|Note: We asked a representative group of community members to help us illustrate this story. The federation’s survey was anonymous.|
Who are you?
That’s a question we wonder about here at the Jewish Standard: Who are you, our reader?
And it’s a question the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey wanted answered: Who are you, the Jewishly involved resident of northern New Jersey?
As Jason Shames, the federation’s chief executive officer, put it: “How are you going to know what to do if you don’t know who you have?”
To answer these questions, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey recently undertook a marketing survey.
The federation created an online survey, which it promoted through mailed postcards, emails from the federation and area Jewish agencies, synagogues, and schools, and advertisements in newspapers like this one and the Bergen Record. It also called a few hundred randomly selected people with Jewish last names. All told, the federation received 2,815 responses to its questionnaire, which included 86 questions – many of which had many parts.
That’s a lot of data.
The federation has begun presenting the results in a series of public meetings and board discussions. Federation leaders sat down with the Jewish Standard to discuss the findings, and responded to several requests for specific data analysis.
Unlike the survey conducted in 2001 by the UJA Federation of Bergen County & North Hudson – one of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s predecessor organizations – this was not a demographic survey, designed to find all the Jews in the region.
Repeating such a survey, Mr. Shames said, likely would have cost at least twice as much as the marketing survey it did conduct, because of the expense of reaching people who are not otherwise connected to the Jewish community or any of its organizations.
And it would have been less helpful to the federation and its agencies as they work to improve their services.
The Jews can be divided into three groups, Mr. Shames said.
There are the already affiliated – the group he jokingly called “the Kool-Aid drinkers.”
At the other extreme are the non-affiliated. This survey did not aim to find them.
In between are the somewhat affiliated.
“Those are people who identify as Jews but may not be consistent users of Jewish community offerings,” he said. “They occasionally will go to a JCC program, show up to our rally, go to temple twice or three times a year.
“They’re ripe for further engagement if we’re better able to meet their interests and needs.”
So if the survey sheds no new light on the dark mass of people who identify as Jews but aren’t connected, it does tell a fair amount about you, a reader who cares enough about the Jewish community to read this article.
Of course, surveys don’t answer the question of who are you, individually.
You, the reader, probably identify as Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox. (That’s not meant as a knock against those of you who identify as Reconstructionist, “Just Jewish,” or something else. There are just fewer of you.)
However, you, dear reader, probably are not 26 percent Reform, 40 percent Conservative, and 20 percent Orthodox, like the aggregate respondents to the federation survey. (In a recent marketing survey the Jewish Standard conducted, we found a virtually identical denominational breakdown: 29 percent Reform, 41 percent Conservative, 18 percent Orthodox, and 12 percent other.)
The relationship between Orthodox and non-Orthodox was an issue that surfaced in a separate set of interviews, conducted by the research firm that ran the survey, of federation and community executives and philanthropists.
“There’s a divide, a gap” between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox, Mr. Shames summarized. “When you’re trying to build one Jewish community and you have such strong walls based on a religious denomination, that’s a major challenge.”
“There’s a desire for more platforms for multiple denominations to get together,” said Lisa Harris Glass, the federation’s managing director for community planning and impact.
Overall, the federation survey found the Orthodox community to be geographically concentrated – two-thirds live in Teaneck – and relatively young. Sixty-two percent are under 50 with 37 percent in the 35 to 49 bracket. The median age for the Orthodox respondents was 45, as compared to 51 overall. (All the respondents had to be 18 or older.)
The least represented age group was from 25 to 29. Clearly, Bergen and Passaic are not counties for young adults.
The federation had worried that the survey’s online format would discourage the elderly from participating. That wasn’t the case. “Older people were happy to take the survey online, though it took them a little longer,” Mr. Shames said.
A quarter of respondents were 65 or older; 4 percent were over 85.
Overall, 73 percent of the respondents are married or living with a partner. Forty five percent have at least one child under 18. The average household size is about 3.1, but 40 percent of households have four or more members.
Ninety-one percent of the married respondents are married to other Jews – for an intermarriage rate of 9 percent.
“This wasn’t a demographic study, and this is one of the places it shows,” Ms. Glass said. “It is a product of self-selection. We don’t do a good enough job in including the intermarried community in the Jewish community.”
She pointed to the findings of last year’s Pew Research Center Study of U.S. Jews, which found “a marked increase in intermarried couples who are raising their children as Jews.
“We have to find a better way to include them,” she said.
Though they were a small group, the intermarrieds who responded to the survey are distinctive in some ways.
Most notably, they are younger than the average respondent. More than half are under 50 – 37 percent are between 35 and 49. Overall, only 23 percent of the respondents were 35 to 49. But if the intermarried are young, conversely, 37 percent of the married 35- to 49-year-old respondents are intermarried.
The denominational affiliations of the intermarried also stand out. Fifty-three percent identify as Reform – the religious stream that has made outreach to the intermarried a priority. That’s double the general Reform affiliation. Twenty-two percent identify as Conservative – that’s half the rate of the survey overall. As a result, the intermarried are about 15 percent of the Reform respondents, and only 4 percent of the Conservative.
Intermarried respondents seem to have the same attitudes toward Judaism as the general sample; 88 percent agree that being Jewish is important to them. That’s only five points less than among all respondents. But in a finding that echoes other studies of the intermarried, their connection to Israel is far weaker. Only 34 percent say they are very or extremely attached to Israel, as against 68 percent overall, and 26 percent said they were not at all attached, as against only 6 percent overall.
