Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Letting the Numbers Speak for Themselves

The announcement that I posted about the OU presentation of "emerging" communities got me to thinking once again about out of town. Jewish communities across the US undertake regular studies studies of themselves. Some do so yearly; others do so at different regular intervals. They look at things like Jews as a percentage of the population in their communities and how the communities have grown.

Many of the communities of the Western US have histories extending back to the 1800s, when Easterners took quite seriously the admonition to "Go West Young Man." Are they flourishing? You be the judge. The following information is only a few snippets on Denver, Colorado, taken from a study done every ten years and completed in 2007, but should be of interest to Easterners who believe that the sun both rises and sets in the East.

Metro Denver/Boulder is now the 18th largest Jewish community in the U.S., similar in size to established Jewish centers such as Baltimore and Cleveland. Denver is also similar in size to other growing western U.S. Jewish centers such as Phoenix and San Diego.

Over the past 10 years, the Metro Denver/Boulder Jewish community has grown at a faster rate than has the general community. In 2007, Jewish households represent 4.4% of total households in the seven-county area studied, compared to 3.7% in 1997. Nationally, Jewish households represent 2% of the total population.

According to initial results of the 2007 Jewish Community Study, the number of Jewish persons in the Metro Denver/Boulder area has increased 29% from 63,300 Jews to 81,500, since 1997.

Of course we would need a lot more information then what I've given here to get a more complete picture of the Denver frum community, but this is a start. Last I heard Baltimore was considered a stable Jewish community, and much of what is present in Baltimore is also present in Denver. The same for Cleveland.

Before we dismiss out of town communities out of hand we might just want to look at some figures and facts and make our decisions based on rational research and thought rather than on geocentric biases.


Tuvi said...

I've visited Denver a few times and it is a warm and thriving community. Why didn't we consider it when we moved away from Brooklyn? For a reason you've complained about right here on the blog...the snow and cold. NY area is bad enough when we get the occasional snow. In Denver you can count on getting it all the time.

Abba's Rantings said...

"Many of the communities of the Western US have histories extending back to the 1800s . . ."

jews moved westward for a number of reasons. first of all, there was a concensus among establishment organizations that new immigrants should be resettled in the interior and they actively "persuaded" thousands of jews to take this route (for example google galveston movement and industrial removal organization).

also many of the immigrants who voluntarily moved to OOT places did so because they hailed from small rural-type communities in europe and they didn't need to be convinced of its advantages (see for example eva morawski's studies of johnston, pa jews).

finally, it was a different time when people had more--or were forced to have more--personal responsibility. they went west because they knew that was the best way--or the only way--to support themselves and their families.

none of these 3 factors exists today.

Abba's Rantings said...

"Metro Denver/Boulder is now the 18th largest Jewish community in the U.S., similar in size to established Jewish centers such as Baltimore"

a) this isn't the 1950s. frum people aren't looking for large jewish communities and are content with their one shul. they want large frum communities and couldn't care less about any non-frum activity. so what is the comparison between baltimore's frum community (population, institutions, leaders) and denver's?
b) in any case the "18th largest" claim isn't quite so impressive
c) baltimore is drivable to the new york area. this is a big plus.
d) baltimore has a long and rich jewish history. denver's (jewish) historical claim to fame on the other hand is that it was the destination for jewish tb victims in the early decades of the 20th c.
of course their respective pasts should be irrelevant to today's decisions, but the fact is that this history elevates baltimore in the jewish mind.

getting back to go west young man, jews went west for the same reason americans went west, i.e., because the west was growing and there were economic opportunities. some OOT cities and economies (las vegas, denver?) might be growing, but many are contracting. americans in general aren't rushing to settle in clevland, detroit, pittsburg, etc., so why should these areas be attractive to jews?

(i do think that we should be giving more thought to living OOT, but i'm just noting some of the psychological and practical obstacles)

Ezzie said...

One of my big pushes in the Jewish Economics Survey (I'm starting v.2 now) is going to be comparing exactly things like this.

ProfK said...

Trying to do an exact comparison between cities that aren't in the exact same geographic belt is like trying to compare salami and apples. They are both edible, both can take away your hunger pains and fill you up and both are easily eaten without a whole lot of work on the eater's part. But aside from these basic facts, they are different--you cannot really substitute one for the other.

Anyone who is looking for a real OOT community to be an exact carbon copy of the part of NYC they live except not in NYC is doomed to disappointment. Those who want NY but without a whole lot of its negative qualities need to adjust how they are thinking.

OOT communities offer nutritional value just as NYC does, but the nutrients are going to be different.

Frankly, how Jews originally got to Denver is irrelevant to today. The question is why should Jews go there now? Decent economic opportunity, less expensive housing than NYC, warm and friendly frum communities, schools available at less than what is charged in NYC, a healthier climate, less crowding, less shtuss etc..

In short, you need to use a different yardstick when you are measuring OOT communities. Admittedly this is going to be difficult for many New Yorkers who have never been outside their own area. All they know is NY.

Abba's Rantings said...

"how Jews originally got to Denver is irrelevant to today."

agreed. i was just conjecturing why baltimore sounds more "reasonable"

"The question is why should Jews go there now? . . ."

the most important factor is employment. admittedly i don't know anything about denver, but some of the other OOT places promoted for frum jews actually suffer from contracting economies and poorer opportunities.

"All they know is NY."

agreed. we stay with what we know.
but as someone who basically only knows new york, i have to ask why so many OOTers relocate to new york. is it only because they meet spouses from new york who don't want to leave? there are jewish communities that are literally dying out. there must be some reasons that compell them to leave OOT.

obviously we here only get to meet only the OOTers come to NY and it seems like it's all one direction. but i wonder what percentage of the younger generation they represent. i'd be curious to see any data concerning retention in OOT ortho communities.

again, i agree that we should be more open to OOT communities. just musing out loud (or in writing) about the obstacles.

tesyaa said...

Out of town is a big step for a family if both spouses need to find new jobs. I know I could get a job in Des Moines, but there's not much there for frum teenage girls. If my girls had to board, it would eat up some of the savings, not to mention disrupt our family life considerably. And I don't know if my spouse could get a job there easily or not.

If a family is teetering on the economic brink (or both parents are unemployed anyway), out of town deserves serious consideration. Smaller frum communities are generally very friendly and have more connections with the larger Jewish (i.e., not necessarily frum) community.

Young couples who haven't started their careers yet should give out of town serious consideration too.