engaging angelinos

New Los Angeles Jewish community reports focus on engagement, education

The demographic survey is the first comprehensive study of Jewish Los Angeles in 25 years

How many Jewish Angelenos have received some Jewish education? What factors encourage someone to show up to a Jewish event? How do Jews of color feel in Jewish institutions in Los Angeles? The answers to these questions and more are presented in four new reports, released this week by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The reports are part of the 2022 “Study of Jewish Los Angeles,” the first part of which was released in July. The demographic survey is the first comprehensive study of Jewish Los Angeles since 1997, and it paints a portrait of a community that is growing more diverse and more complex in terms of Jewish identity. The federation hopes that its own staff, its partners and the community at large will use the reports to help construct and expand programs that showcase that diversity and complexity. 

“‘The Study of Jewish LA’ and these new reports have been inspired by a desire to help our federation and our partners understand the wonderful diversity and complex identities that make up our Jewish community,” the federation’s president and CEO, Rabbi Noah Farkas, told eJewishPhilanthropy

These new reports focus on four areas: Jewish Community Connections, which examines what makes L.A. Jews feel like they are welcomed or belong; Jewish Education, which looks at all aspects of children’s participation in local Jewish life; Jewish Congregations, which provides insight on how the community participates in rituals and religious services; and Jewish Engagement, which explores the nuances of what “engagement in Jewish life” means in today’s local landscape. This latter category includes spaces where Jewish activities may happen outside of a formal organizational framework, but still function as engagement for people who attend them.

“Many understand engagement by looking at how people affiliate, what denomination they identify with, etc,” Shira Rosenblatt, the federation’s associate chief program officer, said in a statement. “These boxes no longer accurately reflect our Jewish identities, which are more complex, less attached to specific labels, and more nuanced. The Index of Jewish engagement sheds light on how people engage. Is that done primarily in the home with family, through organizations, through ritual, etc.? Through this lens, we can better understand how to connect to the diverse families in LA.”

For instance, the level of interest in programs and community is illustrated across five categories of involvement: Ritual, Immersed, Minimally Involved, Holiday and Communal. So while the “Immersed” (17%) might celebrate all holidays, mark Shabbat weekly, attend Jewish programs, donate to Jewish causes and read Jewish publications, and most are members of a synagogue or other spiritual community, the “Holiday” Jews (27% in the sample) might attend a Passover Seder, light Hanukkah candles and occasionally mark Shabbat. Half of those surveyed fall into either the “Holiday” or the “Minimally Involved” category. The other 50% is nearly evenly split among the remaining categories.

According to the Community Connections report, “a sense of belonging to an LA Jewish community is directly related to participation in Jewish programs,” adding that participation is often a function of being invited personally or knowing other people who are going. Among those who feel the strongest sense of belonging, 33% attend programs often, and 40% sometimes. And of those who are disconnected from the local Jewish community, 75% never participate in any Jewish programs. The report further notes that “the relationship between belonging and participation is bi-directional. Participation in activities with other Jewish Angelenos is likely an outcome of feeling that the community cares about them, but engaging with other LA Jews also enhances a feeling of belonging.”

“We hope these findings provide the springboard for bold conversations that ensure our Jewish community is truly open and inviting to all and lead to broader collaboration that will better serve everyone,” Farkas told eJP. “The new information will also allow us to reflect on our own practices, and evolve those practices, to help build a more connected community and create data-driven solutions to improve their quality of life.”