Beyond The Study
ith great anticipation, I await the findings
of Detroit Jewry's 2005 population survey,
a Federation initiative. We should get our
first look at interpreted numbers next spring. Curious
about the past, I sought out the results of the similar
study 16 years ago.
Now, like then, we must use the
data to make better planning deci-
sions, not gather shelf dust. This
isn't so much about numbers as it
is trends. Keeping demographic
data current year to year, instead
of waiting for another major sur-
vey, is the top challenge.
Robert A. Sklar
The summary report of the
1989 Jewish Population Study of
Metropolitan Detroit concluded that 96,000 Jews
called our community home, 26,000 more than pro-
jected. The report found that more Jews had left the
core area of Jewish settlement and were less tied to
Federation and other community resources than pre-
viously thought. The baby boomer generation had
matured and was assimilated more than their par-
ents. We had begun to see longer life spans, higher
divorce rates, lower birth rates and more working
women. We also saw shrinkage in family size outside
the Orthodox community.
The conventional wisdom between 1989 and the
previous major study in 1963 proved not so wise. The
Detroit Jewish community was not so close knit. And
demographic assumptions were wrong. That meant
Jewish service agencies didn't have sound tracking of
population shifts and needs; this concern continues
"While the long-held perception that Detroit has a
cohesive, stable and generous community is still
largely valid;' the 1989 study found "changes are
under way that could lead to a significantly different
picture in 10 to 20 years:'
That projected time is now And we have changes
aplenty, which the Detroit Jewish Population Study
now under way via telephone will bear out.
Let's examine major themes of the 1989 report to
In 1989, we learned that Jewish Detroit had grown
in population and reach. The 100-square-mile core in
southern Oakland County had 77,000 Jews; 19,000
more were scattered through Wayne, Oakland and
Macomb counties. The growth in the number and
proportion of Jews living outside the core had roots
in the soil of Jewish America, where the seeds of cul-
tural assimilation, intermarriage and religious apathy
had been planted.
Huntington Woods, Oak Park and Southfield
anchored the Jewish core in 1989. The opening that
year of 1-696 made Bloomfield Township, West
Bloomfield and Farmington Hills more attractive to
My guess is that the current study will find a popu-
lation closer to 90,000 with dispersal even wider,
especially to the west and north, continuing a north-
November 3 . 2005
westerly march begun 90 years ago from the Jewish
heartland near Hastings Street on Detroit's lower east
side. A central reason for the population change is the
flight of so many young adults to more engaging
urban cities like Chicago, New York and L.A., where
job, dating and communal opportunities are thought
to be greater. A net effect will be a drop in Jewish
households from the
42,500 we had in
The new study will
find that more Jews
live in West
data current year to
Southfield, but that
year, instead of waiting
the Southfield Jewish
for another major survey,
vital thanks in part to
is the top challenge.
Project, which gave
loans to qualified
buyers and renovators of houses between 1986 and
2003. Oak Park no doubt will continue to be the cen,
ter of the Orthodox community, although the West
Bloomfield/Farmington Hills area will prove to have
a strong Orthodox corridor as well.
Synagogue membership will be about 50 percent.
Metro Detroit will continue to have one of the
highest per-capita Jewish giving levels nationally. But
we must heed the still-reverberating 1989 finding
that young adults give at lesser levels than their par-
ents. The question is whether the younger age group
understands and appreciates Jewish communal pro-
gramming and services as much.
Given the Federation missions for all ages and the
free young adult trips sponsored by Birthright Israel,
I'm guessing that more local Jews will have visited
Israel; in 1989, 40 percent had.
A Jewish neighborhood to live, shop and socialize
in remains a draw here. The-1989 report found that
having a core "still provides a functional environment
in which to be Jewish." Today, most Detroit Jews still
choose to be part of the core, but more and more are
opting out. And overall, there are fewer of us.
Our vibrancy as a community in the coming years
hinges on the kinds of tools we choose to analyze the
relevance and warnings of Federation's latest popula-
How relevant are 1989 findings to
interpreting the current study?
How important is a Jewish core in
Metro Detroit to your family?
271 WEST MAPLE
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