Survey finds growing Jewish community, less engaged youth

Baltimore's Jewish population continues to grow, but younger, non-Orthodox Jews are less likely than others to be actively engaged in Jewish organizations, a recent study of the Jewish community has found.

The study, commissioned by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, is described as "a snapshot of Jewish Baltimore," one the organization attempts to capture about every decade.

Among the findings:

•The Jewish population in the Baltimore area has grown 2 percent, to 93,400, since 1999, when the last survey was conducted.

•The Jewish community remains heavily concentrated in and around Pikesville, with 75 percent of Jews in the study area living in five contiguous zip codes.

•Orthodox Jews make up 32 percent of the area's Jewish population, up from 21 percent in 1999, and nearly 90 percent of them feel connected to their community.

•Just 14 percent of non-Orthodox 18-to-34-year-olds feel it is very important to be part of a Jewish community.

"This community planning study really allows us to make sure we continue to be at the top of our game, responding to evolving needs and opportunities," said Michael Hoffman, senior vice president for community planning and allocations for The Associated.

This study claims to be the first of any U.S. Jewish community survey to include cell phone interviews, which is said to have enabled researchers to reach more young adults. The survey covered Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County and was conducted between March and June of last year.

Hoffman noted that while the Jewish population remains concentrated in and around Northwest Baltimore, there has been an increase in Jewish households in Roland Park, Guilford, downtown harbor areas, Towson, Lutherville and Timonium. That suggests a need for Jewish institutions and social services in those areas, he said.

"There are very few synagogues outside of Northwest Baltimore," he said. "For the most part, if you live in Timonium, you have to drive 20 minutes or more to get to your local synagogue. If you live a little bit outside, there's no Jewish preschool."

Some of the people visiting the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Jewish Community Center Sunday reflected the diversity of Jewish Baltimore. There was 5-year-old Yitzchak Moinzadeh, a kindergartner from an Orthodox home who attends a nearby synagogue and Talmudical Academy of Baltimore. There was also Ellie Pearlman, a 51-year-old bookkeeper, who has chosen to live in the area to be near her job, children and kosher supermarkets. But except for the JCC, where she was working out Sunday, she is not involved in Jewish organizations.

"Me, personally, I'm not big on synagogue," she said.

She picked the JCC as her health club not because of the religious affiliation, but because it was "better on the pocketbook" than other fitness centers. "It's where I can afford to go right now," she said.

The study found that area Jews, like other Americans, were still suffering from the economic downturn, and that financial strain had limited their ability to do things like send their children to Jewish day schools or camps.

"We have to make it affordable and not have cost be a barrier to participating in Jewish life," Hoffman said.

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