Chapter 6 – Social and Community Life

The Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community offers diverse avenues for communal participation. Pittsburgh-area Jews join local, regional, and national membership organizations and attend an array of cultural, educational, and religious events. They volunteer and donate their time to Jewish and non-Jewish causes. Through their participation, they make Jewish friends and strengthen their ties to the local community. This chapter describes the multiple ways in which Pittsburgh-area Jews interact and participate with their local peers and institutions and points to measures that can enhance these connections.

Table 6.1a Household memberships and activities

(% of Jewish households)
 JCC member (dues and no dues)Other organization member (dues and no dues)Other organization (dues)
Overall303221
Engagement
Immersed344532
Connected275437
Involved364232
Holiday13
40
Minimally Involved810
Region
Squirrel Hill404332
Rest of Pittsburgh253021
South Hills292822
North Hills123018
Rest of region62313

Organizations and Activities

 Pittsburgh-area Jews participate in a wide range of Jewish organizations and activities. Three-in-ten households say they currently belong to a Jewish Community Center (JCC) (two-in-ten pay dues), and nearly one-third (32%) of households belong to at least one Jewish organization other than a synagogue or JCC, such as Hadassah or AIPAC (Table 6.1a). Overall, one-fifth (21%) of Jewish households pay dues to a Jewish organization aside from a synagogue or the JCC.

Those in the Connected group are most likely to be members of an organization. Residents of Squirrel Hill and the South Hills are most likely to members of the JCC, followed by residents of the rest of the city of Pittsburgh. A little over one-fifth of residents who have resided in Greater Pittsburgh for at least 10 years pay dues to a Jewish organization other than a synagogue or JCC, compared to about one-in-ten residents who have been in the area fewer than ten years (Table 6.1b). Older adults ages 65 and older are most likely to pay membership dues to a Jewish organization.

Table 6.1b Household memberships and activities

(% of Jewish households)
 JCC member (dues and no dues)Other organization member (dues and no dues)Other organization (dues)
Length of Residence
<10 years252512
10-19 years332920
20+ years263425
Household Structure
Inmarried334430
Intermarried20148
Single adult(s)253325
Household has child(ren)411611
No children243525
Respondent Age
18-34372921
35-49301710
50-64142112
65+294938
Synagogue
Member315441
Non-member242517
Denomination
Orthodox354233
Conservative203726
Reform274430
Other162819
None292015

Families with children are more likely to be members of the JCC than households without children, but less likely to be members of other Jewish organizations. Community members between the ages of 50 and 64 are less likely than other age groups to belong to the JCC.

Nearly half (45%) of Jews in Greater Pittsburgh attended a program or event within the past year, with 11% doing so at least monthly, and 34% doing so less than monthly (Table 6.2a). Seven-in-ten (68%) read a Jewish organization’s materials in the past year, with 36% doing so at least monthly, and 32% doing so less than monthly. Those in the Immersed and Connected groups are most likely to pay dues, attend programs, and read organizations’ materials. The Involved group is distinguished from the remaining engagement groups by the moderate level of participation in the community across these items.

Residents of Squirrel Hill attend Jewish programs more frequently than residents of other neighborhoods, likely because most of the programs are hosted by institutions in the neighborhood. In turn, because programs are more accessible to residents of Squirrel Hill, it is likely that they read materials from Jewish organizations more frequently due to their connections with those organizations.

Table 6.2a Organizational participation in past year

(% of Jewish adults)
 Attend program Monthly+Attend program Read materials Monthly+Read materials
Overall11343632
Engagement
Immersed37397917
Connected11535433
Involved7383558
Holiday0<100
Minimally Involved2305
Region
Squirrel Hill19414928
Rest of Pittsburgh14404527
South Hills7232532
North Hills4253336
Rest of region3242933

Sixty percent of newcomers have attended programs in the Jewish community in the past year, and they are among the most frequent attendees as well., but younger adults, especially those ages 18- 34, attend programs most frequently (Table 6.2b).

