March 29, 2013
Pico-Robertson as a Demographically Stagnant Community
The Pico-Robertson demographic trends were revealed in two enlightening articles of a center of local Jewish Orthodox resident by Jonah Lowenfeld in the west end of Pico-Robertson and by Jared Sichel on the east end of Pico-Robertson. Jewish Orthodox areas are often constrained by walking distance to a synagogue that the Jewish Orthodox worshiper feels meet their needs. Often synagogue planning and foundings are based on rosey projections as to their attractiveness to a particular type of worshiper.
Rather than sharing a rosey outlook, my basic demographic assumption about Orthodox Jewry in the whole of the Pico-Robertson area is that it at best is a stagnant population for the past 15-20 years and perhaps slightly declining in number. That’s not a narrative local boosters like to hear.
The east end Pico-Robertson area, called by realtors Faircrest Heights, is an example of local Orthodox Jewish boosters talking up an area to entice others to move in. This may actually create a viable Orthodox Jewish area, but at the cost to existing Orthodox Jewish areas which may become less viable.
The west end Pico-Robertson area example of Mogen David is an example of an existing legacy Jewish institution which was considered to be "traditional" with mixed gender seating.
I was asked and agreed to consult on a voluntary basis in 1999 by the Mogen David board committee that was considering the shift to conventional Orthodoxy for before they placed a mechitza for separate gender seating.
I told Mogen David, 14 years ago, the best they could hope for was cannibalizing other Orthodox congregations further east because the neighborhood they were in was too expensive for their hoped-for orthodox congregants to buy into and too far to walk to, except for younger vigorous Jews.
Unfortunately, my judgement, though ignored, seems to have been accurate, as was mentioned in the Mogen David article Rabbi Davidovitz is still attempting to "attract 'floaters,' young people who feel disenfranchised at the other Orthodox synagogues in Pico-Robertson."
This "cannibalization" of congregants is symptomatic of a relatively small Orthodox population that is not growing and ultimately leads to a proliferation of synagogues which may not have to critical congregational mass to survive.
Mogen David is not the only synagogue to host a Sephardic congregation without the resources for their own building as this segment of the Orthodox population is even smaller than the Ashkenaz Orthodox population and doesn't have the historical resources to tap.
The article on the east-end Faircrest Heights is pretty much the same story, but with cheaper housing than on the west side of Pico-Roberts where Mogen David is situated. My guess is that the Faircrest Hts. area will valiantly struggle for the next decade and never achieve a critical mass in terms of Orthodox habitability unless there is an unforeseen Orthodox migration into LA from other parts of the US or abroad. I don't expect much local growth of the Orthodox 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 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: email@example.com To follow Pini on Twitter: Follow @pinih