This post originally appeared in The Jewish Journal.
As I wrote upon my return from from the annual meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies, embarrassed that Los Angeles was conspicuously absent from presentations on Jewish community studies because our last study is close to 16 years old. My colleagues in Jewish demography are astonished that LA does not even have a survey on the radar.
There are hints of our Jewish community in others’ data. I have been working with the Pew Religious Landscape Survey data from 2007 as a part of a project I’m doing with the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California. Because this was a survey on religion, only Jews by religion were interviewed. Jews who identified as secular or with some other religion (e.g. Buddhism) could not be identified. Nonetheless, the data are instructive.
I broke out Los Angeles County separately to how we look. The most popular Jewish denomination was Reform at 40.8%, followed by Conservative at 33.3%. The third most popular denomination was no denomination at all (“just Jewish”) at 14.8%.
Again, this refers only to respondents who identified their religion as Judaism. The Reconstructionist movement is more popular in Los Angeles County than anywhere else in the country: 6.7 percent of LA County Jews identified themselves this way as compared with only 1.5% nationwide. Only 2.1% identified themselves as Orthodox in LA, as compared with 14.4% in the Northeast. Another 2.1% identified themselves as “traditional.” That might mean “almost Orthodox” or it could also be immigrants who don’t see themselves fitting into the established denominations. If I add Ventura County, Orange County, and San Diego County to the mix, the pattern is pretty much the same.
Southern California Jews (again, that’s Jews by religion) are more racially diverse than Jews anywhere else in the country. Only 83% of Southern California Jews described themselves as Anglo (i.e. non-Hispanic white). The largest group of non-Anglo Jews was “other/mixed race” at 7.7%, followed by Hispanics at 7.1%. When we say that Southern California Jews look different than Jews elsewhere, that’s not just a figure of speech. We actually LOOK different.
Bruce Phillips is a university fellow with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.