The 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study was developed to provide communal leaders, planners, and members with understanding of the size and character of the community. The Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Research Institute at Brandeis University conducted the study on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Interviews with over 2,100 Jewish households residing in the Pittsburgh area form the basis of the report.
Key findings include:
Greater Pittsburgh’s Jewish community numbers nearly 50,000 Jewish adults and children in nearly 27,000 households. Greater Pittsburgh’s Jews constitute a little over 2% of the area population. The Jewish community has grown 17% since its last community study in 2002.
The composition of the Jewish community has changed since 2002. The largest shares of the population are adults ages 18-29 and 60-69. Because there are fewer adults in their 30s and 40s than there were in 2002, there are also fewer children. However, nearly 40% of Jewish children in the community are ages 0-5. Newcomers to the community are also replacing those who move away.
Both developments signal that the growth of the community is likely to continue.
The community is spreading out geographically. Younger adults and families are more prevalent in the city, and older adults reside in greater numbers in the suburbs and outlying areas.
The Pittsburgh Jewish community is highly educated. Pittsburgh-area Jewish adults have even higher levels of educational attainment than the US Jewish community as a whole, with 84% of local Jewish adults having at least a college degree compared with 58% of all US Jewish adults.
The Pittsburgh Jewish community is mostly middle class. One-third (33%) of Pittsburgh-area Jews describe themselves as prosperous (7%) or living very comfortably (26%), and another 45% say they are living reasonably comfortably. Fifteen percent say they are just getting along, and 8% say they are nearly poor or poor.
The Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community, as defined by the Federation catchment area, includes all of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties. The present report compares Squirrel Hill, the rest of the city of Pittsburgh, the South Hills, the North Hills, and the rest of the region. Squirrel Hill has historically been the center of Jewish life in Greater Pittsburgh and remains home to 26% of all Pittsburgh-area Jewish households. Another 31% of Jewish households are in the rest of the city of Pittsburgh, primarily in neighborhoods surrounding Squirrel Hill. The South Hills area is now home to 20% of all Jewish households, and 9% reside in the North Hills. The remaining 14% of Jewish households are distributed through the rest of the five-county area.
Overall, 76% of children in Jewish households are being raised Jewish in some way. Seventy-one percent are being raised exclusively Jewish, either by religion (56%) or culturally (15%).
Among children with intermarried parents, 33% are being raised exclusively Jewish, either by religion or culturally. Another 11% are being raised both Jewish and in another religion. Fifty- one percent are being raised in no religion or with no decision yet made about how to raise the children. Six percent are being raised in a religion other than Judaism. (The total adds up to more than 100% due to rounding.) The proportion of children raised Jewish by intermarried parents is lower than the national average.
Overall, 56% of Jewish children in grades K-12 participated in at least one Jewish educational program in the past year. Forty-five percent of Jewish children in grades K-12 are enrolled in Jewish part-time school, day school, or a Jewish tutoring program, and 41% participated in a Jewish youth group or attended a Jewish day camp or overnight camp. Twenty-eight percent of preschool-aged Jewish children are enrolled in a Jewish preschool.
Jewish Engagement and Synagogue Membership
Jewish behavior includes family and home-based practices, ritual practices, personal activities, and organizational participation. Examining an index that combines multiple measures of Jewish life, members of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community can be thought of as displaying five patterns of Jewish engagement. These groupings provide a deeper way of understanding Jewish engagement aside from denominational affiliation and ritual behavior.
Pittsburgh-area Jews display similar patterns of denominational affiliation as the overall US Jewish population. Thirty-four percent of Jewish adults identify as Reform, more than any other denomination. Thirty percent say they have no specific denomination.
In the Greater Pittsburgh area, 35% of households belong to a synagogue or another Jewish worship community of some type. These households include 38% of Jewish adults, similar to the national average (39%). The proportion of member households has declined since 2002 (53%).
The largest group of synagogue members (19% of households) are dues-paying members of local “brick-and-mortar” synagogues. The remaining synagogue members (16% of households) belong to independent minyanim or chavurot, Chabad, or non-local congregations, or consider themselves members of brick-and-mortar synagogues but do not pay dues.
Jewish community ties are important to Pittsburgh-area Jews. Eighty percent of Jewish adults say that being Jewish is somewhat or very much a matter of community. About two-thirds (63%) say it is important to feel connected to the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, and 43% feel somewhat or very connected to the local Jewish community. Two-thirds (65%) feel very connected to the global Jewish community.
Nearly one-third (30%) of Pittsburgh-area Jewish households say they are members of the JCC. This includes 20% who say they pay dues, and 10% who consider themselves members but do not pay dues. Membership rates are highest in Squirrel Hill (40%), the South Hills (29%), and the rest of the city of Pittsburgh (25%).
Nearly one-third (32%) say they are members of another Jewish organization besides a synagogue or the JCC. Half of senior citizens belong to a Jewish organization other than a synagogue or the JCC.
Thirty-nine percent of Jewish adults engaged in some volunteer activity in the past month, either with a Jewish organization or with a non-Jewish organization. Eighteen percent volunteered with a Jewish organization in any capacity, including 15% who have taken on leadership roles such as serving on a board or committee. Twenty-eight percent volunteered for non-Jewish organizations, including 8% who also volunteered for Jewish organizations.
Ninety-three percent of Jewish adults made charitable donations in the past year. Seventy- six percent donated to at least one Jewish organization; 63% donated to a Jewish organization that serves the Pittsburgh-area Jewish community. The causes volunteers and donors deem most important are education (83% “very important”), health/medical causes (79%), social justice (73%), and women’s rights (72%).
Approximately three-fifths (59%) of Pittsburgh-area Jewish adults have visited Israel or lived there. One-quarter (24%) have visited once. Another quarter (28%) have visited multiple times, and 7% lived there at some point, including 3% who are Israeli citizens. The proportion of Pittsburgh-area Jewish adults who have visited Israel has increased since 2002 (44%).
Approximately one-third (33%) of Pittsburgh-area Jewish adults feel very connected to Israel. By contrast, 17% feel not at all connected to Israel.
Health and Well-Being
The majority of Pittsburgh-area Jewish households are financially comfortable. One-third (33%) describe themselves as being prosperous (7%) or very comfortable (26%), and another 45% say they are living reasonably comfortably. There are some households who are struggling and say they are just getting by (15%) or are nearly poor or poor (8%).
Economic insecurity is a concern for some households. One-quarter (25%) of Jewish households lack sufficient savings to cover three months of expenses, and 13% say they could not cover an emergency $400 expense with cash, money currently in a bank account, or on a credit card they could pay in full. Thirteen percent skipped at least one rent, mortgage, or utility payment in the past year due to financial hardship. Four percent of households say that financial constraints have prevented them from participating in Jewish life in some way in the Pittsburgh area in the past year.
One-quarter (25%) of Jewish households include at least one person with a chronic health issue or disability. This number includes those who are limited in the amount of work, school, or housework they can do as a result of an impairment, disability, or chronic physical or mental health issue. Eight percent of households indicate that health issues have constrained them from participating in Jewish life in some way in the Pittsburgh area in the past year.