As Minnesota Jews celebrate their new year at sundown Friday, a new study shows the number of folks likely to participate in Rosh Hashana traditions has increased significantly.
The Twin Cities Jewish community has grown by 23% since 2004, now numbering 64,800, according to a study released by Brandeis University this month. The growth is fueled by Jews moving here from other states, growing numbers of interfaith marriages and general population growth of the area, the report said.
There are now 34,500 households with at least one Jewish adult, a 44% increase since 2004. Those households are likely to include adults of other faiths: Nearly 60% of married Jews under age 50 have a spouse or partner who is not Jewish.
“This is a very high growth rate,” said Janet Krasner Aronson, associate director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis. “And the majority of the community is engaged in Jewish life.”
The results of the 2019 Twin Cities Jewish Population Study, the first such study in 15 years, were an eye opener even for some community leaders.
“A lot of us were surprised at that kind of growth,’’ said Ted Flaum, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul, which sponsored the study along with the Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Harry Kay Charitable Foundation.
“Eleven percent [of the Jewish population] have moved here in the past five years,’’ he said. “We don’t know who all the new Jews are. That will be a challenge to us, to reach out in new ways.”
The report, which provided a detailed look at Jewish households, has drawn widespread interest from organizations serving the Jewish community. While Jews account for only 1% of Minnesota’s population, they have long been active in civic and community affairs.
The report is based on a random sample survey of more than 3,300 respondents in the seven-county metro area.
It found just 31% of Jewish households have one member who belongs to a synagogue — part of a national downward trend that started decades ago, said Aronson. However, two-thirds of respondents say they attended at least one service in the past year.
That the Jewish population is up but synagogue membership is flat or declining concerns religious leaders such as Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul.
“It means we need to do a better job communicating the relevance of Judaism’s message of wholeness, justice and compassion,” said Stock Spilker. “This is an opportunity and a challenge.”
Researchers found that participation in Jewish life is more likely to be personal or community-based. About half of the adults said they participated in a Jewish-sponsored event, 63% said they donated to a Jewish organization and 70% said they connected to an event online.
Nearly half of the Twin Cities’ nearly 20,000 Jewish children are being raised by parents of differing faiths, the report found. However 80% of Jewish children “are being raised Jewish in some way,’’ it said. That could include participating in Jewish traditions at home or attending Jewish summer camps.
How to better connect these children to the Jewish community, as well as their parents, was a question raised during a webinar unveiling the study this week. Should there be a greater focus on Jewish preschools, schools and education?
Rabbi Joshua Borenstein, executive director of the Torah Academy in St. Louis Park, is a firm believer in this route. Not only do Jewish schools provide a stable foundation in Jewish values and practices, but they also provide a community of mentors, teachers and friends to support both the student and parent.
“Judaism is a way of life,” said Borenstein. “When the values are instilled at those ages, they become part of your essence.”
The survey described an overall financially secure community, with some weaknesses. Sixty-two percent of households reported living comfortably, and another 27% said they could cover living expenses with a little left over. But nearly one in 10 households reported being able to meet only basic needs.
And that survey was taken last fall and winter before COVID-19, said Flaum, noting that the financial situation of those lower-income households may have deteriorated further. Jewish social-service groups have been seeing a growing demand for food shelf and other supports to families in need, he said.
With or without wealth, thousands of Jews will be lighting candles and saying traditional blessings over dinner at their homes this weekend. It is the beginning of the high holidays for Jews, 10 days culminating in Yom Kippur on Sept. 28. It’s a time of introspection and atonement.
Jewish leaders hope that in the months following, the report can guide programs and services for the Twin Cities community.
“This cannot sit on shelves,’’ said Flaum. “This is a gift we’re giving to the community. I think this will help us shape the footprint for the next 10 years for the Jewish community.’’