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Highlights of the much anticipated survey of the Cincinnati Jewish Community in 2019 were released and discussed on Jan. 15. The heads of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati and the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati framed the conversation and introduced the researchers involved in the project. 

Referring to the 2008 community study, “It’s been a decade since we’ve done one,” said Shep Englander, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. He framed the need for such a survey, and added that “our world has changed quite a bit, and so has our community.” Brian Jaffee, the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati’s executive director, said that going forward “collaborative conversations” will be taking place about this survey’s results over the next year. Jaffee pointed out that this survey is the “first major project in the community” for Kim Newstadt, the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati’s director of research and learning.

Newstadt noted that “the final report represents one subset of the data, a first look, but there is so much for us to learn together over the course of the next year.” She added that the study is “not an evaluation of our agencies, congregations and schools,” but rather a reflection of the community. She also said that there are further directions that the study can reveal to us, as it “unearths more questions than answers.” It also “gives us insight into directions to further investigate rather than specific strategies” to pursue with communal programming. 

The key researchers from the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute,  Prof. Leonard Saxe and Dr. Janet Krasner Aronson, then came up to discuss the results. Saxe noted that for the researchers “this is the fun moment, when we get to share the results of more than a year’s worth of work.” Noting what distinguishes their research method, Saxe said, “Part of what makes our approach a little bit different, is that we also use data from literally hundreds of studies that are done of Americans on a daily basis.” 

Turning to the key findings, Saxe said their survey found 32,100 total Jews, with 26,400 adults, and 5,700 children, yielding a total of 18,900 Jewish households, with a total of 48,200 people living in Jewish households. Saxe pointed out that there is a six percent increase in the total number of Jewish people in Cincinnati since the 2008 study. With about seventy-five percent of households including a couple (married or living together), fifty-five percent of the married/partnered Jewish adults have a gentile partner. Geographically, thirty-three percent of the households live in the urban region and thirty-five percent of Jewish individuals live in the central and east region of Cincinnati. Saxe also noted that the full set is available for anyone wanting to analyze the data on their own. 

Aronson then discussed more particulars of the study, especially how Jewishly engaged Cincinnati’s Jewish community is, for which they created an index for Jewish engagement. As there are “all sorts of behaviors that are not captured by denomination,” they “developed another way of a typology of Jewish life.” This other “way of characterizing Jewish behavior” that Aronson described “is a kind of market segmentation.” She noted, however, that the study is “not trying to evaluate Jewish behavior,” just describing “what Jewish engagement looks like in Cincinnati.”

Aronson then dug into the numbers. Fifty-nine percent of Jewish children are currently being raised by intermarried parents, sixteen percent by a single parent, and twenty-five percent raised with two Jewish parents. Twenty-eight percent of Jewish households in Cincinnati include someone who belongs to a synagogue or other Jewish worship community. While the number of synagogue households is nearly unchanged since 2008, there is a smaller percentage that are members of a local synagogue, since there are more households. 

Further data that Aronson shared were that eight percent of Jewish households in Cincinnati are members of the JCC, fifty-two percent of Jewish adults have been to Israel at least once, and forty-eight percent of Jewish adults would like to be more connected to the Jewish community. For this last piece of data, the three biggest barriers to connecting more to the Jewish community, as reported by the respondents, were that they don’t know many people (seventy-one percent), they haven’t found interesting activities (sixty-five percent), and they felt they had an insufficient level of Jewish knowledge (sixty percent). But, noted Aronson, “Just because people say these are the reasons, doesn’t guarantee that, if you overcome these, that, all of a sudden people, will start flocking out” to attend Jewish events.

Attendees were able to submit questions online to the Jewish Foundation’s website, with Jaffee selecting questions and directing them to either Saxe, Aronson, or Englander. Questions included discussions of Jewish households, Jewish education, and Jewish engagement. Regarding this last topic, Saxe pointed out that a lot of Jews like to be Jewish, but not to be communally involved, which could help explain some of the Jewish engagement numbers. Jaffee noted that community members can still submit questions about the survey on the Jewish Foundation’s website.

Wrapping things up, Englander noted that it “says so much about our community that we had a packed house” for this survey’s release. Englander reiterated that the event “was not intended to be the end of the conversation; it’s supposed to be the beginning of the conversation” around the survey. Englander noted that “one of the big anxieties that we had before we did the 2008 study was people were afraid that our young adults were all moving to New York, Chicago, and the coasts,” and this represents “a sigh of relief that we’re doing okay.”  Englander concluded that this event is just the kickoff for a year’s worth of opportunities to dig deeper into the data. It is just an appetizer for much more to study, discuss, and learn about Cincinnati’s Jewish community.

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