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Jewish Population Is Up in the New York Region

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By Published: NYTimes January 17, 2013

Borough ParkBorough Park in Brooklyn, with its preponderance of Orthodox synagogues and kosher restaurants, is the most Jewish area in the New York City region, with 78 percent of households there identifying as Jewish. Close behind is Great Neck, Long Island, with its thriving enclave of Persian Jews, and then the Five Towns, also on Long Island, where a higher percentage of Jews identify as modern Orthodox than anywhere else in the region, according to a Jewish demographic study released Tuesday.

The Jewish population in the New York area grew by 9 percent over the last decade, reversing a longstanding trend of decline, the study found. But the growth did not affect all Jewish neighborhoods equally. Two-thirds of the rise was propelled by two deeply Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn with high birthrates — Williamsburg and Borough Park. Some of the city’s more affluent areas, like Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, saw declines in their Jewish population, according to the study.

“There is no typical Jewish community,” said Dr. Pearl Beck, lead author of “The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011,” sponsored by the UJA-Federation of New York. “We found significant differences from area to area.”

Brownstone Brooklyn, the study found, was the most secular of the region’s Jewish enclaves. In its neighborhoods, from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens to Brooklyn Heights, 43 percent of Jews identified themselves as nonreligious or secular.

Brownstone Brooklyn also had the highest rate of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in the city, Westchester or Long Island, at 59 percent. And it had the lowest percentage of children receiving any form of Jewish education. Only 15 percent of Jews surveyed there said they felt “a lot” connected to the Jewish community.

But a short drive away, in the intensely observant enclaves of Borough Park and Williamsburg, less than one percent of Jewish children receive no Jewish education, the study found. In those neighborhoods, where lifelong religious study by men is prized, poverty is common.

In Williamsburg, for example, more than 30 percent of adult men reported no employment, and 78 percent of Jewish households earned less than $50,000 a year.

About three-quarters of the 1.8 million people who live in Jewish households in the New York area live in 1 of 30 distinct geographic areas, the study found. There are as many Jews on the Upper West Side — 70,500 — as there are in all of Cleveland, Dr. Beck reported, and more Jews in central Brooklyn, consisting of Flatbush, Midwood and Kensington, than in all of Baltimore.

The area with the largest increase in Jews over the last decade was Washington Heights and Inwood in Upper Manhattan, with a 144 percent increase. But there were still fewer than 24,000 Jews there. On Long Island, the Huntington area had the largest Jewish population increase, 50 percent.

The study, based on nearly 6,000 telephone interviews with Jewish families across the region, followed a previous report, based on the same survey, that showed that the New York area has growing numbers of both Orthodox Jews and those considering themselves partially Jewish. But New York still has strong enclaves of Conservative and Reform Jewry, according to the latest report.

Of the 30 areas studied, six had Jewish communities where at least 30 percent of families described themselves as Conservative, including Kew Gardens, Roslyn, Plainview and Great Neck.

And in five areas, more than 40 percent of the Jewish population identified as Reform, including in north central and northwestern Westchester County, as well as on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Traditional Jewish values appeared to extend even to places where identification with the Jewish community had grown weak.

Brownstone Brooklyn, for example, had the lowest level of philanthropic giving to Jewish causes: 29 percent, Dr. Beck said. But about half of families did volunteer for charities, even if not always Jewish ones.