A portrait of Bay Area Jewish life – knowing more so we can do better

We have much to do to create a more Jewishly engaged and thriving community for all people at all stages of life.

A general aerial view of San Francisco is seen in San Francisco, California, U.S., October 5, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A general aerial view of San Francisco is seen in San Francisco, California, U.S., October 5, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For more than a century, the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties (the Federation) has been supporting a vibrant, caring and enduring Jewish community – one that has profoundly evolved over the past 100 years. Yet, to do our work effectively and to make a difference in people’s lives today, we need to better understand the Jewish population, know the community’s concerns, what they care about and what they need.
A new social scientific study offers our entire Jewish community the insight and data to help build and sustain a Jewish future. We are pleased to share A Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities, the first-ever comprehensive examination of the Bay Area Jewish population, spanning 10 counties – Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma – and providing a deeper understanding of the Jewish population and households of the Bay Area, who we are, where we live, how we connect with community, how diverse we are and what services we need. More than 3,000 respondents participated in this survey, which is accessible to the public.
Now, the Federation, other Jewish institutions, philanthropists, innovators and activists are busily digesting these results and together, learning about what they depict. We plan to meet throughout the year to closely review and discuss different parts of the data with an eye toward the communal effort to translate them to meaningful action.
Here are some of the highlights and themes on which we are focusing:
We are the fourth largest Jewish community in the country. With this comes more opportunities to engage people in meaningful Jewish experiences and to nurture opportunities to build community.
The Jewish population here also has a higher percentage of young adults at 37% than that of any other recently conducted major American Jewish community study. Not only are young people moving to the region (about 70% of the Jewish population here comes from elsewhere); they are moving around once they get here. The Jewish population is growing in the East Bay while it is shrinking in San Francisco. Undoubtedly, cost of living is driving much of this movement, and reflects the national trends that have destabilized the economic and family lives of today’s younger adult generation.
Critical for our purposes is how the study depicts young adults engaging in Jewish life and a related question we must ask ourselves: how do we support and engage these young adults so they can find a place and find meaning with the Jewish community? Many of them, as data show, are not born here and have no roots or family structure locally. Thus, connecting them with community is more challenging. And the fact is that the Bay Area’s highly engaged Jewish population is offset by a substantially larger population that is substantially less engaged. We unabashedly want to try and reverse this. Better understanding the challenges can make our efforts in this regard more strategic and, hopefully, more effective.
Reflective of the Bay Area overall, the Jewish population is more diverse than any other community in the country. One in five Jewish households in San Francisco includes an LGBT individual. In the entire Bay Area, one in four Jewish households includes a Hispanic, Asian-American, African-American or a mixed or other ethnic or racial background (other than white) individual. We take pride in this diversity, and the study quantitatively affirms it. The findings reinforce, however, the importance of continuing to welcome – which the Portrait shows we are doing well – and to create space for all who comprise the Jewish community.
The Portrait shows us where we can do better, to meet the needs of people and to help them connect with one another. While Bay Area Jews as a whole are highly educated, and some people are living very comfortably, others need more financial support, more human services, and, for the elderly especially, more ongoing contact with the community if they live alone.
We embarked on this study in part to have a robust report that would stimulate discussion about how the Jewish community is growing and advancing. Now, the real efforts begin to plan accordingly. We have much to do to create a more Jewishly engaged and thriving community for all people at all stages of life. A great place to start is by bringing them into the conversation and listening more. We welcome a robust conversation to think collaboratively about the many opportunities and challenges the study highlights. The findings above and others in the Portrait are provocative and rich in detail, and we are eager to get to work.
The author is CEO of The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. For related information and materials, click here.