Jews have been intent on counting themselves since Moses conducted a census after the erection of the Tabernacle, and the practice continues in contemporary Pittsburgh. But while the community’s newest effort, the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study released earlier this year, showed that the local Jewish population has increased by 17 percent since 2002, other findings of the study reveal that there are serious challenges to our Jewish future.
That was one message that came out of last month’s panel discussion, titled “Where Do We Go from Here?” in the South Hills, where community leaders weighed in on the data revealed in the 100-page study — which includes almost 200 additional pages of appendices.
But after the two-hour long discussion, we wondered if our South Hills communal leaders — and perhaps our Greater Pittsburgh communal leaders — are in fact delving into the data in a meaningful way.
As explained by panelist Rabbi Danny Schiff, the Jewish Community Foundation’s community scholar, the study uncovered some statistics that are hard to ignore. When looked at honestly, he said, they expose where work needs to be done in order to enable Judaism to thrive in Pittsburgh in the coming decades.
Intermarriage rates are soaring, and the study’s unequivocal data show that the children of those marriages have just a 10 percent chance of being raised as Jewish “by religion,” compared to an 86 percent chance if raised by two Jewish parents. Non-Orthodox congregational affiliation is plummeting in Pittsburgh, the data shows, with evidence pointing to the decline continuing. These statistics mirror the trends of Jews nationwide, according to the 2013 Pew study of American Jewry. And although 20 percent of Greater Pittsburgh Jews live in the South Hills, only 27 percent of those consider themselves either immersed or connected to Jewish life.
The $325,000 study is chock-full of other facts and findings from which the community might glean a path forward, if it takes the time to really examine the conclusions and engage in frank and comprehensive dialogue. Jewish philanthropic dollars are limited, and the data produced by the study may well indicate the most prudent use of those dollars to ensure the best chance of a vibrant Jewish future.
The study was just released in February, so it’s still early to evaluate if its findings can provide meaningful direction and whether community leaders are willing and able to come up with a plan to propel Jewish Pittsburgh forward. But, at least in the South Hills, the work of utilizing the study does not appear to have yet begun.
The panelists at the South Hills forum seemed stuck in their respective organizations’ fixed and persistent narratives, with no indication of having absorbed the wealth of information that is now at their fingertips.
The Foundation invested significant resources in commissioning the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, intending that our professional and lay leaders would use it to plan for our Jewish future. If we really want to figure out “where do we go from here?” as a community, we need to start the process by seriously looking at and unpacking the study’s copious findings. The Chronicle intends to play a role in charting this path in an upcoming series of articles which will take a closer look at the data and its implications.
We hope that other community leaders begin to pay attention to what the study says about Jewish Pittsburgh now, what it can be, and how best to get there. PJC