Metropolitan New York Jewish Population Stable At 1.4 Million -- Conservative and Reform Jews Decreasing Rapidly

by Mordecai Plaut

According to a study released on June 16 by the UJA- Federation of New York, the overall New York Jewish community in the metropolitan area has remained stable at 1.4 million people over the last twelve years, but the population of New York City itself has dropped below a million for the first time in a century. The proportion of Jews identifying themselves as Conservative and Reform in this area dropped from 70 percent to 55 percent in only 11 years.

About 50 years ago, the Jewish population of New York City was put at 2 million. In 1981, the Jewish population of New York City stood at 1.1 million. In 1991, the figure was 1.027 million. Now it is 972,000. In 1957 one out of four New Yorkers was Jewish, compared with one in eight today. However compared to other non-Hispanic whites the Jews are staying on, so they now constitute over a third of the city's "non- minority" population.

Entitled "The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2002 Highlights," the report is the result of a comprehensive study of the Jewish population in the eight-county area -- the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties -- served by the UJA-Federation. The last such study was done eleven years earlier in 1991.

The Bronx has approximately 45,000 Jews, and Staten Island has 42,000 Jews. Brooklyn had the largest Jewish population at 456,000, followed by Manhattan with 243,000. Since there were 171,000 Jewish households in Brooklyn and 155,000 in Manhattan, Brooklyn households are clearly much larger. In Queens there were 186,000 Jews and 87,000 households. In Nassau County there were 221,000 Jews and in Westchester 129,000. Suffolk County had 90,000.

The Jews of New York are becoming polarized around the extremes of Jewish identity. In the last study, 13 percent said they were "Just Jewish" or had no religion. The current figure is 25 percent.

On the other hand, in 1991 only 13 percent identified themselves as Orthodox, while 19 percent did so last year. Past experience also indicates that the Orthodox Jews may be significantly undercounted.

Conservative and Reform declined considerably for such a short period. In 1991, 34 percent identified themselves as Conservative and 36 percent as Reform. In 2002 the figures were 26 percent and 29 percent, respectively. This is an extremely sharp drop in so short a period. Altogether, 70 percent of the New York Area Jews identified themselves as Conservative or Reform in 1991 and in just eleven years the percentage was only 55 percent. If this trend has continued, it is now less than 53 percent. If it continues, then in another decade Conservative and Reform Jews will be barely a quarter of all New York metropolitan Jewry. The fall may even accelerate since other studies have shown that Conservative and Reform congregations tend to be elderly. In twenty-one years, if we project forward, Reform and Conservative will disappear entirely in the greater New York area.

"Reconstructionist" declined from two percent to one percent, but both figures are too small to be significant.

Of all the Jews in Brooklyn, 37 percent identify as Orthodox. This represents 169,000 Jews. Twenty percent of the Jews in Bronx (9,000) and Queens (37,000) said they were Orthodox, 11 percent of those in Manhattan (27,000) and 10 percent of those in Staten Island (4,200).

Still, 72 percent of all the Jews in New York say they "always or usually" fast on Yom Kippur, though 28 percent unfortunately say "never." The percentages for kosher are the reverse: 28 percent say they "always or usually" keep a kosher home and 72 percent, Hashem yeracheim, say "never." Both these indicators rose in the past decade: in 1991, 25 percent said they kept kosher and 66 percent said they fasted on Yom Kippur.

Continues . . .

Related essay: No More than 4 Million Halachic American Jews

Related essay: The Demography and the Reality of the Jewish People NJPS 2000-2001

Related essay: Should Non-Jews "Return" under the Law of Return?

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