The Fast-Shifting Map of Jewish New York

Population Dips in Old Strongholds, Explodes in New Ones

Shifts and Surprises: A new study pinpoints where New York’s Jewish population is growing fast and where its stagnant or shrinking. There are some big surprises.
claudio papapietro
Shifts and Surprises: A new study pinpoints where New York’s Jewish population is growing fast and where its stagnant or shrinking. There are some big surprises.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published January 18, 2013.
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Brownstone Brooklyn and Boro Park are just a couple of miles each other in South Brooklyn. Their Jewish communities, according to a new report from the UJA-Federation of New York, couldn’t be more different.

In Boro Park, the vast majority of Jews are Orthodox and only 1% are intermarried. In Brownstone Brooklyn, 59% are intermarried and less than 1% are Orthodox.

The differences run deeper than religious preference. Brownstone Brooklyn’s Jews are rich: Nearly half of Jewish households earn more than $100,000 a year. Not so in Boro Park, where 68% of households earn less than $50,000 a year

New York’s Jewish community is split into radically distinct, quickly changing clusters, the UJA report out January 17 determined. The study, a neighborhood-level analysis of a landmark survey the group conducted in 2011, shows the largest Jewish community of its kind in rapid flux.

In Manhattan’s old Jewish neighborhoods, the Jews are dying out. Jewish populations downtown are shrinking. Growth is stagnant on the Upper West Side.

Orthodox Brooklyn, meanwhile, is exploding. The Jewish population in the Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park grew 71% over the past decade. And in Queens, a neighborhood of Jewish immigrants from the Former Soviet Union grew by 47%.

The community is still huge. Many of its individual neighborhoods have more Jews than some mid-sized American cities. “[T]here are as many Jewish households on Manhattan’s Upper West Side…as there are Jewish households in Cleveland,” said Pearl Beck, the report’s main author, in an emailed statement.

Its character, however, is quickly changing. For the report’s authors, the picture is of a highly diverse Jewish community living in large, dissimilar neighborhoods. “It’s a reminder to people who deal with New York Jewry that when you go to different neighborhoods you’re dealing not just with a different demography, but a different culture as well,” said Steven M. Cohen, a leading sociologist of American Jewish life and contributor to the report.

The area’s overall Jewish population grew to 1.5 million people from 1.4 million people over the past decade. In an interview with the Forward, Beck said that two thirds of that growth came from the Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhoods of Boro Park and Williamsburg.

The neighborhood report is the second analysis to come out of the UJA-Federation’s survey of nearly 6000 Jewish households in New York City, Westchester and Long Island. The first report, released in June, showed that the area’s Jewish community was growing poorer, less educated and more religious.

This new analysis highlights deep disparities between the city’s various Jewish population clusters in categories like income and intermarriage.

“There’s a measure of bird of feathers flocking together,” said Cohen. “It’s not that every type of Jew is scattered evenly.”

Economic conditions in Williamsburg, an Hasidic neighborhood, are even worse than in Boro Park. In Williamsburg, 78% of households earn less than $50,000 a year. Over half qualify as poor under federal poverty guidelines.

These Hasidic neighborhoods stand in stark contrast to the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, where incomes remain high. So high, in fact, that young families are moving farther north to find apartments – a trend illustrated in the study’s findings.

The Jewish community in Washington Heights and Inwood in far northern Manhattan has grown 144% over the past decade, by far the fastest growing neighborhood in the study. The community there is still small – just 12,900 Jewish households. Still, it’s young and heavily Orthodox, and poised to continue to grow.

“We’re catching it as it’s really blooming from a Jewish population point of view,” said Cohen. “The West Side has priced them out of the market.”

As Orthodox identification grows, identification with the Reform and Conservative movements is shrinking across the area. That’s most visible in places like the Upper West Side, where the percentage of people identifying as Conservative dropped from 25% to 20% between 2011 and.

Not all areas have seen comparable decreases. In Queens and Nassau County, for instance, the proportion of Jews identifying as Conservative has been more stable.

“Our hypothesis is that people live more traditional lives in the suburban communities, and that’s one dimension of their traditional life,” Beck said.


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