JCF study uncovers gaps in social services on Peninsula

While the south Peninsula is now recognized as the affluent hub of Jewish life in the Bay Area, the north Peninsula seems to be the community’s Oliver Twist, humbly asking for more gruel.

According to the Jewish Community Federation’s “Jewish Community Study,” the north Peninsula — comprising much of San Mateo County south to Redwood City — has the highest proportion of poor Jews, at 16 percent.

Compounding the situation, 44 percent of north Peninsula Jews polled said they require social services assistance while 28 percent said they had not received any; both figures are far and away the highest in the Bay Area.

Demographer Bruce Phillips, who prepared the study, said a big part of the problem is that the Jews of the north Peninsula are out of sight, out of mind.

“When people think of the north Peninsula, they think of the affluent parts, as opposed to the less affluent. So the social services are not even there in the Jewish community and in the non-Jewish community as well,” said Phillips, who recently publicized the full findings of his study after releasing the preliminary results in May.

In actuality, most of the roughly 40,000 Jews in the region live in traditionally blue-collar, industrial cities such as San Bruno, Daly City or South San Francisco. More and more Jews are moving to places such as these because of relatively affordable real estate.

“These are places kind of like South Boston. And if you told me Jews were moving into South Boston, I’d look at you like you were crazy. These are white, working-class areas where Jews never lived,” said Phillips.

And yet, it’s happening. Just as many second-generation American Jews moved to the north Peninsula in the days after World War II prior to an exodus farther south, many second-generation American Jews of Russian heritage are following suit, 50 years later.

Following a recent presentation of his study, for example, Phillips was buttonholed by one audience member exclaiming, “Everything you said is me!”

The youngish Russian Jewish engineer told Phillips he would have liked to have settled in Burlingame, but found a house in Daly City for $200,000 less. He commutes daily down to the south Peninsula. His family would like to avail themselves of social services offered within the Jewish community, but they’re all located nearer to his place of business than his home.

Unlike the employed engineer, a disturbingly large portion of the north Peninsula’s Jews, many of them single people under 40, are underemployed — “working at Starbuck’s even though you have a master’s,” quips Phillips.

Employment services, along with marriage or family counseling, were among those cited as lacking.

And, says Phillips, if things don’t get better for this portion of the population, they’ll leave the Bay Area.

“So here is a lot of our future and they can’t afford to live here. And a lot of them, ironically, are the group that is most likely to have been born in the Bay Area.”

Exposing the needs of these Jews is what this survey was largely about, said Sharon Fried, the S.F.-based JCF’s associate director of planning and agency support.

When the federation saw that 45 percent of Bay Area Jewish single parents were contemplating leaving because of financial strife, it kick-started a scholarship program for single moms and dads to enroll their children at JCC preschools.

Phillips’ $285,000 study did not cover the East Bay or San Jose area, as those regions’ federations declined to participate financially. Nevertheless, Phillips estimates the entire Bay Area is home to more than 400,000 Jews, making this the third-largest Jewish community in the nation behind New York and Los Angeles.

Other points of interest divulged in the study’s full findings:

• Since the last community study in 1986, the number of Jews who say they plan to move out of the JCF’s service area (referred to as the “West Bay,” including San Francisco and the Peninsula, plus Marin and Sonoma counties) has doubled. Overall, about 15 percent of the population expects to leave the area within three years.

• The median age of Jews in the West Bay is 39, three years younger than the national figure. There are proportionally more Jewish singles here than the national average, and many more than 18 years ago. Not surprisingly, men and women are marrying later than when polled in 1986.

• More than 80 percent of Jews in the West Bay have earned a college degree; nearly half of Jewish men and 40 percent of women polled have earned a graduate degree.

The study is available online at www.sfjcf.org.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.