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Communal Survival of Jews and Blacks in Poverty

by Pini Herman

August 22, 2012 | 2:56 pm

In a recent (June 29, 2012) Jewish Forward editorial on the major finding of the 2011 New York Jewish Community Study that found a high association between ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews and poverty, the Forward editor was moved to entitle her editorial:  “The Undeserving Poor?” The editorial described the the source of Orthodox poverty as primarily attributed to the “choice” of having large families.

Perhaps a more accurate description should be that the ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews are “programmed” for communal survival.

Worried about the continued existence of their culturally rich community, Haredis fear and instinctually know what Jewish population surveys have repeatedly shown: The majority of their sacrifice to lead their children to a full lifespan of Orthodoxy will not pay off. Only four-in-ten people raised Orthodox as children remained so in adulthood according to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey. At a 60% loss, having 6 children puts Orthodox families just a bit above replacement level at 2.4 children. The Orthodox community’s loss happens to be the main source for the replenishment of the waning numbers of Conservative Jews and also supplies one-in-ten current Reform Jews.

How much actual childbearing “choice” these communities have, if they are to remain viable communities, is open for debate.

It may not be a stretch to find a contemporary rough analogy to the Haredi in America to the fertility of the poor Black American community. Poor Black females know from experience, and statistics amply bears out, that the likelihood of having a child with a Black male mate who will survive to adulthood and not be incarcerated is low.  By not adapting to this American reality, the culturally rich, Black poor community could be in danger of losing its
demographic viability to remain in existence.

The “protection” of the yeshiva for poor black hatted Haredi males may be for poor Black males be “sitting” in a prison. Black men have a 28 percent chance of incarceration during their lifetime, and as found by demographer Evelyn Patterson, have a better survival rate in prison than outside of prison.  Homicide, usually outside of prison, is the leading cause of mortality for Black men between the ages of 15 and 34. It may tragically be that black men survive better in prison because they are more physically secure and get better health care behind bars than they do in their communities.

Interestingly, the largest American Haredi community shares not only the Williamsburg and Boro Park sections of Brooklyn geography with a poor Black community, but perhaps also similar coping mechanism for ensuring their demographic and communal vitality as well as a sense of being oppressed by outsiders.

I find it interesting that the narratives of the African American poor and Jewish poor communities may be again intertwined by the circumstances of our divergent histories of oppression and economic challenge. Though the sources of communal challeng may diverge greatly there may be great commonality in the goals of physical survival and communal vitality.

I doubt that the editors of the Jewish Forward would term the poor Black community as “undeserving poor.” Perhaps the poor Haredi community might be looked upon less judgmentally by others in the Jewish community.

Pini Herman, PhD. has served as Asst. Research Professor at the University of Southern California Dept. of Geography,  Adjunct Lecturer at the USC School of Social Work,  Research Director at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles following Bruce Phillips, PhD. in that position (and author of the “most recent” 15 year old study of the LA Jewish population which was the third most downloaded study from Berman Jewish Policy Archives in 2011) and is a past President of the Movable Minyan a lay-lead independent congregation in the 3rd Street area. Currently he is a principal of Phillips and Herman Demographic Research. To email Pini: pini00003@gmail.com To follow Pini on Twitter:

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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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