Massachusetts has a large and growing Jewish population. According to an American Jewish Year Book survey, approximately 6.4 million Americans are Jewish, or 2.2%. The 275,000 Jews living in Massachusetts constitute 4.3% of our state's population, almost double the national percentage.
The figures for New England are similar. New England's percentage of the total national population is 4.8%, while the percentage of Jews living in these six states is 6.7%. This represents 431,400 Jews in New England, with the second highest concentration after Massachusetts found in Connecticut, with approximately 112,000 Jews.
The most recent study of the Greater Boston Jewish community in 2005 found that 7.2 percent of the Boston area population is Jewish. This is not surprising, as Jews tend to concentrate in cities, attracted to educational and medical centers, creating a critical mass of households that can more efficiently organize and maintain religious and communal institutions. The Boston area ranks seventh in Jewish population among U.S. metropolitan areas, following New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Broward County (Miami), Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
According to the 2005 study, there were 160,500 Jewish adults (up 18% since 1995) and 48,000 children (up 17% since 1995) in the Boston area. Growth was especially strong inside and along Route 128, where more than half of the area's Jews live. In addition, there were 55,000 non-Jewish members of Jewish households.
The most surprising finding of the study was related to the children of intermarried couples. Although intermarriage is generally thought to have a negative impact on Jewish population figures, in Boston it seems to have helped. The study shows that fully 60 percent of children of intermarriages are being raised as Jews.
Geographically the Greater Boston Jewish community has been relatively stable over the past ten years, unlike in previous decades when the population was gradually migrating west. The Newton and Brookline area continues to be the major Jewish center, followed by 1) Central Boston, Cambridge & contiguous towns, 2) Greater Framingham (essentially the metrowest area), 3) the Northwestern Suburbs, and 4) Greater Sharon.
Jews living in the Greater Boston area have an above average level of education. Approximately 91% of those aged 25 and over have graduated from college, with 27% completing one or more advanced degrees. Most Jewish households seem secure financially, with 73% found to have an annual household income of $50,000 or more and 43% with $100,000 or more. Areas of economic weakness remain, however, especially in households of single-parent families and women over age 65. Three percent of Jewish households self-reported as poor or nearly poor, with another 10% "just getting along."
Intermarriage occurs less frequently in Boston than in the nation as a whole. While the national rate of intermarriage has hovered around 50% since 1985, the rate is currently 37% in Greater Boston. Even so, the number of intermarried households is approaching the number of inmarried households. This would seem to bode ill for the children, but as stated previously, the Boston Jewish community has an enviable situation in which the majority of the children in intermarried households are being raised as Jews. This is more likely to occur in households where the mother is the Jewish parent.
Involvement of Boston Jews in the organized Jewish community is high and continues to grow. For example, 85% donate to one or more Jewish organizations, 71% report ritual practice, 60% are members of a Jewish organization, 59% are involved in Jewish learning of some type, and 59% identify with Israel.
About 50% of adult Jews belong to a synagogue, minyan, chavurah or High Holiday congregation and almost one-third attend religious services at least once a month. Congregational membership is strongly correlated to families that have a child ages 6 to 14. Forty-two percent of Jewish adults identify themselves as Reform, 33% as Conservative, 5% as Orthodox, 17% as secular or no denomination, and 3% as another denomination. In the area of ritual practice, the most common observance is the lighting of Chanukah candles, followed by attending a Passover seder. About 20% belong to a Jewish Community Center and about 25% belong to a Jewish organization that is not a JCC or congregation.
In the area of Jewish education, the survey results showed that 35% of Jewish adults attended an adult education class at least once in the previous year. Virtually all children between the ages of 9 and 13 are enrolled in a Jewish education program of some type, with a majority of children ages 6 to 8 also enrolled. Once a child reaches age 14, participation in an education program is less than 50%. Of children ages 6 to 17, 16% are enrolled in a day school, 30% in a multi-day supplementary program, 23% in a once-weekly program, 3% in an unspecified program, and 25% are either not receiving any Jewish education or their enrollment is unknown.
Israel is prominent in institutional Jewish life in Boston. Through the efforts of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston maintains an active relationship with its sister city of Haifa. Almost half of Jewish adults in our area have been to Israel at some point, although only a small percentage traveled there between 2000 and 2005. Travel to Israel in general has picked up significantly in the last year or so and this no doubt would also be reflected in Boston's figures. Regarding attitudes to Israel, about two-fifths of the survey respondents consider themselves "most involved" with Israel, another two-fifths consider themselves "moderately concerned," and one-fifth consider themselves "largely disconnected."
With a large and growing population, relatively high involvement rates in education, organizational life, ritual, volunteering and philanthropy, and the high rate of children of intermarriages being raised as Jews, the Greater Boston Jewish community is vibrant and looking towards a healthy future. Major areas to be addressed in the future by institutional priorities could include providing more services for the increasing number of older Jews as the current baby boom bulge (ages 50-59) ages and addressing the challenge of diversity in the Jewish community, most notably the large number of interfaith households.
1. "The 2005 Boston Community Survey: Preliminary Findings," A Report by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute, Brandeis University, for Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, November 10, 2006.
2. "Jewish Population in the United States, 2006," The American Jewish Year Book 2006, published by The American Jewish Committee.
3. "U.S. Jewish Population Estimates (Table 1)," Mandell L. Berman Institute – North American Jewish Data Bank.