Table 6.2b Organizational participation in past year

(% of Jewish adults)
 Attend program monthly+Attend program Read materials monthly+Read materials
Length of Residence
<10 years23373926
10-19 years19344334
20+ years8333930
Household Structure
Inmarried14445131
Intermarried13223125
Single adult(s)8262932
Household has child(ren)12383524
No children12334131
Respondent Age
18-3418293830
35-4911344028
50-6410323825
65+10404434
Synagogue
Member18496224
Non-member8252733
Denomination
Orthodox22407718
Conservative 19335122
Reform10434035
Other9454520
None6212134

Sources of Information

More than half of the community say they learn about Jewish events and programs online (56%), from family or friends (51%), or from synagogue or organizational newsletters (44%) (Table 6.3). One-third (32%) say they hear about events and programs from the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle or another Jewish periodical, and one- fifth (20%) receive community news directly from a rabbi or another Jewish communal professional.

Table 6.3 Sources of information

(% of Jewish adults)
Online56
Synagogue or organization newsletter51
Family or friends44
Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle or other local Jewish periodical 32
Rabbi or communal professional20

Travel to Jewish Programs

More than eight-out-of-ten Jewish adults (83%) say they would be willing to travel on a regular basis to attend a Jewish-sponsored program or event. Among those who would do so, 11% would go farther than 40 minutes away, nearly half (45%) would go farther than 20 minutes away, and 90% would go farther than 10 minutes away (Table 6.4). Those living in Squirrel Hill and the city of Pittsburgh are less willing to travel as long as those living farther out in the suburbs.

Table 6.4 Time willing to travel to Jewish programs

(% Jewish adults willing to travel)
 Less than 10 min10-20 min21-40 min41-60 minOver one hour
Overall10443483
Region
Squirrel Hill21462644
Rest of Pittsburgh11562482
South Hills6444641
North Hills2315773
Rest of region43827283

Volunteering

 In the Pittsburgh Jewish community, 39% of Jewish adults say they did some volunteer activity in the past month (Table 6.5a). Nearly one-fifth (18%) of the overall population volunteered with at least one Jewish organization, and 28% volunteered with a non-Jewish organization. These include 8% who volunteered for both (not shown in table). Fifteen percent of Jewish adults volunteered in a leadership position in a Jewish organization. Those in the Immersed and Connected groups were most likely to volunteer under Jewish auspices, while about one-third of Immersed, Connected, and Involved volunteered for non-Jewish groups.

Table 6.5a Volunteering

(% of Jewish adults)
 Any volunteeringNon-Jewish organizationAny Jewish organizationLeadership role (Jewish org)Other role (Jewish org)
Overall392818157
Engagement
Immersed5632413518
Connected5236332612
Involved43361296
Holiday2018531
Minimally Involved 14141<1<1
Region
Squirrel Hill5034272311
Rest of Pittsburgh4835252010
South Hills23161396
North Hills352418165
Rest of region38341286

Although there are no significant differences in Jewish volunteering by duration of residence in the Pittsburgh area, those who have lived in the area for less time tend be more active volunteers with non-Jewish organizations (Table 6.5b). By contrast, although residents ages 35-49 or 50-64 are most likely to report volunteering for leadership roles in Jewish organizations, the 35 to 49-year-olds are the least likely group to volunteer at all for non-Jewish organizations. Conservative Jews report the highest overall levels of taking leadership roles in Jewish organizations, while Orthodox Jews report the lowest rates of volunteering for non-Jewish organizations.

Table 6.5b Volunteering

(% of Jewish adults)
 Any volunteeringNon-Jewish volunteering Any Jewish organizationLeadership role (Jewish org)Other role (Jewish org)
Length of Residence
<10 years513820179
10-19 years4330241912
20+ years392821178
Household Structure
Inmarried5034282510
Intermarried393213104
Single adult(s)31231599
Household has child(ren)4731262110
No child(ren)403020168
Respondent Age
18-34423216138
35-493722242011
50-64412826229
65+463718148
Synagogue
Member5334363113
Non-member35281286
Denomination
Orthodox3210282213
Conservative 473329269
Reform4935241910
Other4732331316
None3328975

Overall, Pittsburgh-area Jews believe it is important to be involved with organizations supporting a wide variety of causes (Tables 6.6a and 6.6b). Education is very important to 83% of the community, and all engagement groups value that cause highly. Nearly as many believe that health and medicine (79%) is very important, as do almost three-quarters about social justice and women’s rights. Those in the Immersed group assign greater weight to causes related to Israel than do individuals from other groups. In every other engagement group, Israel appears to be less important than every other topic respondents were asked to value.

