September 14, 2000
Standing by the Data
The counting of peoples and characteristics is a science and art, as well as a fairly expensive and labor-intensive undertaking when done properly. Demography is often not an easily understood topic. It's common to find inflated and even improbable population estimates in major newspapers that gain currency just because they appeared there.
We are perhaps too familiar with Anthony Gordon and Richard Horowitz's widely distributed Jewish population projection chart that surfaced a couple of years ago. The graphic appeared in ads in The Jewish Journal, as well as in Moment magazine, The Jewish Spectator and as a theme in Alan Dershowitz's book, "The Vanishing American Jew." The widely disseminated chart was never submitted for professional or peer review but became part of the "common wisdom" in the United States and Israel, propelled by some political advocates.
The Gordon and Horowitz graphic chart portrays in stick figures a ninefold growth in the Orthodox population over four generations. In the meanwhile, Gordon and Horowitz project the populations of other Jewish denominations such as Reform to decline to a bit more than a tenth of current levels, and the nondenominational Jewish population to shrink even more after four generations. Basically, Gordon and Horowitz show in graphic terms that the non-Orthodox virtually vanish from the American landscape. Seeing that I have serious disagreement with their self-published study, Gordon and Horowitz are, of course, going to disagree with the findings of the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey (LAJPS).In undertaking the 1997 LAJPS, I found 10,300 Orthodox households. I used the same general methodology as the previous 1979 Phillips survey and found a smaller percentage of Orthodox households, which in turn found less than the 1953 Massarik survey, which found 17,000 Orthodox households in Los Angeles. Nationally, the 1971 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) found that 8.4 percent of the households were Orthodox, and 19 years later, the 1990 NJPS showed that proportion of Orthodox households in the U.S. Jewish population had declined to 6.8 percent. There is a margin for error, but unless demographic trends reversed themselves, I stand by my judgment of the data.
Fortunately we will not have to wait four generations to see whether the 1997 LAJPS findings are out of line with national trends, as the 2000 NJPS results will be available by 2002, if not earlier.
A demographic study is a mirror of a community and often elicits great interest for people who are intensely involved in that community. The more intensely invested and involved people are, the greater the difficulty for them to be objective. That is why a discipline of rigorous methodology and analysis are required to ensure that the community is reflected with a minimum of distortion. The 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey achieved that.