss.

Those were among the findings released today by UJA-Federation of New York, based upon its 2011 Jewish Community Study of New York. These findings focused on 30 distinct communities in the city, Westchester and Long Island. It found that four of them (the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Borough Park, Williamsburg and the Flatbush/Midwood/Kensington areas of Brooklyn) would qualify as among the 20 largest Jewish communities in the country.

Pearl Beck, the lead author of the study, pointed out that there are “more Jews in the Upper West Side of Manhattan than there are in Cleveland.”

And the study found that 10 of the areas are home to nearly half of the Jews in the New York Metropolitan Area.

The survey, based on interviews with 6,000 self-identified Jews in 2011, found that the Jewish population in the Bronx, which had plummeted 45 percent from 1991 to 2002, increased 20 percent in the last nine years. It found also that Brooklyn has enjoyed a steady increase of Jews over the years, increasing from 371,000 in 1991 to 561,000 in 2011.

Although Chasidic Orthodox Jews are concentrated in a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Modern Orthodox Jews are spread out across the metropolitan area. Nassau County has the most Conservative Jews, but their numbers are continuing to slip throughout the area, as are those of Reform Jews.

However, Len Saxe, a leading demographer at Brandeis University, questioned the survey’s methodologies. He said its finding that about one-third of the 1.54 million Jews in the eight counties are Orthodox is an over-estimation. He said it contradicted data reported by the Avi Chai Foundation in 2009 that provided the number of Orthodox children in day schools. The authors of the study, however, insisted that the “main contours of our findings are correct.”

The new geographic study reported the following findings:

  • In Manhattan, the proportion of Jews who identify as Conservative dropped from 26 percent to 17 percent in the last nine years while the percentage of Reform Jews dropped from 35 percent to 28 percent. At the same time, those who characterize themselves as secular or having no religion soared from 12 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2011. Another 15 percent said they were nondenominational or “just Jewish.”
  • “Manhattan’s level of Jewish connection and identification in 2011 is lower than its 2002 levels and also generally lower than the overall eight-county 2011 levels,” the study said.
  • Although much of northern half of Manhattan has witnessed an increase in Jews, Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side experienced a decrease.
  • In Queens, the Jewish population growth has been primarily among baby boomers 45-64-years-old. But the county is also home to the third largest population of Jews 75 and older.
  • Staten Island’s Jewish population decreased by 19 percent, the largest drop of all eight counties. At the same time, the level of Jewish engagement increased as has the number of Jewish seniors.
  • Nassau County, which has seen a 4 percent increase in Jews since 2002, has the highest proportion of married or partnered Jewish households in the metropolitan area. And two of its communities –Great Neck and the Five Towns – are among the most Jewishly engaged areas. Demographically, it represents the most typical county: 20 percent of its Jews are under the age of 18, and seniors comprise 21 percent of its population – figures that have remained roughly the same over the past nine years.
  • Nassau has among the wealthiest Jews – 55 percent report incomes of more than $100,000, compared with 30 percent in the overall eight-county area.
  • Although 41 percent of Suffolk’s Jews report an annual income of more than $100,000, the county has the highest proportion [29 percent] of Jewish households with an annual income of less than $50,000. It also has the highest intermarriage rate at 39 percent – the New York metropolitan area intermarriage rate is 22 percent.
  • The Commack/East Northport/Huntington area with a 50 percent increase in Jews since 2002 is the third-highest area in terms of the rate of Jewish population growth in the metropolitan area. Although 74 percent of the people in Jewish households there are married or partnered, fully 16 percent are divorced or separated – a proportion that is higher than the county as a whole (10 percent) and the overall rate of 11 percent.

In addition, nearly half of the Jews in Suffolk live outside of the more Jewishly populated areas.

In an interview, Beck said fully 28 percent or 150,000 Jewish households in the city, Long Island and Westchester lived in or near the areas affected by Superstorm Sandy.

Scott Shay, chair of the Jewish Communal Study, pointed out that because the study was conducted before the storm that displaced thousands of families, its data “will help UJA-Federation of New York, its network of agencies and synagogues throughout the eight-county region, understand the dimensions of the affected population and provide a baseline for understanding longer-term impact in these areas.”

John Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, pointed out that such a study Ruskay “is critically important for communal planning.”

“A geographic profile is most valued by beneficiary agencies and institutions to understand their strengths,” he said.