Jewish identity stronger in Alaska

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NEW YORK — Alaskan Jews are far removed from most other American Jewish communities, but have a stronger Jewish identity than their brethren in the 48 contiguous states, according to a recent study.

Fully 42 percent of Alaskan Jews belong to synagogues — there are two in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks — compared with 27 percent in the lower 48, according to the study.

Alaskan Jews also display a higher level of religious observance. While 70 percent of Alaskan Jews light Shabbat candles, only 32 percent do in the lower 48 states. And 91 percent in Alaska light Chanukah candles, compared with 63 percent in the lower 48.

The study, "Life on the Frontier: The Jews of Alaska," also found that 46 percent of Alaskan Jews received seven or more years of Jewish education while only 39 percent in the contiguous states did.

Bernard Reisman, a professor of contemporary Jewish studies at Brandeis University who compiled the study, said Jewish consciousness might be raised by living in a frontier society.

"They lean on the traditions and their fellow Jews," Reisman said. "That becomes their community. They serve for each other as surrogate family."

Alaskan Jews total 2,940, or 0.5 percent, of the state's population.

Some 80 percent of Alaskan Jews live in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the state capital of Juneau.

Reisman found that most Jews in Alaska are between the ages of 25 and 62 (62 percent), married (73 percent) and highly educated (54 percent completed graduate school). Some 53 percent of Alaskan Jews are women.

But only 6 percent of the Jewish population in Alaska was born there.

Most relocated from the Northeast, and almost half lived on the West Coast before moving to Alaska, primarily in the 1970s.

Alaska's Jews listed employment opportunities, attractive lifestyle or natural environment as the reasons for their move. Reisman's study also found that Alaskan Jews rated the same or higher than Jews in the 48 contiguous states on all aspects of Jewish background and current behaviors.

One problem for Alaska's Jews was the state's location. A majority — 61 percent — said being "too far from family" is a troubling aspect of life there.