Some 49% of married Jewish adults in Long Beach have a non-Jewish partner or spouse, according to a 2021 Long Beach-Area Jewish Community Study that was published this week.
“If you had seen that statistic 50 years ago—everyone in the room would have said, ‘That is the end of the community,’” Janet Krasner Aronson, one of the study directors, said to several dozen members of Jewish Long Beach at a presentation Monday evening.
“I think it is remarkable that half of Jewish adults are married to someone who is not Jewish,” she told attendees.
The study of the Long Beach area is the first in 70 years to take a comprehensive look at the demographics, issues and viewpoints that make up the city’s Jewish community. It found that there are 24,600 Jewish adults and 3,600 Jewish children living in Long Beach. Most Jewish households appear to live in District 3, according to the report.
The study also highlighted levels of Jewish engagement in Long Beach, whether Jewish parents value a Jewish education for their children, whether they identify through religion or heritage identity and more.
“It shows that there’s a clear dynamism in the community that reflects … a broader shift in society and the ways in which we identify with what it means to be Jewish,” Richard Marcus, president of Jewish Long Beach, said at the event.
Garnering 589 respondents, the research was conducted by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies in partnership with NORC at the University of Chicago. The study, which has been four years in the making, cost the merging Jewish Long Beach and Alpert Jewish Community Center around $100,000, the organization’s incoming CEO Deborah Goldfarb told the Long Beach Post.
Respondents for the study were identified as having at least one Jewish parent, raised Jewish or converted to Judaism.
The research revealed possibly wide swaths of Jewish adults who are not involved in Jewish life, but would like to be—one of the most important findings that garnered reactions from those who attended Monday’s panel.
“Why we’re doing this study is to find out about all the people who aren’t in this room—the people you don’t know about,” Aronson said on Monday night. “So a lot of the work was done as a study to find enough people who are not involved in the community, to understand their characteristics.”
Of Jewish adults who are not involved in local Jewish programs or groups, 19% are unsatisfied and 11% were not satisfied at all with their level of involvement.
“I’ve been here for more than 70 years in the Long Beach Jewish community, and it’s really important to me. …We’ve watched how it ebbed and flowed in different times and different years and I want it to continue strong,” said Linda Waltzman, a 72-year-old executive board member of Jewish Long Beach and AJCC.
She said that she found the results “very sobering,” adding that “it’s almost like looking closely in the mirror at ourselves.”
“You see that some numbers are very much in our favor and you go, ‘Wow there’s this many people (in Long Beach)’ and then you go, ‘Only this many people have chosen to affiliate or to donate or to participate?’” Waltzman told the Post. “We have to educate people about what we have to offer here—it’s no good to have a lot of great programs if folks don’t know about it.”
The study also seemed to illustrate an evolving Jewish community that is less inclined toward religious practice and is more focused on social justice.
Temple Israel, which is nearing its centennial, is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Long Beach, and it has long been a stage for these changes throughout the decades, according to Mark Dressner, the temple’s president.
“I think synagogues are going to move in a different direction in the future,” Dressner told the Post. “Synagogues are just not going to be a place where you go to service and pray—clearly, that’s not what people want. I think there’s going to be a lot more cultural programming … and social justice kind of stuff.
“Because if we don’t, we’re going to lose everybody. People don’t care about going to service and praying like they did 50 years ago,” he said.
At Temple Israel—which has shifted over the years to focus on diversity—those who are not technically Jewish are allowed to become temple members, as long as they are “living a Jewish life,” Dressner said.
“Diversity is really important,” he said. “We make sure that the non-Jewish person in the household is very, very welcome in the temple.”
Here are some of the findings of the study:
- 69% of Jewish adults are very concerned about antisemitism in the U.S.
- 20% of Jewish households belong to a Jewish congregation (a synagogue, an independent minyan or chavurah or a chabad).
- 38% of Jewish adults do not identify with any religious denomination.
- Nearly two thirds are married or living with a partner.
- 7% of Jewish adults identify as LGBTQ.
- 16% identify as Hispanic or any other group other than white.
- 19% of Jewish children are identified as people of color by their parents.
- 40% of Jewish adults that are involved in some form of Jewish life are not satisfied with the Jewish community in Long Beach.
“This is my world and this is my life. Obviously this is very personal to me,” said Aronson. “There are things that I never have imagined being excited about and yeah—that’s the future. So, I hope that will be the case here as well and I feel optimistic.”
The 2021-22 Long Beach-area Jewish Community Study can be found here.