The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore presented the results of its latest population survey on May 12.
Martin S. Himeles Jr., co-chair of the community study, welcomed more than 160 participants to the virtual town hall meeting on the results from The Associated’s population survey. He introduced Leonard Saxe, director of The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University, which conducted the demographic study of the wellness, financial health, and engagement patterns of the Baltimore Jewish community.
The research looked at around 1,500 households in Baltimore from April to July 2019. The households made up 35% of the population that had been invited to participate. The estimated population of Jewish Baltimore came to 95,400, which is “slightly larger than the
previous study,” according to Matt Boxer, research scientist.
Age and gender statistics mirrored national averages, but one number strayed from the norm: Only 3% of Jewish Baltimore was nonwhite. However, Boxer attributed the difference to the fact that New York’s wide diversity skews the national average.
Interesting factoids include that around a fourth of Jewish Baltimore households have children, and that 10% (compared to 4% of all of Baltimore) are LGBTQ.
Rather than focus on the division of the population by denomination, Boxer created an “Index of Jewish Engagement” to measure how involved and in what ways people are active with Jewish life. He said this is “more meaningful than denominations.”
Jewish Baltimore was categorized into familial, personal, involved, communal, and immersed Jewish persons. For example, a familial person would usually keep their
Jewish practices around family holidays or customs, while a personal Jew would be more likely to engage in fasting or private practices. The highest percentage, 27%, fit into the category of “immersed,” where people “participate in all Jewish life at a high rate,” Boxer said. Of this group, 69% was Orthodox, but 6% was nondenominational —
a term he noted used to imply nonreligious.
“The most important thing, instead of looking at what people call themselves, is to look at what they’re doing,” Boxer said.
For each of these groups, responders varied in how important they ranked their Jewish identity.
The presentation then shifted to education. The Cohen Center found the Jewish population reflected national Jewish statistics in that education was prioritized and accomplished at high rates.
“This is what normal looked like. We’re in a new normal now,” said Boxer, referring to the pandemic. “But you can use that as a benchmark to get back to.”
This led to a discussion of economics and the Associated’s next survey, which will look at the pandemic’s affects on Jewish Baltimore.
Saxe concluded with answers to questions. He offered some insights, such as that “being ‘just Jewish’ is more common,” but that overall these numbers cannot be equally compared to 2010’s numbers as the methodology had since changed.
The Cohen Center conducted a simultaneous but separate study of Howard County; results were released about a week ago.
The Associated will now analyze the numbers that came out of the Baltimore study, with a presentation May 20.
“This is the first step,” said Mark D. Neumann, co-chair of the study. “We have a lot of decisions to make for the next decade.”