Community Update 8: Who Are We?

From the Desk of Ralph Grunewald, Executive Director

Who are we? What are the demographics of the Howard County Jewish community? How has the Jewish community changed over the past 10 years?  We plan to uncover the answers with a new community study, which you may be asked to participate in, and we hope you will do so.

The last survey of our community took place in 2010, almost a decade ago. Certainly, the community has changed over the past nine years. Therefore, over the course of the next few months, the Jewish Federation of Howard County will be participating in a new community-wide survey. This survey will help identify important data that will help the JFHC and our synagogues plan ahead to meet the needs of our growing community.
Please note that you may be contacted (based on a randomized selection process) for this community-wide study. While we hope you will answer the questions posed, there is no obligation to do so, and you may absolutely choose to not participate.  You can also be assured that the identity of all participants will be completely anonymous, and no responses to any question will be traceable to any person. Having said that, we hope you will take part in this survey, as its results will be valuable moving forward.

Our 2019 Community Survey
This new community study – which will launch in April – will piggy-back off a similar study being conducted by The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Our joint surveys are being conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.  The Brandeis team is working with the University of New Hampshire Survey Research Center, so members of the community may be contacted by postal mail, phone, or email by either Brandeis or UNH.

We are fortunate to have secured funding for the survey from some very generous Federation donors. It will result in a great amount of data that our congregations and the JFHC will find of interest, among them: 

  • ​Overall Jewish population
  • Relative importance of ritual practices
  • Which denomination of Judaism respondents ascribe to
  • Health and general well-being per age group categories
  • Involvement in Jewish activities, Jewish organizations and general community involvement
  • Tendencies to donate to charities (both Jewish and non-Jewish)
  • Concern about anti-Semitism
  • Connections to Israel

We expect to receive the results of the survey within six months, at which time we will report the major findings to the community.

Our 2010 Community Survey
In anticipation of this new survey, I want to share some key results from the 2010 survey. The results were based on 253 randomized surveys of Jewish households in Howard County – though we expect the 2019 study will be more accurate, reaching approximately 500 respondents.

The 2010 results indicated that there were:

  • 7,500 Jewish households in Howard County (an increase of 15% since 1999)
  • 17,200 “Jewish persons” living in the county (an increase of 8% since 1999)
  • 20,400 persons living in Jewish households in the county (an increase of 1% since 1999)

Of the Jewish population:

  • 50% of the Jewish population was under age 50
  • Children represented 18% of the Jewish population
  • Younger Adults (ages 18 – 24) represented 16% of the Jewish population
  • Maturing Adults (ages 25 – 39) represented 16% of the Jewish population
  • Boomer Generation (50 – 64) represented 35% of the Jewish population
  • Older Adults (65 and over) represented 15% of the Jewish population
  • 25% of respondents were born in Baltimore, 10% elsewhere in Maryland, and 24% from New York or New Jersey

Further, the report noted that “Howard County is a stable Jewish community with moderate measures of Jewish engagement,” namely:

  • Approximately 1% of the population identifies as Orthodox Jewish
  • Approximately 33% of the population identifies as Conservative Jewish
  • Approximately 33% of the population identifies as Reform Jewish
  • Approximately 25% of the population stated they were “secular” or “non-denominational”

Significantly, while half the community is synagogue-affiliated, the other half of Jewish households is not – and “the non-affiliated are minimally connected to Jewish life.” As the survey noted, “Engagement and disconnection exist side-by-side in Howard County,” namely:

  • 82% of the non-synagogue affiliated people see Jewish organizations as remote and not relevant to them – compared to 40% of congregation-affiliated households”
  • 92% of children being raised “Jewish only” have had some Jewish education
  • Of the 24% of children being raised as either Jewish, another religion, or undecided, 0% of the children have had any Jewish education
  • 29% of all married couples are inter-married
  • 32% of all children in county households reside with intermarried parents

The report also noted, “While a relatively affluent community, some Jewish households just manage financially,” including:

  • 50% of households report annual incomes of at least $100,000
  • 17% have incomes under $50,000 – including 25% of older adults respondents
  • 25% reported that their households are “just managing” – including some who “cannot make ends meet”

In terms of older adults/seniors, the report stated, “An increase in the proportion of Jewish seniors may foreshadow a changing Jewish community in the next decade” (meaning the year 2020), noting that:

  • Seniors represent 16% of all Jewish persons in the county – though that number was just 6% in 1999
  • 31% of seniors report being “in poor or fair health”
  • 19% of seniors or their spouses “need assistance with a series of activities of daily life”

Looking Ahead
I hope you agree that we need this new community study. The information we will be gleaning will not only help answer the question of “Who are we?,” it will also help answer the question of “How do we best respond to the our community’s needs?”

Again, if you are contacted by the survey organizers, whether by phone or email, please take the time to respond to their questions. We need your input to help us plan ahead and focus our work so that we can make the most impact with the dollars you generously donate to the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

Thank you for your continued support.