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A Community Frozen in Time Demographically

Bruce Phillips

December 30, 2012 | 11:08 am

I just got back from the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies.  One session was on Jewish diversity within the Jewish community. There were two papers on New York  and one on Chicago.  Which community is missing here? 

That’s right…Los Angeles!  New York and Chicago both did Jewish population surveys recently, and Los Angeles was conspicuously absent from this session because our last study is close to 16 years old. My colleagues in Jewish demography are astonished that LA does not even have a survey on the radar. 

I could only refer to Jay Sanderson’s, the Jewish Federation's President, Jewish Journal interview from this past summer: “While Sanderson agrees that a study could help refine and guide programs, he believes Federation already has a good read on the community.” I wonder how Mr. Sanderson would have to say to a Jewish educator at a large synagogue who called me the other day to ask why religious school enrollment has been steadily falling over the past few years. Was it the economy?  Were Jews leaving the area from which the synagogue has drawn students in the past? Was the number of Jews in that denomination shrinking? I gave him my best guess and emphasized it was only a guess. Jay Sanderson and the Federation leadership apparently know the answer but haven’t told the rest of us.  Or maybe they don’t know why and actually don’t care why enrollment was declining at this synagogue (and maybe others). 

Sanderson’s quote is telling: “I don’t think we’ll learn anything that will dramatically change the work we’re already doing. I think it will validate things we’re doing.” Apparently what Federation does matters, but not what other institutions do. In future posts I’ll try to address this question. In the meantime, you can party like it’s 1997 and look forward to 2000 when Joe Lieberman will be our first Jewish Vice President.

Bruce Phillips is a Professor of Jewish Communal Service in the School of Non-Profit Management, HUC-JIR/Los Angeles and USC. Bruce is among the leading sociologists studying the contemporary Jewish community, specializing in the sociology and demography of American Jewry.  Bruce can be found playing banjo, mandolin and other stringed instruments in the Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Shabbat Unplugged live Bayit (House) Band on many Friday nights.To email Bruce: pini00003@gmail.com

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Bruce Phillips is Professor of Sociology and Jewish Communal Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles. He has conducted Jewish population...

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