Chapter 4 – Jewish Children

In the Greater Pittsburgh area with approximately 6,400 Jewish children, there are 11 Jewish early childhood centers, three Jewish day schools and yeshivot, and 15 part-time schools. The community is also served by at least 19 summer overnight and day camps.

The focus of this chapter is on the choices that parents make regarding how to raise their children and how families take advantage—or, in some cases, do not—of Pittsburgh’s Jewish educational opportunities. The goal is to describe the landscape of educational programs, including Jewish preschools, formal Jewish education programs, both part-time and full-time; as well as informal Jewish education programs, including camp and youth groups.

Jewish Children

Raising Jewish children does not start with educational institutions. Parents make initial decisions regarding how to raise their children: Jewish religiously or culturally, no religion, multiple religions, or another religion. Among the 8,400 children who live in Greater Pittsburgh Jewish households, there are 6,400 children being raised Jewish (Table 4.1).

Table 4.1 Greater Pittsburgh child population estimates

 JewishAll children

Another 1,600 children are being raised in no religion. Parents have not yet decided how to raise an additional 200 children. Two hundred children are being raised exclusively in a religion other than Judaism.

Of all children in Jewish households, over half (56%) are being raised by inmarried parents, 38% by intermarried parents, and the remainder, 6%, by single parents.

Among Jewish children, three- quarters (73%) have inmarried parents, 22% have intermarried parents, and 4% have single parents. Over half (56%) of children in Jewish homes are being raised Jewish by religion (Table 4.2). Another 15% are being raised as secular or cultural Jews. Five percent of children are being raised Jewish and another religion, 19% have no religion, and 2% are being raised in a different religion.

Table 4.2 Religion of children in Jewish households

(number and % of children)
Jewish by religion4,70056
Secular/culturally Jewish1,30015
Jewish and another religion4005
Another religion2002
No religion 1,60019
Not yet decided2002

Religion of Children by Household Characteristics

Overall, 76% of children in Jewish households are being raised Jewish in some way (Table 4.3). Nearly all parents who are part of the Immersed, Connected, and Holiday engagement groups are raising their children Jewish in some way, as are the majority (73%) of parents in the Involved group. No children with parents who are part of the Minimally Involved group are being raised Jewish in any way. Nearly all children in Jewish households in Squirrel Hill (90%) and the South Hills (88%) are being raised Jewish, compared with just over half of children (54%) in the rest of the City of Pittsburgh and two-thirds (67%) in the North Hills.

Nearly all children of inmarried parents are being raised exclusively Jewish, with 86% being raised Jewish by religion and 13% raised as secular or cultural Jews. Among children of intermarried parents, one-third (33%) are being raised exclusively Jewish, and another 11% are being raised Jewish and another religion. Only six percent are being raised in another religion, but half of children of intermarried parents are being raised with no religion or with no decision yet made.

These rates have remained steady since 2002, but because there are fewer children overall today than there were in 2002, the number of children in each category is smaller. Nevertheless, these findings suggest both a challenge and an opportunity for the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community. Very few interfaith families who are not explicitly raising their children as Jews have enrolled them in any sort of Jewish educational program. As the Pew study and other research show, children of intermarried parents are much more likely to grow up identifying as Jewish if they are exposed to high-quality Jewish educational experiences as children.

By contrast, even if parents intend to raise their children as Jews, those children who do not participate in Jewish educational programs tend to have significantly weaker ties to the Jewish community when they become adults. Should these children seek to explore their Jewish heritage in the future, their ability to find Jewish programs that match their interests and feel comfortable will be the two most important factors in determining whether they identify as Jews in adulthood.

Table 4.3 Children raised Jewish by household characteristics

(% of children in Jewish households)
Minimally Involved -
Squirrel Hill90
Rest of Pittsburgh54
South Hills88
North Hills67
Rest of region83
Household Structure
Single adult(s)60
Orthodox 100

Participation in Jewish Education

Jewish education is provided in the context of Jewish preschools; formal classroom settings, such as day school and part-time supplementary school; and informal settings, including camp, youth groups, and peer trips to Israel. Overall, nearly one-half (45%) of Jewish children are enrolled in some form of formal Jewish education. Table 4.4 shows the overall numbers of children in each form of Jewish education. This table also displays the proportion of Jewish children who are enrolled in each form of Jewish education, among Jewish children who are age-eligible to attend that form of Jewish education.

Of Jewish children who are not yet in kindergarten, 28% are currently enrolled in a Jewish preschool program (Table 4.4). Formal Jewish education includes part-time and full-time school programs, as well as private tutoring and classes. Almost one-quarter (24%) of Jewish children in grades K-12 are enrolled in part-time schools, including 31% of those in grades K-8 and 15% of those in grades 9-12. For full-time day schools, 19% of K-12 students are enrolled, including 21% of K-8 Jewish students and 8% of Jewish high school students.

