Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Survey Seeks Better Count of North Jersey Jews

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Survey Seeks Better Count of North Jersey Jews

Article excerpt

A survey of Jewish residents under way in North Jersey is expected to attach hard numbers to a decadelong trend of population growth, especially among traditionally observant Orthodox Jews.

The online survey, conducted by the area's leading Jewish philanthropic organization, is asking questions on age, location, income, family makeup and involvement, or lack thereof, in Jewish life, with the main goal of finding out how Jewish organizations can better serve the region. The survey runs through the end of June.

Along the way, the results are likely to reveal a rising Jewish population, concentrated in burgeoning Orthodox enclaves around Teaneck, Bergenfield, Fair Lawn and Englewood, according to survey organizers and local rabbis. The campaign will provide a rare set of statistics for a significant segment of the population of North Jersey that goes uncounted by the U.S. Census Bureau, which is barred by federal law from asking about religion.

If the results bear out a local increase, they will reverse a slight decline in the region's Jewish population found the last time a similar survey was conducted, in 2001. An uptick in North Jersey would also stand in contrast to a national drop in Jewish identity and religious participation found in a study last year. In that analysis, the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., found fewer religious Jews, less observance of strict Orthodox tradition and more inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews.

"I'm expecting to see some growth, not a lot, but growth in the overall Jewish population in this area. And I'm expecting a higher Jewish demographic density in certain areas," said Jason Shames, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, which is overseeing the survey. "While the picture nationally is mixed, here we expect to have stronger Jewish connections."

That finding, local rabbis say, would affirm the region's standing as one of the prime places in the United States for observant Jews to call home.

"To me, it's the law of gravity," said Rabbi Uri Goldstein of Congregation Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn, where families walking to synagogues, in observance of Jewish law, are a common sight on Saturdays. "Orthodox people are moving to Bergen County ... because [other] Orthodox people are moving to Bergen County. More people are attracted to the place where there already are people there."

The survey could also hold interest for planners beyond the Jewish community, especially if the results match the expectation of increases among the Orthodox. Such a trend could be meaningful for public school officials, who would likely face enrollment declines from a hike in a population that overwhelmingly prefers religious schools, and for local business districts faced with stores that close on Saturday, in observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

The results also could provide valuable data to political analysts because, while Jews overall generally vote Democratic, the Pew report found that a majority of the Orthodox either describe themselves as Republicans or say they lean toward the Republican Party.

Participants in the survey are asked 86 questions designed to build a profile of Jewish populations, town by town, and discover how North Jerseyans connect to Judaism. …

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