The bulk of the survey respondents – 81 percent – live in Bergen County. Eleven percent are from Passaic County. Seven percent are from Hudson County: 2 percent from the northern part of the county, including North Bergen, and 5 percent from the southern part, including Hoboken. That division reflects two separate Jewish communities in the county. In the north, the average age of the respondent is 63, far older than the overall average of 51. But in the Hoboken community, the average age is only 39.
The denomination figures for southern Hudson reflected the strong influence of the United Synagogue of Hoboken, which is Conservative: 62 percent identified as Conservative, versus 21 percent as Reform and only 2 percent as Orthodox. But answers to a different question highlight the impact of Hoboken’s new Lubavitch congregation: 28 percent of south Hudson respondents said they belong to or support Chabad, and 70 percent said they belong to or support a synagogue. (The survey question differentiated between support of a “synagogue, shul or temple” and Chabad; the division was because synagogues charge dues while Chabad’s services are provided free.)
That 70 percent is the same as the whole survey’s response for synagogue support. The total for Chabad association is 17 percent. (Five percent said that they belong to a chavurah, which was a third option.)
Respondents who are unaffiliated with a synagogue, Chabad, or chavurah ranked key questions of Jewish identity less intensely than others. Sixty one percent of this group strongly agreed that “being Jewish is important to me,” as against 80 percent of the overall sample. But only 7 percent disagreed.
This group also was less attached to Israel. Forty-nine percent said they were very or extremely attached to Israel emotionally, as against 68 percent of all respondents. The percentage claiming no emotional attachment to Israel was twice that of the overall survey, but still only 12 percent.
Eighteen percent of respondents said they belonged to one of three local Jewish community centers, and 27 percent said they belong to or support the local chapter of a Jewish social or political organization.
One finding Mr. Shames highlighted was the correlation between a respondent’s high income and his or her feeling included in the community. “A household income of $200,000 or more allows people to feel they’re more engaged,” he said.
Nearly a quarter of respondents didn’t answer the question on income. Of those who did, 30 percent reported an income of more than $200,000; a further 15 percent reported income between $150,000 and $200,000.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Bergen County’s median income is $79,272, ranking it 39th in the country.
One key set of questions for federation concerned how the community viewed its institutions. Have you heard of various agencies, community centers, federation programs, and schools, it asked. And if you have heard, what do you think of them?
The survey showed that people generally were familiar with those institutions.
The Frisch School in Paramus was the most recognized institution – 92 percent of respondents said they were somewhat or very familiar with it. Of those who were familiar, 90 percent said they viewed the school favorably. Three other long-standing day schools – the Solomon Schechter Day School in New Milford, the Yavneh Academy in Paramus, and the Moriah School in Englewood – also had high favorability and high recognition. In fact, they were better recognized than the Jewish federation itself, which was recognized by 77 percent of respondents.
The discrepancy possibly reflects the federation’s “having changed the name of the agency three or four times,” Mr. Shames said. “What would UJA have scored?”
Of those who were familiar with federation, 83 percent rated it as excellent or good.
But Mr. Shames doesn’t want to look at the federation’s glass as being four-fifths full and be satisfied. “For me, there’s a lot of room for growth,” he said.
That potential growth can be seen in the gap between respondents who say they donate to their synagogue – 72 percent – and those who give to federation – 45 percent.
“Jews who are affiliated who don’t give to Federation are our best market,” Mr. Shames said. “Our growth opportunity is from the marginally affiliated, and the affiliated who aren’t affiliated with us.”
Going forward, the survey – and in particular its questions and answers about philanthropic priorities – will shape how the federation presents itself.
“The alignment of what people are really interested in reaffirms for me that the federation has a very real role to play,” Mr. Shames said.
“The top three priorities are ensuring a vibrant Jewish future, a safe and secure Israel, and fighting anti-Semitism. There’s a clear message in that. These things wholly play into what the federation is. It gives us an opportunity to galvanize the community differently.”
Will such shifts help the federation? Mr. Shames said he wants it to start putting aside money so it can conduct a similar survey in five or seven years. (This survey was funded by special grants from the Russell Berrie Foundation and the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation. And Mr. Shames singled out Norman Seiden for pushing the federation to make the study.)
But enough about them.
Here’s one more thing about you:
Unless you’re reading this article on our website, you’re part of the 73 percent of survey respondents who get news from print newspapers. And you’re part of the 69 percent of those people – or half of everyone – who reads the Jewish Standard.
Now you know.
|Who might we be?|
|In 2001, the UJA-Federation of Bergen & North Hudson survey reported 78,200 Jews in 28,000 households in Bergen County.
By design, this year’s federation marketing survey wasn’t about counting the Jews of North Jersey.
But that doesn’t mean estimates aren’t available.
The Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University has an estimates for the Jewish population of most of America (sorry, Alaska and Hawaii). And for New Jersey, the estimates are broken down for each county.
First, a word on the institute’s methodology. It gathers information from consumer marketing surveys that ask respondents their religion. As of 2012 – the most recent data available online – more than 6,000 adults reporting themselves as Jewish had been contacted by the surveys aggregated on the site.
Two categories of Jews aren’t included in this methodology: children, and “Jews not by religion.”
With that caveat out of the way, the Brandeis institute estimates the adult Jewish-by-religion population of Bergen County at 56,000 – with a possible range from 43,000 to 70,000.
Throw in the children and the Jews who don’t identify by religion, and Dr. Leonard Saxe, who heads the institute, figures the Bergen County Jewish population to be about 90,000.
One indication of the difference between the demographic methodology and the survey of the affiliated can be seen in the denominational response to the 2001 survey. Then, there were 30 percent who identified as “Just Jewish,” a category selected by just 9 percent in this survey.