Jewish Study of Los Angeles
Every 20 years or so the Jewish Community in Los Angeles likes to look in the mirror and see who we are, where we are and how we are doing. As the study performed in 1997 stated, “The individuals and institutions which comprise the Jewish community have an intense curiosity and a strongly felt need to know who we are as a Jewish community. How many are we? How many children do we have, and where do we raise them? With the limited resources available, how can we help the community to thrive?” We looked back at studies from 1979, 1997 and the atest study from 2021 to look at what makes up Jewish Los Angeles.
It is no wonder that the recent study found that, “The Los Angeles Jewish community is large and diverse. The community is made up of individuals of various racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds, who live in a number of household types and have varying connections to Judaism. Jewish Angelenos are dispersed across a wide geographic area that reflects variation in Jewish density, institutions, and opportunities.”
Over the next few pages, we will showcase a small sampling of the key findings of the 2021 Study of Los Angeles. As we publish this issue, the study is still analyzing the data and continues to provide information and results from the comprehensive review. For more information, please visit studyofjewishla.org.
Community Portrait: Who are We?
As of 2021, it is estimated that the Los Angeles catchment area is the home to nearly 300,000 Jewish households. These households include almost 740,000 individuals, of whom 564,700 are Jewish. Approximately 8% of all residents of the catchment area are Jewish, and 11.3% of all households include at least one Jewish adult. Over the last quarter century, the number of Jews in Los Angeles increased by about 9%. During that same time period, the total number of people in Jewish households grew by 25%. The dramatic increase in the total number of people in Jewish households is due to the growing number of non-Jewish individuals and is related, in part, to rising rates of intermarriage.
The 1979 study stated that, “The Los Angeles Jewish community is showing signs both of graying and a potential in the number of children. Since 1979, the number of Jews over 65 has almost doubled from 11.1 percent in 1979, 20.4 percent in 1997.”
Analysis from the 1979 study seems accurate in both the assessment of the baby boomer generation and their children referred to as the “baby boom echo.” Both these demographics skew higher than average age bands. The 2021 study affirms these patterns.
About half of Jewish households in LA include an immigrant to the United States or someone whose parent is an immigrant. Six percent of LA Jewish adults identify as a person of color, and 9% of Jewish children identify as a person of color. Among Jewish adults who identify as a person of color, over 60% are ages 40 or younger. These age patterns suggest that the racial diversity of the LA Jewish community is likely to increase over time.
Overall, the Los Angeles Jewish community is 49% female, 49% male, and 1% non-binary or another gender identity. LGBTQ: Eight percent of Jewish adults in Los Angeles identifies as LGBTQ and 14% of Jewish households have a member (who may or may not be Jewish) who identifies as LGBTQ. Nationally, 4% of US Jewish adults identify as gay or lesbian, and another 5% describe themselves.
Nationally, a declining share of Jewish adults identify with a specific Jewish denomination, and in Los Angeles this trend is especially prevalent. Half of Jewish adults have no denomination and identify either as secular/cultural Jews or as “just Jewish.” Among all US Jews, 32% do not identify with a specific denomination. Identifying with no specific denomination, however, should not be interpreted as the absence of Jewish engagement.
Compare this with the results from the 1997 Study when most Jews identified with a denomination:
Household respondents were asked: “Referring to Jewish religious denominations, do you consider yourself to be Conservative, Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist or something else?” Three quarters of respondents, 74.4 percent, put themselves in the first four categories; 2.7 percent described themselves as multi-denominational or traditionalists; 6.8 percent stated that they did not know what their Jewish denomination was; 8.6 percent described themselves as “just Jewish;” 2.8 percent reported that they were nonpracticing or culturally Jewish; and 4.7 percent described themselves as being either secular, agnostic, atheist or having no religion.
Synagogue membership, denominational affiliation, and support for Jewish communal organizations, continue to be indicators of Jewish engagement but are not the sole measures of involvement with Jewish life. Jewish engagement can be communal through traditional institutions, but also includes participation with emerging organizations and “pop-up” programs at less traditional venues. Jewish activities also include those outside of an organizational framework, such as through books, films, media, and foods, and gatherings with families or friends on special days in the Jewish calendar. The study asked whether various dimensions of Jewish life were “essential,” “important,” or “not important” to what being Jewish means. Understanding how engagement groups think about these aspects of being Jewish sheds some light on how each group understands its Jewish identity and suggests opportunities for strengthening its Jewish engagement. I d e n t i f y i n g attitudes that are widely shared between groups can also help identify areas for collaboration.
To learn more about the 2021 Study of Jewish Los Angeles please visit studyofjewishla.org.