The 2017 Greater Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study provides a detailed sociodemographic portrait of the Pittsburgh-area Jewish community and describes community members’ participation in Jewish communal life, their private Jewish activities, and their attitudes about Judaism and Israel. The study was designed to contribute to a better understanding of contemporary Jewish life in Greater Pittsburgh and to inform policy-making and planning by Jewish communal organizations.
This chapter highlights the ways in which Greater Pittsburgh’s Jews are engaged with Jewish life and identifies a number of opportunities to enhance that engagement over the coming years. Some of the key findings of the study of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community are summarized below, with a focus on findings that can point the way toward planning for the community’s future. This chapter also contextualizes the findings by including commentary from some of the more than 2,000 survey respondents who shared their perceptions of the strengths of the community, the gaps they perceive in communal services, and their thoughts regarding what the community could do to make them feel more welcome.
Community Size and Growth
The Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community has grown over the 15 years since its last community study and now includes 49,200 Jewish individuals living in 26,800 households. However, its composition has shifted. Today, there are proportionally fewer adults in their 30s and 40s, fewer families with children, more senior citizens, and more single young adults than there were in 2002. The community appears to be poised for continued growth in the near future, especially if the young adults and families who come to Pittsburgh for school or work decide to stay in the area.
The prevalence of young children indicates the potential for growth as those families age, and the strong regional economy can be expected to attract and retain a skilled workforce in the years ahead.
The size of the community is seen as an asset to many of its members. Although 120 respondents mentioned the size of the community as one of its strength, some considered it to be a large community, others a small one. One respondent summarized both views:
Small enough that it is not overwhelming, but big enough that there are choices within the community.
According to its members, the greatest strengths of the community lie in its people (528), who they find to be united (181), welcoming (145), and supportive (107), and actively engaged with community life (85).
The community is very active and engaged. It is tight-knit. Lots of opportunities to get involved and participate if you look for them.
The Jewish community of Pittsburgh is a tight-knit, committed group of individuals dedicated to volunteerism, education, social justice, and providing needed services to children, elderly, and the downtrodden. I am proud to be part of this community.
By contrast, 35 respondents wrote that a friendlier environment would make them feel more welcome, and 39 desired more outreach to newcomers and less-affiliated people.
There is a missing level of outreach to the people who consider themselves Jewish, unaffiliated, and generally younger and professional. There does not seem to be a whole lot of room for people generally identified as millennial or in the 25 to 40-year-old range who have not been raised in the community. It can be difficult to penetrate the established community if you don’t already have some kind of way in.
Being more accepting and welcoming of people who are new to the region and whose families haven’t lived in the area for generations.
I think there are some cliques and the personal call or genuine friendliness—not just to get you to come to the event, but once you are there—go a long way.
Organizations and Leadership
Pittsburgh’s Jewish community includes many strong institutions. Thirty-five percent of households belong to synagogues, 30% say they belong to the JCC, and 24% pay dues to another Jewish organization. In addition, 76% of adults make donations to at least one Jewish organization.
A total of 326 respondents considered Pittsburgh’s organizations and leadership to be one of the sources of the community’s strength. Specifically, 79 mentioned leaders, 72 mentioned the JCC, 68 mentioned synagogues and rabbis, and 48 mentioned the Federation.
There are many organizations and events to choose from, and many people dedicated to them, both professionals and volunteers.
The JCC is extremely diverse, welcoming, and offers programming that fits my family’s lifestyle, especially because it is multi-generational and emphasizes wellness. I am in that building about three to five days a week and thankful it exists. I think it is by far the best Jewish organization (in my experience) in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has mostly strong synagogues with excellent clergy and loyal communities that work not only within the Jewish community, but also reach out to other communities as well. We are a small community, and fairly close together, which makes it easier to communicate.
The Federation is very well run by smart, committed professionals that communicate and work well across all segments of the Jewish community. The JCC is equally well run and an important center for children and seniors.
Focus on Growth in Squirrel Hill and Beyond
Squirrel Hill remains both the geographic and institutional center of the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community, and the Jewish community is growing there and in adjacent neighborhoods. The density of the Jewish population and its institutions in Squirrel Hill make it an attractive neighborhood for Jewish households looking to be especially active in Jewish life (140).
I think Squirrel Hill is an amazing asset to the Jewish community. It’s a vibrant oasis of thriving Judaism in the heart of the East End (which is the best part of Pittsburgh!). It is concentrated in one area of the city, which is good because it really feels like a community.
Concentration in one central area that is a great walkable neighborhood. Proximity to urban center.
The community is also growing in its suburbs in the North and South Hills, where communal resources may not be as readily available. These suburbs must be supported to ensure that they will continue to grow as hubs of Jewish life in Greater Pittsburgh. A total of 39 respondents indicated that programs and activities in the suburbs were lacking, and 44 respondents indicated that outreach to the suburbs would make them feel welcome.