In addition to enrollment in Jewish educational institutions, 11% of children participate in some other form of Jewish learning, such as bar or bat mitzvah tutoring, Hebrew or Yiddish language lessons, or Rosh Chodesh clubs.

Table 4.4 Children in Jewish education

(number and % of Jewish children)
 Jewish student enrollmentProportion of age-eligible Jewish children (%)
Any Jewish Education, K-122,10052
Jewish Preschool60028
Formal Jewish Education
Part-time school
Day school
Jewish tutoring, K-1250011
Any formal Jewish education, K-121,90045
Informal Jewish Education
Jewish day camp, K-121,20029
Jewish overnight camp, K-1260016
Jewish youth group, 6-1240020
Peer Israel trip, 9-1220015

Informal Jewish education refers to camps and youth groups. Twenty-nine percent of Jewish children in grades K-12 attended Jewish day camp in summer 2017, and 16% attended an overnight Jewish camp. Thirty-seven percent of all Jewish children in grades K-12 attended at least one camp. One-fifth of Jewish children in grades 6-12 participated in a Jewish youth group during the 2016-17 school year. Fifteen percent of Jewish high school students have traveled to Israel on a peer trip.

More than half (52%) of Jewish children in grades K-12 participated in some form of Jewish education during the 2016-17 school year.

Drivers of Participation in Jewish Education

Because decisions to participate in Jewish education are typically made by parents, those outcomes are linked with the characteristics and overall engagement of adults. Tables 4.5 and 4.6 describe the households who participate in various forms of Jewish education. In these two tables, for each household characteristic listed, the table shows the proportion of Jewish households with Jewish age-eligible children who have at least one child enrolled in that form of Jewish education.

Table 4.5 Household participation in formal Jewish education

(% of households with age- eligible children who have at least one child enrolled; row %)
 Pre-KPart-time school, K-12Day school, K-12Jewish tutoring, K-12
Engagement Pattern
Minimally Involved----
Pittsburgh Region
Squirrel Hill46282215
Rest of Pittsburgh371388
South Hills5537114
North Hills3039117
Rest of region-24216
Single adult(s)-32911
Financial Status
Prosperous/very comfortable4329813
Not prosperous 43301415

Formal Jewish Education: Preschool, Part-time school, Day school

Families in the Immersed group participate in formal Jewish education at higher rates than other groups.

One-fifth (19%) of intermarried households with Jewish children in K-12 have at least one child in part-time school, in contrast to 29% and 32% of inmarried and unmarried households. Households with higher self-described standards of living are just as likely as less affluent families to send their children to Jewish pre-schools and part-time schools, but less likely to send their children to Jewish day schools. About half of households with age-eligible children in the South Hills (55%) and Squirrel Hill (46%) send their children to a Jewish early childhood program, compared to about one-third in the rest of the city of Pittsburgh (37%) and the North Hills (30%).

Respondents with children not enrolled in a Jewish early childhood program were asked about the motivating factors behind their choices. No one reason was critical for a majority of parents. More than half (57%) said they were not interested. One-tenth cited cost and 16% concerns over location or transportation. Seven percent said they could not find a good fit for their child. One-sixth (16%) cited some other reason, including convenience, alternative care plans, a perception of the superior quality of secular programs, or an explicit desire to have children cared for in secular settings.

Informal Jewish Education: Camps and Youth Groups

For most forms of informal education, participation follows expected patterns of engagement (Table 4.6). Participation is highest among families in the Immersed group. However, Israel travel is an exception: households in the Connected group with teenagers are about equally likely to have sent a child on a youth trip to Israel.

Participation in camp, youth group, and Israel travel is higher for inmarried than intermarried families. Israel trips and youth groups are the most common informal education activities for intermarried families with Jewish school-age children. Families who are financially prosperous are equally likely to participate in overnight Jewish camp as other families. They are, however, less likely to have sent children to high-school Israel group trips.

Parents who did not send their child to a Jewish camp primarily cite a preference for other activities (56%) or a lack of interest (45%). Cost is less widely regarded as an important reason to reject Jewish camp (26%). Only 1% cited a lack of an age-appropriate option, while 20% claimed some other reason, including a preference for other summer camps, conflict with family vacations, and the lack of good options for special-needs children. Additionally, several families whose children are enrolled in formal educational programs during the year chose to give their children a “break” from year-round Jewish educational programming.

Table 4.6 Household participation in informal Jewish education

(% of households with age-eligible children who have at least one child enrolled; row %)
 Day camp, K-12Overnight camp, K-12Youth group, 6-12Israel trip, 9-12
Engagement Pattern
Minimally Involved----
Pittsburgh Region
Squirrel Hill46332023
Rest of Pittsburgh281997
South Hills20183112
North Hills15123629
Rest of region37--
Single adult(s)38361613
Financial Status
Prosperous/very comfortable27242513
Not prosperous 28182928