In the past 10 years, the greater Seattle Jewish community has grown by 27 percent — twice as fast as the general Seattle population, according to a new survey commissioned by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
The 2000 Greater Seattle Population Survey, conducted by Phillips and Herman Demographic Research, found a Jewish population of 37,180 in the greater Seattle area compared to a 1990 estimate of 29,240. During the same period, the population of King County grew by 15 percent.
And those facts are only the beginning of 38-page summary report and the “tip of the iceberg” of the entire study. “We think this could be the key for planning for the whole community,” said Richard Shikiar, the Seattle volunteer who chaired the study committee.
“As time goes on, I hope that we can sit down as a community to talk about the implications,” said Amy Wasser-Simpson, the Jewish federation’s director of planning.
Some of the most surprising information uncovered during last year’s telephone survey was how Jews are distributed around the region. Seattle’s Northend and the north suburbs grew by 58 percent in the past 10 years, from 8,010 in 1990 to 12,600 in 2000. That was, by far, the greatest increase. Seattle south of the ship canal grew by 22 percent, from 8,510 in 1990 to 10,340. The Eastside gained 12 percent, or 1,200 people, from 10,010 in 1990 to 11,220 in 2000. And other areas, including Renton, Burien, Kent, Des Moines and the islands in Puget Sound, grew by 11 percent, from 2,710 to 3,010.
Most of the survey focused on who these Jews are. Persons age 25 to 44 make up a majority, or 52 percent, of the Jewish population. Almost one quarter, 24 percent, of Seattle-area Jews are in elementary, junior high or high school. The majority of children are below Bar or Bat Mitzvah age, which, the researchers point out, is a key time for household affiliation. The survey found that just 20 percent of those surveyed said they belonged to a synagogue, compared to 30 percent in 1990.
The age distribution of the Jewish population shows significant increases on both ends of the spectrum. The estimated number of children 0–5 increased 45 percent, from 2,550 in 1990 to 3,700 in 2000. On the other end, there was a nearly 40-percent increase in the number of adults age 65 and older, whose population grew from about 2,870 in 1990 to an estimated 4,000 in 2000. This change has implications for both Jewish schools and senior services.
The survey company interviewed Jews who were found by randomly calling phone numbers (random digit dialing). These numbers were supplemented by sampling of households from the Jewish Federation list. A person who minimally was raised as a Jew, had converted to Judaism or who had a Jewish parent was considered Jewish for the survey as long as that person considered him or herself to be Jewish and did not identify with a religion other than Judaism.
Phillips and Herman Demographic Research identify the following facts as key findings of the survey:
• Jewish Seattle is a community of migrants: Four out of 10 respondents had moved to Seattle within the past 10 years.
• One of out five Jewish households was affiliated with a Jewish club or voluntary membership organization. This rate is higher than the national rate of 14 percent found in the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey and much higher than the rate of 9 percent in the western states.
• More than half of Seattle Jews are fourth generation (they have American-born parents and grandparents).
• About one in five Jewish households belongs to a synagogue.
• Forty percent of all Jewish households have a mezuzah, and 50 percent observe the Sabbath in some way. Eighteen percent of all Jewish households keep kosher in some way.
• The Seattle area has an enrollment of 2,700 children age 6 to 17 in formal Jewish educational settings.
• Almost four in 10 Jewish adults participated in Jewish education during the past three years.
• Jews are migrating to Seattle later in life than they once did. The average migrant in the 1990s moved to Seattle at age 36 and came for employment. The average migrant during the 1980s moved to Seattle at age 31 and came for environment and quality of life in the Puget Sound region.
• Ten percent of all Jewish households live in poverty (about 2,500). The vast majority of Jews living in poverty are women and most live on Seattle’s Northend or in the north suburbs.
• Half of all married couples interviewed in the survey are intermarried.
• One out of five in-married couples (i.e. both members are Jewish) includes a convert to Judaism.
• More than half of all Jews have no formal ties to the organized Jewish community. About 20 percent of households say they belong to the Jewish Community Center. Married couples with children are the most likely to belong to a Jewish organization, followed by married couples without children. Married couples also are the most involved in leadership positions. Jews 35 and older are three times as likely to belong to a Jewish organization as those under 35.
• Thirteen percent of Jewish households in Seattle contribute to the Jewish Federation.
• The most recent migrants had the lowest rate of intermarriage. Intermarriages increased from 40 percent to 55 percent in the past decade, while conversionary marriages almost doubled from 6 to 10 percent in the past decade.
The principal investigators, Bruce A. Phillips, Ph.D., and Pini Herman, Ph.D., seemed quite excited about the fact that their research is the first study of a “fourth-generation” Jewish community in the United States. Most Seattle Jews, especially those under 40, have no direct connection to the immigrant experience. Phillips and Herman said these study results will be used by researchers around the county who are trying to define the modern Jewish experience.
Two-thirds of Seattle Jewish households are “unknown” to the Jewish community. The researchers defined “unknown Jews” those who do not appear on the federation list and self-reported that they did not belong to any Jewish organization or synagogue. This does not mean that they have never been connected with the Jewish community. About half of them have belonged to a synagogue at some point in the past either as an adult or a child.
Compared to “known” Jews, the “unknown” Jews were more likely to be: Mixed married; single; a single parent; low income; under 40; have only one Jewish parent; be living in the “other areas” region (i.e., Renton, Kent, etc.); have been at their current residence for less than one year; be a student or unemployed.
The researchers report that unaffiliated unknown Jews were less likely than unaffiliated known Jews to state that they plan to join a synagogue in the future. However, more than a third of the unaffiliated unknown Jews said they would probably or definitely join a synagogue in the future.
Almost none of the unknown Jews have ever visited the Stroum Jewish Community Center and they have fewer Jewish friends, but they do stay connected with the community through books and movies with Jewish content and by following news about Jewish topics, including Israel.
The majority of children aged 6–12, as well as those aged 13–17, in Jewish households are not now nor ever have been enrolled in Jewish education. Survey chair Richard Shikiar points out that this figure can be related in part to the role of intermarriage, but there are other factors at work. For example, more than 3 out of 4 members of synagogues cited giving children a Jewish education as very important to their own Jewish identity, as compared to only 1 out of 4 non-members. Another potential factor: Children in single-parent households are less likely to be enrolled. One out of four parents also cite cost/value as a reason for not enrolling their children in a Jewish day school.
The study — which was conducted before the current troubles in Israel began last year — found that Seattle Jews of all ages agree that caring about Israel is an important part of how they identify themselves as Jews. Jews who were teens or young adults at the time of the Yom Kippur War and the Six Day War are the most emotionally attached to Israel. “Remembering the Holocaust” is the most relevant way of being Jewish for all age groups, followed by countering anti-Semitism. According to the study, these were particularly salient to the Jewish identity of respondents under 30.
“Learning about Jewish history and culture” and “connecting to your family’s heritage” are also important Jewish touchstones, especially for younger respondents.
Half of the Jewish households surveyed reported observing the Sabbath in some way, and slightly fewer identify their house publicly as being Jewish with a mezuzah on the front door.
More than three-quarters of respondents, regardless of age, indicated that they regularly followed news about Jewish topics. Similarly, more than half had read a Jewish newspaper or magazine. These two activities were particularly popular among the under- 30 Jews. Another popular activity among Jews under 30 was seeing a movie or video with Jewish content.