Unsurprisingly, older residents, who also tend to be those who have lived in the area the longest, believe health-related causes are more important than younger residents. Orthodox and Conservative Jews believe Israel is more important than adherents to other denominations or no denomination. The greatest difference between synagogue members and non-members, and between inmarried and intermarried couples, is also on Israel, with synagogue members and inmarried couples expressing greater interest.

Table 6.6a Very important causes

 EducationHealth/medicineSocial justiceWomen's rightsEnvironmentArts/culturePoliticsIsrael
Overall8379737265615953
Engagement
Immersed8578595663534475
Connected8175767960616753
Involved8683828076716454
Holiday6583745576677250
Minimally Involved8489578757594830
Region
Squirrel Hill8577797471566351
Rest of Pittsburgh8479828174766850
South Hills8288617659584358
North Hills8678657155585455
Rest of region6881555858616360

Table 6.6b Very important causes

(% of Jewish adults)
 EducationHealth/medicineSocial justiceWomen's rightsEnvironmentArts/culturePoliticsIsrael
Length of Residence
<10years7468676766595335
10-19 years8075727166686247
20+ years83
84737566636259
Household Structure
Inmarried84 79727664636658
Intermarried8079726773726943
Single adult(s)7983717366574854
Household with child(ren)8177707266586351
No child(ren)8281727466646054
Respondent Age
18-347377716575593950
35-498880747966666255
50-647881637256565952
65+8886828273707755
Synagogue
Member8578747362556166
Non-member8082717469686046
Denomination
Orthodox9376514453394093
Conservative 6880665963626264
Reform8279777967596747
Other6773968984806530
None8884738468725746

Philanthropy

Within the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community, nearly all (93%) Jewish adults report making a charitable contribution in the past year (Table 6.7a). Three-quarters (76%) of Jewish adults donated to at least one Jewish organization. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Jewish adults donated to a Jewish organization that serves the Pittsburgh Jewish community. Just over half (55%) of the community gave less than $2,500 to nonprofits, one-quarter contributed $2,500 or more, and the remainder declined to indicate an amount.

Nearly all of those in the Involved and the Immersed groups donated to a nonprofit organization in the past year, as did majorities of all groups (Table 6.7a). However, although nearly everyone in the Immersed and Connected groups made donations to Jewish organizations, seven-in-ten in the Involved group, one-third of the Holiday group, and one-eighth in the Minimally Involved group did so.

Table 6.7a Philanthropy

 Any DonationAny Jewish donationAny local Jewish donation
Overall937663
Engagement
Immersed959487
Connected948964
Involved907158
Holiday773328
Minimally Involved901410
Region
Squirrel Hill928166
Rest of Pittsburgh926550
South Hills917265
North Hills977660
Rest of region805343

Long-term residents, who are typically older than newcomers, are more likely to make donations both in general and to Jewish organizations (Table 6.7b). Inmarried couples, synagogue members, and adherents of Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform Judaism are also more likely to donate to Jewish organizations in general, though the Orthodox are more likely than members of any other denominational grouping to donate to local Jewish organizations.

Table 6.7b Philanthropy

(% of Jewish adults)
 Any donationAny Jewish donationAny local Jewish donation
Length of Residence
<10years826344
10-19 years856146
20+ years937461
Household Structure
Inmarried958463
Intermarried935545
Single adult(s)836155
Household with child(ren)916242
No child(ren)907360
Respondent Age
18-34806651
35-49915947
50-64957459
65+957966
Synagogue
Member949173
Non-member885847
Denomination
Orthodox908983
Conservative 897556
Reform927864
Other835142
None925344

Informal Involvement in the Jewish Community

Community engagement is closely tied to personal connections and friendships among Jews. The vast majority (94%) of Jews in Greater Pittsburgh have at least some connection to other Jews, and 53% say at least half of their closest friends are Jewish. Sixty-five percent of the Immersed group respondents and 61% of respondents from the Connected group indicate that half or more of their close friends are Jewish, reflecting their deep engagement in the Jewish community.

Informal and Cultural Activities

 Informal and cultural activities include Jewish activities that are not sponsored by organizations, such as seeing Jewish theater, reading Jewish books, eating Jewish foods, and discussing Jewish topics (Tables 6.8a, 6.8b, 6.8c, and 6.8d).

