Identified local Jewish population down to 3,570 individuals

Where are the Jews of Dayton? October 2010

Similar shift in all Ohio medium-sized cities. Brandeis researcher: it’s about jobs.

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

According to the Jewish Federation’s analysis of its data and that of area synagogues, the number of identified Jews in the Miami Valley has now shrunk to 3,570 — a little less than half of the area’s identified Jewish population at its peak of 7,200 in the 1960s and early ‘70s.

This significant loss of Jews over the past four decades has occurred in all of Ohio’s medium-sized metropolitan areas.

Dr. Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University, attributes these losses to the job market.

“I think it’s almost totally tied to the opportunities for employment and the fact that American Jews are distinctive compared to all other ethnic groups in their high levels of education,” Saxe said. “American Jews have followed the opportunities to work in communities that have industries that require high levels of education.”

By year’s end, Saxe and the Steinhardt Institute will release a study on the size and characteristics of America’s Jewish population.


Dr. Leonard Saxe, Brandeis University

He said the large cities on the East and West Coasts, which have “a high concentration of industries requiring high levels of education and skill,” are the magnets for young and older Jews.

“As young people go off to college and graduate school and so on, they end up not coming back often to their communities because there simply aren’t the opportunities there.”

The most drastic Jewish population decline in Ohio is in Canton, which had 2,675 Jews in 1972. With only 900 identified Jews in 2010, it closed its Jewish Community Center in June.

The Dayton-area’s identified Jews — who affiliate, donate or participate in some way — live in 1,830 households, down from 1,912 households in 2000.

Ten years ago, Clayton/Harrison Township was the Dayton area community with the largest local concentration of Jewish households, at 292. Today, it has 170. Centerville now has the most Jewish households, with 343.

Centerville is also the local community with the largest number of identifiable Jews, with 746 individuals living in those households. This is followed by Clayton/Harrison Township, with 357 individuals; Oakwood, with 323, and Kettering with 293.

Those who don’t connect
Saxe said it is possible to find out how many unconnected Jews live in a community. But the data come at a steep price that few beyond the largest communities are willing to pay.

“I’m on the record as saying we’ve misused resources to study American Jewry by focusing on counting people,” Saxe said. “My fundamental problem is, to count people, and particularly those who are not affiliated, you need to talk to mostly non-Jews. We are approximately two percent of the (U.S.) population. It means for every Jewish respondent you talk to (via phone), you’ve got to talk to 49 non-Jewish respondents. Well, that’s very, very expensive to do.”

Saxe’s Steinhardt Institute population study of Jews in the United States doesn’t rely on telephone surveys. Rather, he combined 150 government surveys (of approximately 1,500 responses each) taken over a 20-year period.

The U.S. government is prohibited from asking questions about religion on its census. “But when it does every other survey that it funds and conducts directly, where it regards health or education or anything,” Saxe said, “it usually asks a standard bank of questions about religion and ethnicity.”

This is his solution to the problems of the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America. Saxe considers NJPS estimates of the number of American Jews (5.2 million) way too low.

The main problem with NJPS 2000, he said, was that it attempted to reach people by telephone.

“In urban areas, Jews are less likely to respond to telephone calls,” he said. “Call at 6 at night, they’re out at dinner, at a meeting, at work. It should have been obvious to people that there were errors.”

One such distortion that Saxe pointed out about NJPS 2000 was that it reported that 30 percent of American Jewish children are enrolled in Jewish day schools. This, he says, was because those most likely to be at home at dinner were those in the Orthodox community.

“If you have six kids and only eat at kosher restaurants, you’re less likely to eat out,” he said. “Because they (NJPS) reached less than one in five of the people they tried to reach, they ended up with this kind of distortion. We think, on the one hand, that the population is significantly larger than NJPS suggested. We also think the population is also much more diverse than people have suspected.”

Because of the problems with methodology and the high cost, there is no NJPS 2010.

“To do it right would have cost $10-20 million,” Saxe said. “That’s a lot of money. When you think of the number of people that you could send to Israel for that, it doesn’t make sense.”

Saxe said his study is primarily funded through the Steinhardt Institute. He added that he consciously did not seek specific institutional support.

