Population survey hopes to map areas Jewish diversity

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Local Jewish leaders want area Jews to pick up the phone and be counted — at least those living in the North and West Bay.

For the first time in 17 years, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation is launching a major population survey of Jews living in its service region, which stretches from Sonoma to south of Palo Alto.

Unlike an earlier study in 1986, the upcoming telephone survey won’t include the East Bay and the San Jose Area. Officials in those two federation areas declined to participate in what has been dubbed the Jewish Community Study.

Expected to start in mid-October, the endeavor could cost up to $250,000. The bill is being footed by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

Along with providing an updated Jewish population estimate for the region, the new survey is expected to put a human face on the local community, revealing information about population clusters, employment and joblessness, synagogue participation, spiritual quests and other areas of Jewish involvement.

Susan Folkman, a federation volunteer who chairs an advisory committee developing the study, was disappointed that neighboring federations opted against participating.

“I think it’s unfortunate because I think the Jewish community isn’t limited by these boundaries,” she said. “We won’t have information on those pieces of the bay.”

Brian Goldberg, the recently hired executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, said board members determined “it just wasn’t a good use of community funds at this time.”

Roberta Bear, director of planning for the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, hadn’t heard of the study, but said her organization generally turns to the agencies it funds for information about their clients and needs. “I know that demographic studies take huge resources, time as well as dollars,” she said. “We’re looking to use those resources most efficiently.”

The last study estimated that 222,847 Jews lived in the Bay Area, with 128,169 residing in San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma areas served by the JCF.

Organizers of the new study are particularly interested in learning more about population changes, social needs, views on Israel, philanthropy and understanding such groups as Israelis and Russian immigrants.

The S.F. federation and Jewish agencies, which helped to develop questions, will use the information gleaned from the survey to develop programs and outreach.

“From the very beginning, this was perceived as an action-oriented study,” said Sharon Fried, the federation’s associate director of planning and agency support.

For instance, Jewish Vocational Service “would like to know the extent to which there’s unemployment in the Jewish community,” said Fried. “The synagogues are interested in questions of spirituality and how people connect Jewishly.”

Respondents even will be asked about their friendships and to whom they turn in an emergency.

Said federation spokeswoman Suzan Berns: “One of the things we’re interested in hearing about is the diversity. Diversity in spirituality, diversity in age, diversity in where people come from.”

The survey will contact 1,600 local households starting next month. Six hundred respondents will be called randomly while another 1,000 names will be taken from federation lists. The telephone survey is expected to last 15 to 30 minutes. Its results should be issued next fall.

Organizers said they wanted to delay the survey until after both the High Holy Days and the gubernatorial recall vote.

Sociologist Bruce Phillips, the study director, said he hoped rabbis would alert congregants during their holiday sermons about the telephone survey. “The high holidays gives us a chance as much as possible for rabbis to put the word out,” said Phillips, a professor at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Fried maintains that the study will be worth the expense. “Particularly in these difficult times, organizations need guidance in making good decisions in deploying human and financial resources.

“It will be maybe 20 minutes of someone’s time but the information will benefit everyone.”