Overall, 86% of Pittsburgh Jews discussed Jewish topics (e.g., culture, religion, Israel, etc.) in the past month, including all or nearly all in the Immersed, Connected, and the Involved groups. About two-thirds (68%) ate Jewish foods. Slightly fewer (65%) searched for Jewish content on the internet in the past month, including nearly all (95%) of those in the Immersed group and three- quarters of those in the Connected (72%) and Involved (71%) groups.

Table 6.8a Participation in informal and cultural activities

 Discuss Jewish topics less than weeklyDiscuss Jewish topics weekly+Eat Jewish foods less than weeklyEat Jewish foods weekly+Jewish info. online less than weeklyJewish info. online weekly+
Overall394729393134
Engagement
Immersed158517782471
Connected365939313933
Involved494138323140
Holiday48253029355
Minimally Involved2810213203
Region
Squirrel Hill355632412841
Rest of Pittsburgh295638323232
South Hills543828543246
North Hills423529243024
Rest of region354526323930

Over three-quarters of each age group discussed Jewish topics in the past month, with over half of Jewish adults ages 50 and older and just under half of those under age 50 having done so at least weekly. More than three-fifths of each age group sought Jewish content on the internet at least once per month, with two-fifths (43%) of young adults ages 18-34 having done so at least weekly. Across most of these activities, Orthodox and Conservative Jews participated more frequently than others.

Table 6.8b Participation in informal and cultural activities

(% of Jewish adults)
 Discuss Jewish topics less than weeklyDiscuss Jewish topics weekly+Eat Jewish foods less than weeklyEat Jewish foods weekly+Jewish info. online less than weeklyJewish info. online weekly+
Length of Residence
<10years375031392243
10-19 years425035313836
20+ years365032383334
Household Structure
Inmarried306033403041
Intermarried373532193025
Single adult(s)464329453535
Household with child(ren)354131232432
No child(ren)375232403436
Respondent Age
18-34454629472543
35-49314631263232
50-64365236364432
65+305532342833
Synagogue
Member276831483443
Non-member423833303031
Denomination
Orthodox188110852767
Conservative 306430534132
Reform424638243232
Other215642224339
None433331282532

Half (49%) of Pittsburgh Jews report that they accessed Jewish-focused culture, such as books, music, museums, or TV programs in the past month, including 79% of the Immersed and over half of the Involved (56%) and Connected (51%) groups. Residents of Squirrel Hill (62%) and the South Hills (54%) are far more likely to access Jewish-focused culture than residents of other neighborhoods. One-quarter of adults had studied a Jewish text in the past month, including 80% of those in the Immersed group.

Table 6.8c Participation in informal and cultural activities

 Jewish culture less than weeklyJewish culture weekly+Study Jewish text less than weeklyStudy Jewish text weekly+
Overall30191213
Engagement
Immersed25542555
Connected3714145
Involved421483
Holiday13410
Minimally Involved15122
Region
Squirrel Hill34281226
Rest of Pittsburgh2919148
South Hills401488
North Hills279124
Rest of region2312115

Adults ages 18-34 are the most avid consumers of Jewish-focused culture, with one-quarter (26%) having sought such activities at least once per week. About half (53%) of inmarried Jews accesses Jewish-focused culture monthly, including one-fifth (22%) who did so weekly; by contrast, about one-third (32%) of intermarried Jews accessed Jewish-focused culture at least once per month, including 10% who did so weekly. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) Orthodox respondents studied Jewish texts monthly, including four-fifths (81%) who studied weekly or more often.

Table 6.8d Participation in informal and cultural activities

(% of Jewish adults)
 Jewish culture less than weeklyJewish culture weekly+Study Jewish text less than weeklyStudy Jewish text weekly+
Length of Residence
<10years21211913
10-19 years36231516
20+ years33181012
Household Structure
Inmarried31221215
Intermarried2210166
Single adult(s)3620813
Household with child(ren)2219913
No child(ren)33191212
Respondent Age
18-3429261615
35-493117911
50-6431181315
65+3416910
Synagogue
Member33301528
Non-member3012103
Denomination
Orthodox2360781
Conservative 2116189
Reform3716127
Other2430266
None351162

Antisemitism

There is some concern among Pittsburgh’s Jewish community about local antisemitism. At the time of the survey, a wave of over 120 highly publicized bomb threats and a series of vandalism incidents targeted Jewish institutions throughout the United States. Although the threats were false and the responsible party was arrested more than a month before the survey launched, the incidents may have increased respondents’ sense of concern.

