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Behind the Headlines Jews May Be Losing Clout in NY

August 7, 1979
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The Jewish population in New York may be losing its political clout. At least this is the opinion of Jack Diamond, a statistician specializing in Jewish demography. Diamond feels that a loss of political influence may accompany a declining number of Jewish households and Jewish voters.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Diamond disagreed with the findings of Dr. Donald Feldstein, executive director for Community Services of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and Samuel Ehrenhalt, deputy regional commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics, both of whom in an interview with JTA, said they believed the figure to be substantially higher than Diamond’s.

Diamond is also highly critical of the methodology used for calculating the numbers of Jews in various communities reported in the American Jewish Year Book, published annually by the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Publication Society of America. Diamond warns that misleading reportage on the Jewish community is actually at cross-purposes to the organizations that sponsor the Year Book, because losses to membership and in fundraising will not be anticipated.

The New York City area traditionally contains the largest Jewish population in the world. A center of Jewish cultural and religious life, Diamond believes that New York’s Jewish population now hovers at only 750,000. Critics of Diamond say that he does not account for large numbers of Jews in Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester Counties, as well as those in northern New Jersey.

Ehrenhalt maintains that the New York metropolitan area is still “the heartland of American Jewry” and that we are “seeing a golden age in New York City” in terms of the degree of commitment and identification with Jewish life. Feldstein also notes that a great many Israeli immigrants in the New York area are afraid to become “visible” members of the Jewish community for fear of being considered pariah’s by American Zionists. Diamond feels these Israelis are “not a major factor affecting the Jewish population.”


Diamond dwells a great deal on the composition of the Jewish community. He finds that as of the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) of 1970-71, New York’s Jews were disproportionally aged, and included for more elderly citizens in relation to other ethnic groups. Jewish youth has declined, too. For many years, Diamond notes, Jews have had a lower birth rate than other segments of the population.

One reason, he says, is that higher levels of education among Jews correspondes to a greater awareness of birth control methods and the Jewish population’s responsiveness to the call for “zero population growth.” Jews also tend to marry later than non-Jews and a great many households in New York City are “singles”–including widows and widowers.

Diamond counts the high rate of intermarriage and conversion out of Judaism as responsible for the rapid demographic changes visible throughout all American Jewry. Without adequate and up-to-date accounting of the population, the effectiveness of Jewish organizations’ outcries against assimilation will be greatly diminished, Diamond warns. Feldstein, however, observes that Federation efforts are now being aimed at the intermarriage problem.

Diamond feels that his figures should have an effect on the way Jewish organizations plan their programs. A smaller and more dispersed community calls for new approaches by Jewish groups, he says. Diamond adds that for the Jews who remain in the New York metropolitan area, a new “theology or a philosophy to buouy their spirits” in light of dwindling numbers of synagogues and community institutions, is needed.

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