Though he said the total cost of his study will be difficult to estimate, it will be “significantly less than the $6 million that was spent on NJPS 2000-01.”

One group of small Jewish communities that has stepped up to pay for a comprehensive demographic study — using telephone surveys — is in western North Carolina.

On Oct. 3, Matthew Boxer, a research associate with the Cohen Center at Brandeis — who is completing his doctoral dissertation on small American Jewish communities — will present the results of a demographic study of the North Carolina Jewish communities of Asheville, Hendersonville, Brevard, and Franklin.

“One of our tasks was to find out how many unaffiliated Jews there were,” Boxer said. “There are about 3,200 affiliated Jews there, which includes seasonal residents, so it’s a little different. But we found in the neighborhood of a thousand unaffiliated (year-round) Jews.”

Boxer and his team targeted areas most likely to have people affiliated with the Jewish communities and contacted a data broker for names, addresses, and phone numbers of people in those locations who might be identified as Jewish by ethnicity, religion, Israeli nationality, distinct Jewish names, and Russian or Belorussian nationality.

From a sample of 1,200, the center completed 700 telephone surveys among people who identified as year-round residents who were Jewish.

“That’s actually phenomenal for a survey of this sort to be able to get that high a response rate,” Boxer said.

He estimated it took approximately 4,000 phone calls to achieve the results. He said the budget for a sample of that size — including the small army of well-trained people to make the calls — costs approximately $35-40,000.

“For that community, they felt it was worth it,” Boxer said, “because there’s a lot they don’t know about their community and they’ve never done a study of this sort. It’s actually very rare to find a study of this sort in a small community in part because resources tend to be so scarce and there are other things that are important that you want to spend your money on.”

Saxe said he doesn’t think the numbers are what is important. “I think it’s the quality of Jewish life, not the numbers of Jews being the important issue.”


Related: Community averages 30 newcomers each year

Ohio Jewish community population shifts since 1972

Medium-sized cities are in decline
• Akron — 6,500 identified Jews in 1972, 3,500 in 2010
• Canton — 2,675 in 1972, 900 in 2010
• Dayton — 7,200 in 1972, 3,570 in 2010
• Toledo — 7,350 in 1972, 4,000 in 2005
• Youngstown — 5,400 in 1972, 3,200 in 2004

Large cities remain stable or grow
• Cincinnati — 28,000 Id’d Jews in 1972, 27,000 in 2008
• Columbus — 13,000 in 1972, 22,000 in 2001
• Cleveland — 80,000 in 1972, 81,500 in 2005

Sources: 1972 American Jewish Yearbook, local Jewish federations

Miami Valley highest concentration of Jewish households by Zip in 2010

Centerville/Wash Twp., 45459: 191
Harrison Twp./Clayton, 45415: 170
Kettering/Wash. Twp., 45429: 162
Centerville/Wash. Twp., 45458: 152
Oakwood, 45419: 116
Englewood/Union, 45322: 95
Butler Twp., 45414: 73
Trotwood, 45426: 69
N. Dayton/Harrison Twp., 45405: 61
Springboro, 45066: 52
Greene County, 45440: 45
N.W. Dayton, 45406: 42
Kettering/Oakwood, 45409: 38
Miamisburg, 45342: 34
Yellow Springs, 45387: 34

Source: Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton

Location of Miami Valley’s identified Jewish households

In 2000
Total of 1,912 households
North: 992, 51.9%
South: 786, 41.1%
East: 75, 3.9%
Other: 57, 3%

In 2010
Total of 1,830 households

North: 646, 35.3%
South: 889, 48.58%
East: 260, 14.21%
Other: 35, 1.9%

Source: Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton

Number of individuals in Miami Valley’s identified Jewish households, 2010

Total of 3,570 individuals
North: 1,178, 33%
South: 1,838, 51.48%
East: 500, 14%
Other: 54, 1.5%

Source: Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton

Households with people ages 57-87 in Miami Valley’s identified Jewish community, 2010

Total of 842 households (46%)
North: 337, 40.02%
South: 386, 45.84%
East: 119, 14.13%

Source: Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton

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