Although 14% of local Jews say they are not at all concerned about antisemitism in the Greater Pittsburgh area, more than two-thirds (70%) indicate they have some concern, and 16% note they are very much concerned. Members of the Connected, Involved, and Holiday groups express slightly higher levels of concern than members of the Immersed or Minimally Involved groups.

There is no significant difference in the level of concern across neighborhoods.

Concerned about antisemitism (% of Jewish adults)

 Not at allA little/somewhatVery much
Overall147016
Engagement
Immersed216316
Connected136720
Involved156125
Holiday106822
Minimally Involved9847
Region
Squirrel Hill196318
Rest of Pittsburgh166716
South Hills68212
North Hills156619
Rest of region95437

Older Jews are more concerned about antisemitism than younger Jews, with one-third (33%) of senior citizens and 10% of 18-to-34-year-olds being very much concerned. Similarly, those who have lived in the area for ten or more years express greater levels of concern than those who arrived more recently, though this difference is correlated with age.

Table 6.9b Concerned about antisemitism

(% of Jewish adults)
 Not at allA little/somewhatVery much
Length of Residence
<10years23707
10-19 years186714
20+ years126622
Household Structure
Inmarried146323
Intermarried147114
Single adult(s)146917
Household with child(ren)136513
No child(ren)147420
Respondent Age
18-34216910
35-49137116
50-64107615
65+145433
Synagogue
Member176320
Non-member126919
Denomination
Orthodox345114
Conservative 77024
Reform156124
Other127118
None126712

Sixteen percent of Pittsburgh Jews directly experienced antisemitism within the past year, and 213 respondents described the incidents in question. The most frequent experiences are listed in Table 6.10 along with the number of respondents who cited each experience.

Table 6.10 Types of antisemitic experiences

Type of experience Number of respondents
General comments - conversational or aggressive80
Discrimination (e.g., jobs, lack of religious accommodation) 23
Insults21
Stereotypes19
Internet15
Vandalism or physical threat/attack14
Neo-Nazism 13
"Jokes"12
Anti-Israel, BDS11
Politically motivated (right- or left-wing)11
Microaggressions 10

Most respondents describe their incidents as very minor. As an example of the comments, one respondent wrote:

This is difficult because we live in a suburb where we are a minority. I would not call it antisemitism of the violent kind, but what one might call microaggressions—people saying nasty things about voting for liberal causes, presuming that we have certain practices because we are Jewish, and not accommodating our needs. (Last year the school scheduled a dance on Yom Kippur and we had to go and explain…They are better now, but really!)

Some of the incidents are menacing:

A person driving a car cut me off and proceeded to call me a ‘dumb Jew’ while I was walking across a street on my way to shul. The person then spit in my direction and told me to ‘go back to Squirrel Hill.’ (I live in [another neighborhood].)

Several respondents cite tension around politics:

During the last presidential election, a young, immature neighbor placed a Trump sign in our yard with a note on the back, something like ‘from your friendly neighborhood youth Hitler.’ I honestly don’t think they even knew we were Jewish but it hurt deeply.

Bernie Sanders was referred to as one of MY people.

A few cite incidents in the workplace:

I am a college professor…Antisemitism is considered politically correct by virtually all faculty in [respondent’s department].

A colleague told me that as a Jew, I should have to dissociate myself from Israeli military policies and ‘Jewish ethno-chauvinistic racism’ before I should be allowed in progressive spaces.

A coworker of mine said that a child we were working with looked ugly and Jewish. And then she said another child would have survived the Holocaust because she has blonde hair.

These incidents are disturbing, but it is important to emphasize that 84% of Jews in Greater Pittsburgh report that they did not directly experience any antisemitism in the past year, and most who did experienced relatively minor incidents. The perception of antisemitism in the community may be worse than the reality. Nevertheless, the community must remain vigilant to ensure that all of its members feel safe and secure to enjoy a rich life in both the Jewish community and the wider community around them.