Jewish Journal

Your School Too Persian Phenomenon and Jewish Boom and Bust Cycles in Los Angeles

by Pini Herman

May 16, 2014 | 2:11 pm

Demographers look at phenomenon such as raised by  Dr. Afshine Emrani in his blog entitled “Is Your School Too Persian? Is Beverly Hills Too Jewish?” in the lens of population dynamics which may affect perceptions. 

Is Beverly Hills too Jewish? may be simpler to answer. Apart from Kiryas Yoel, a Satmar incorporated village in New York state, Beverly Hills has had and still has one of the highest municipal concentrations of Jews in the U.S.  The Iranian Jewish migration of the 1970s somewhat replaced an aging "empty nester" American and European Jewish Beverly Hills population who put their houses with now extra bedrooms on the market.

Doing some back-of-the-envelope fertility calculations, it seems that LA’s Iranian Jewish community is currently sending younger children to school just as the larger Jewish community’s older children are mostly advancing through the higher grades of their secondary education.  In short, the LA Jewish Iranian seems to be expanding in it’s need of lower grades educational services, just as those locally available educational services may be contracting.

The trauma and military effort of World War II has implications for the European and American Jews living in LA resulting in a baby boom that is famous for causing rapid expansions and contractions of all services and markets serving them.  This contraction and expansion happens only a bit less sharply to the large wave of children birthed by the baby boomer, often termed the “baby boom echo.”  The baby boom echo began having lots of children around 1975 and their kids, sometimes termed the “baby boom reverb” started having a lot of kids around 2005 and it’s these “baby boomer second reverb” are those Jewish kids going through the school system now.

The Iranian Jewish community fortunately did not experience most sharp effects of World War II, but as the result of the Iranian Revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s many Iranian refugees put off having children because of the trauma of flight and resettlement and experience their own LA Jewish Iranian baby boom beginning in the 1980s.  Those LA Jewish Iranian baby boomers born in the 1980s are currently giving birth to an Iranian Jewish baby boom echo who are have been recently entering the educational system.

The main body of the Ashkenazi “baby boom second reverb” is likely now passing through the  high school grades and off to college, while the main (and much smaller numerically) body of Iranian Jewish baby boom echo kids are just now entering the earlier grades.

In 1996 the Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey of the Jewish Federation counted an estimated 17,000 Irananian Jews out of 519,000 total Jews in greater Los Angeles, a finding that was met with disbelief by the Iranian Jewish community. Assuming that these estimate are correct and roughly estimating that a third of the estimated Jewish Iranian population is of school age 4 to 17 that would be about a five thousand student population.  My guess is that the Iranian "baby boom" caused by the deferred childbearing resulting from the Iranian Revolution of 1979 is running it's course and those Iranian Jewish "Baby Boomers" are in their 30's and now are having their own kids who are the "baby boom echo" of a second generation of Iranian Jewish ancestry born in the U.S. These are the children who are now entering pre-schools and elementary schools around Beverly Hills and adjacent areas.

Let's say, around a third of an estimated 400 of each separate school grade aged Iranian Jewish child cohort go to private Jewish school, that would be about 140 per each grade.  Private school classes rarely exceed 25 pupils, so this would be, for example, enough Iranian Jewish kids to populate six totally Persian first grades in Jewish private schools in the areas where they usually reside.  That would pretty much oversubscribe the currently available Jewish Day School capacity of the community. 

This Iranian Jewish "baby boom echo" is what Iranian Jewish parents in their thirties and the schools that serve them are likely experiencing.  All of this was foreseeable if any of the LA organized Jewish community had any functioning demographic or planning capacity remaining.  In the meanwhile the only public perception by all is that things are "Too Persian."  Fair warning, if residential patterns remain similar, this may well be happening again with an Iranian Jewish "baby boom reverberation" around 2040.

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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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