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2017-10-20 digital edition

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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 © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


October 20, 2017  RSS feed

Text: T T T

A study in superlatives

Emilie Socash

“We are all Jewish by choice.”

Ira Sheskin’s words hung in the air over lunch on Oct.15, the first day of his two-day visit in which he was presenting the results from our community’s demographic study. He went on to explain that in a philosemitic (Jewish-liking) nation like ours, we have the choice to be as Jewish as we like…and also have the choice to abstain from Jewish identity should we wish.

The study’s results are a portrait of a community that is older than we thought, that is following and bucking national trends in a number of ways, and that loves Israel and our local Jewish organizations. There are a few surprises as well: kosher homes are on the rise, intermarriage and declining synagogue affiliation are not unique to the young, and we have a tremendous number of kids who have been to Israel before graduating high school.

You can hear first hand about the results of the survey on Nov. 5 and 6 when Dr. Sheskin returns to town (see the schedule in our ad on page 2), but to address many of the questions you’ve asked me over the past couple months, I thought I’d give my takeaways from the survey in the form of our superlatives: the bests and worsts, the mosts and leasts, the biggests and the smallests.

To start, fully 98 percent of us feel proud to be Jewish (higher than the national average) and 81 percent of us have done something Jewish in the past year (but only 33 percent of us did that in a synagogue). Nearly half connect with the community through organized social and cultural events. Very few of us have experienced anti-Semitism, and we feel more and more connected to Israel and responsible for each other (all better than the national averages).

Households with kids at home make up just 10 percent of our community, and we have the lowest-in-the-nation percentage of kids (at just 8 percent of our total population, or about 3,000 kids). We have the lowest percentage of kids living in single-family households at just 1 percent, despite having the highest percentage of adults who were currently divorced at the time of the survey. Blended and step-family arrangements run high at 33 percent of our total family households.

We are highest in the nation for single male households age 65 and over (9 percent), nearly the same number as households with kids.

The highest percentage in the nation of households with kids who have special needs (18 percent, or about 170) and the lowest number of kids who have experienced anti-Semitism (just 3 percent).

Only half of our households always or usually participate in a Passover Seder.

Only 15 percent of our community is formally affiliated with a synagogue, although one-third have participated in synagogue activities in the past year.

Nearly 40 percent of the community—the second highest in the nation!—have an excellent perception of the Jewish Press, and 73 percent reported not being asked to give a gift to the Federation. Similarly, we have the second lowest percentage in the nation (27 percent) of community households who actually get the local Jewish newspaper.

Only 14 percent of our community volunteered for a Jewish organization—the lowest in the nation.

Over one-quarter of the community has lived at their current address for over 20 years. Since 1994 (at the time of our last study), the median age increased from 46 years to 62 years.

So what do we do with all of this info? Do we launch an after-school program because nearly half of our kids (up to age 12) have two working parents? Do we establish a center that helps those with special needs participate fully in Jewish life since almost 1 in 5 kids (and a large number of non-senior adults) have this type of need? Should we host a community-wide Passover Seder since fully half of our community does not regularly participate in one?

One in about 14 friends in our community are LGBT, 1 in 10 are Jews-by-choice, 2 in 5 married Jewish adults have a non-Jewish spouse, and 1 in 3 households with kids are in blended or step-family situations: how can we expand our programs to serve and welcome this dynamic and diverse composition of families, structures and identities?

When pressed for important take-aways during his presentations, Dr. Sheskin noted that our community largely doesn’t feel like this is their home community. Only 7 percent of the community (just 2,400 adults) were born in Pinellas or Pasco Counties (twice that were born outside the United States!), yet 56 percent of the community have lived here for 20 or more years. Over one-quarter of the community has lived at the same address for 20 years. With all of this in mind, why doesn’t this place feel like home?

Part of the challenge is that we don’t have a Jewish community “center,” in all senses of the word. We’re spread out: 35 percent live in North Pinellas, 39 percent in South Pinellas, 11 percent in Central Pinellas, and 15 percent in Pasco. And we love it here: 82 percent of us have no intention of moving in the next three years (or, if you’re like me, ever!).

The late Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Schneerson once said, “The home should be perceived as the microcosm of the universe.” Our home, here in our beautiful, sometimes stormy, often hip, and always casual Pinellas and Pasco area, is a microcosm of the Jewish universe at large. My question is, can we recreate our universe so our microcosm is truly home?

I tend to believe we can, otherwise I wouldn’t get up in the morning and continue to work with all of you on creating community. I encourage all of you to engage in the process with me, with community leadership, with others who live in this place we call home.

Liked it? Loathed it? Want to react? I would welcome your feedback and can be reached at

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