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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


December 16, 2016  RSS feed
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Major survey to identify needs, number of local Jews

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

A major demographics study of Jewish residents in Pinellas and Pasco Counties will begin next month in an effort for local Jewish organizations to know the needs of the Jews here and learn how better to serve them.

The survey will be led by Dr. Ira Sheskin, a professor at the University of Miami who is widely recognized for geographical and demographic studies of Jewish communities throughout the nation. He has done more than 40 major studies for Jewish Federations in the U.S. and more than 110 studies for other Jewish organizations and commercial entities. His last major study in Pinellas was in 1994, though he did a less comprehensive study for Menorah Manor in 2011.

Interviewers will be calling thousands of randomly selected homes in the Pinellas and Pasco counties in January in search of Jewish residents. In 2011, the study estimated that Jews in Pinellas represented 2.85 percent of the county’s estimated 900,000 residents and Jews in Pasco represented 1.81 percent of its 460,000 residents. In order to get accurate results, Sheskin said he needs 600 completed surveys.

Community members who receive calls are urged to respond to the questions to help provide an accurate picture of the local Jewish community.

The survey results will offer much more than just population numbers.

“We want to find out where our community lives, what their families look like and what they’re interested in,” said Emilie Socash, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties. “And from that, we hope to better serve the community.”

Socash noted that the study “is about building and rebuilding our Jewish community.”

Partnering with the Pinellas/Pasco Federation to commission the survey are Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services, Menorah Manor, Florida Holocaust Museum, virtually all local synagogues and a representative of local Chabad groups, Socash said.

In recent months, representatives from those commissioning the study have held three meetings with Sheskin to talk about the upcoming survey and the sort of information it should seek from those called.

Sheskin said there are standard questions virtually all Jewish organizations want to know, such as the age of those in the household, if there are children, and if those surveyed consider themselves Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or just Jewish. The other 20 percent of the questions are tailored to what the organizations funding the survey specifically seek. “For instance, because Gulf Coast is among those commissioning the survey and is a social services agency, we will have more than the usual questions about social service needs,” Sheskin said.

Some of the survey costs are likely to be offset by revealing accurate information about where Jewish organizations should, and should not, spend their money, Sheskin said.

“Knowing what the needs are and where they are can save folks a lot of money,” he said. He cited a study in West Palm Beach that revealed an agency was funding a program in which there simply were not enough people in need of the service being offered to warrant the staffing.

Sheskin stressed that all those called will remain anonymous to those making the calls and in all reports generated.

Some of those to be surveyed next month will be called from a list provided – with no names attached to the phone numbers – by the Federation, he said.

But in order to find Jews not known to the Federation, a method called “random digit dialing” will be used. Phone numbers in the two-county area will be randomly called until a sufficient number of surveys can be taken from those identifying themselves as Jewish.

Once a computer-dialed call is answered, a professional surveyor will speak to the person answering.

For those agreeing to take the survey, it should take about 15 minutes. If a person is called at an inconvenient time, the surveyor will call back at an agreed upon more convenient time.

The advent of cell phones is a problem he now encounters in every phone survey he conducts. By law, only landline phones can receive the computer-generated calls. A team of humans will do random digit dialing for cell numbers as part of the effort to reach members of the Jewish community the Federation and other local Jewish organizations may not know about.

Sheskin said the survey is 26 pages long, but portions of it can be skipped depending on the answers. For instance, if there is no child in the house, questions about children are not asked.

It is expected to take several weeks to complete the calling, then about six months to compile the data, analyze it and write reports before the results will be presented in a series of meetings here, Sheskin said. He expects the report to be about 900 pages.

In the 2011 survey of the Tampa Bay Jewish community, no phone calls were conducted. Instead data was extrapolated from a search of 31 “distinctive Jewish names.” While Sheskin said that survey gave a reasonably accurate picture of where Jews live, the new survey will be much more far-reaching in what it will say about the community.

“As the Jewish community plans its future, attaining reliable data about who comprises the community is critical,” Socash said. “We will never be able to count our numbers perfectly, but there is so much value in developing reliable estimates that help guide where we place our resources and our priorities.”

For any questions, contact Socash at (727) 530-3223 or

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