“I love America because everyone walks around proudly with their Jewishness.”
A French teenager recently discovered one of the wonders of the world: New York City’s Jewish community. Cyril Buchinger came from Nice, France with 109 other Jewish kids to the city to participate in the growing Orthodox community in Brooklyn. They came with a threat on their backs: increasingly hostility to religious freedom. One year ago, three men maimed a Jewish teacher, leaving him on a Paris street outside of a kosher store with a broken nose and a swastika painted on his chest. Reports of curses against “Dirty Jews” filled the headlines of the Jewish press. In January of this year the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket Hyper Cacher started many of France’s 478,000 Jews to think about leaving their country. Maybe, some of them will come to New York City which honors Jewish faith identities of an utmost variety.
Here for Chabad Lubavitch’s Shabbat outreach to teenagers, Buchinger told a Chabad staffer, “I could not believe there were so many Jews in one place without being scared.”
According to a newly published 2014 survey, 8% of the adults in the New York City Metro area identify their religion as Jewish. This includes very religious, not so religious and even secular Jews. That means about 1.6 million Jews.
This figure itself varies by geography. There are proportionally fewer Jews in northern New Jersey. The 2012 American Jewish Population Project by research center at Brandeis University found that the percentage of Jews in northern New Jersey ranged between about 5% to 7%. There are proportionally more Jews on this side of the Hudson River.
In 2011 there were about 1.54 million (1,538,000) Jews in New York City, Westchester and Long Island, 13% of the general population (11,887,000), according to the Jewish Community Study of New York. In New York City proper there were about 1.1 million Jews (1,086,000) of the city’s population at that time (8,105,000). (Also see the national snapshot of Jews in the United States by PEW.)
Updated from American Values Atlas for September 22,2015: 9% of New Yorkers identify their religion as Jewish. This figure, of course, doesn't include non-religious Jews.
The largest cluster of Jews is in Brooklyn, which contains 52% of all Jews within the boundaries of the city proper.
The American Values Atlas telephone survey in English and Spanish of 3,383 adults of 18 years of age or older covers the 20.1 million people in the U.S. Census’ definition of the New York Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2014. The census determines the boundary, which range from parts of northern New Jersey to parts of Connecticut, according a formula that indicates a high degree of economic integration with New York City proper.
The question used to establish religious identity asked, “What is your present religion, if any?”
The importance of age and generation among NYC Metro Jews
The dominant generations of Jews in NYC metropolitan area are those from the World War II era and the Baby Boomers. 37% of Jews are aged 65 years and over, according to the American Values Atlas survey.
Only 24% of the Jewish households have children under age 18. However, other studies show clearly that the Orthodox families have many more children and have given Brooklyn its distinctive “youthful character” as far as Jews are concerned.
NYC religious Jews range from the Hassidic Lubivatcher Rebbe to the free spirits like Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Some like Carlebach and Schacter-Shalomi started out as super-conservatives and ended up as Aquarian prophets. Others have headed in the opposite direction. Messianic movements have also poured out of the city's Jewish neighborhoods. So, any broad stroke survey misses a lot of this dynamism. Still, the big picture is the frame out of which the innovations, movements, and fresh ideas come.
In New York City Jews are equally split between religious liberals and conservatives. 40% identify as Orthodox, according to a 2010 survey of 1282 Jews in New York City by the Values Research Institute.
It is a reasonable assumption that some varieties of Orthodox Jews are reluctant to answer telephone surveys and that about half of the Conservative Jews lean toward Orthodox religious convictions. So, it would be plausible to estimate that at least 45-50% of New York City Jews are on the Orthodox side of the religious spectrum.
On the religiously liberal side, there are more Conservatives than Reform or secular Jews. Perhaps, this fact is a result of a multi-decade surge of Conservatives on the Upper West Side. This is contrary to national trends.
Reform and Secular Jews are about equally represented. The Reconstructionists, who were never large to begin with, make up a tiny fraction of all Jews.
Over time, one suspect that the differences in religious beliefs will lead some Jews to be relatively disconnected from their religious roots. They will likely not keep a Bible at home or know much about the Bible and Jewish religious traditions coming out of the Bible. The Values Research Institute in 2010 asked a random sample of over 1200 Jews about keeping a Bible at home and their familiarity with famous Biblical stories.
Almost 40% of secular and Reform Jews no longer keep a Bible at home.
Not surprisingly, the Orthodox Jews knew their Bible. Only a small percentage said that they had little familiarity with some well-known Biblical stories.
Surprisingly, four out of ten religiously more liberal Jews had little familiarity with the story of Moses, from whom we get the Passover tradition. This lack of knowledge occurs despite the fact that most Jews will celebrate Passover tonight and in the coming week.
With additional reporting by Pauline Dolle.
See also our other exclusive features:
an overview of Metro NYC Religions;