Making an effort to include the suburban communities.
Have local branches in the suburbs other than downtown Pittsburgh so it’s easier to travel to activities.
There definitely seems to be a strong community, however, much of it is focused in the East End part of town. Living in the South Hills, despite having two to three temples, there is a feeling that we are a minority and not connected to the stronger community in Squirrel Hill.
Have more programs in the North Hills. There is very little offered for us here. We come in to the city for our worship and programming.
Recognizing the Jewish families who live in the surrounding area beyond the North and South Hills, who may not have the same access or opportunities to engage in Jewish communal life, is also important. It may be worthwhile to reach out to Jewish residents and institutions of Beaver, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland counties to ensure that they feel the community is meeting their needs.
I would like to see a greater connection/inclusion of Greensburg with the Pittsburgh area. We sometimes feel left out and that is discouraging, because we would feel so much better if we were ALWAYS included.
There should be more available to those outside city limits if needed—Greater Pittsburgh includes Westmoreland, Washington, Fayette, Butler, Indiana counties for example—but there is next to nothing available without travel to Pittsburgh.
Patterns of Jewish Engagement
The study was designed to help the Jewish community of Pittsburgh develop programs and activities to enhance Jewish engagement. To aid the creation of initiatives that serve community members “where they are,” the community must first follow a Talmudic dictum to “go out and see what the people are doing” and construct their plans based on what they observe. In line with that goal, survey responses were used to develop an Index of Jewish Engagement.
The categories that comprise Greater Pittsburgh’s Index of Jewish Engagement provide a new tool for understanding the community. Five patterns of engagement were identified. The Immersed pattern, which describes 16% of Jewish adults in the community, is actively engaged in all aspects of Jewish life: home- and synagogue-based holidays and ritual practices, personal activities, and communal involvement. The Connected pattern, which describes 29% of Jewish adults, is actively engaged in most aspects of Jewish life, but at lower rates than members of the Immersed group.
The Involved pattern also describes 29% of Jewish adults, who are highly engaged in Jewish organizations aside from synagogues. The Holiday pattern, which describes 12% of Jewish adults, reflects people who celebrate religious rituals associated with Jewish holidays but are not particularly involved in synagogues or other Jewish organizations. Finally, the Minimally Involved pattern describes the 13% of Jewish adults in the Pittsburgh area who are largely unaffiliated and have little to no contact with Jewish organizations or institutions.
These patterns are not based on predefined labels; rather, they are developed from community members’ actual behaviors across a variety of dimensions. The Index synthesizes many of these behaviors and illustrates how they are patterned. It describes how each engagement group enacts
Judaism and reflects the diversity of behavior within extant demographic and interest groups. Each group is diverse, including older and younger adults, inmarried and intermarried families, households with and without children, newcomers to the community and those who have lived in the area for decades, and people from all neighborhood groupings in the region. Denomination is correlated with engagement group, but there are Orthodox individuals in nearly every engagement group as well as people who do not identity with any particular denomination. Although the groups reflect different patterns of behavior, they make it clear that simplistic dichotomies—engaged/not engaged and religious/not religious—are inadequate descriptors of the nuances of communal and private Jewish life in Greater Pittsburgh. Involving each group in Jewish life may require a different approach. We hope that the Index will help Jewish organizations in Greater Pittsburgh to think creatively about their engagement efforts.
Religious Diversity and Collaboration
The diversity of Jewish life in Pittsburgh is perceived by its members as a strength. Community members feel that Pittsburgh offers abundant opportunities for Jews of all denominations and levels of practice (177), and particularly value the ways that the denominations collaborate for events and programs that are open to the entire community (151), specifically mentioning the community-wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot (Shavuot study session).
There is a lot of diversity—whatever you are looking for in terms of involvement and community you can likely find a congregation to meet your needs/wants.
There are many different synagogues and organizations that people can join in order to practice both the religious and traditional/cultural aspects of Judaism, no matter what branch of Judaism they may practice.
So many different people from varying backgrounds and levels of faith, many synagogues and Jewish activities (social action events etc.). Great Jewish friends and network. We also have a pluralistic chevra kadisha [Jewish burial society] that I belong to.
I like that there is an openness across denominational lines. For the most part it doesn’t seem to matter what type of Jewish person you consider yourself, you are generally welcome at the mainstream Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform congregations.
Activities that try to bring a cross-section of Jews together such as Mitzvah Day, Jewish Film Festival, etc.
Invest in Jewish Education
As the number of Jewish children in the Greater Pittsburgh area decreased between 2002 and 2017, enrollment in local Jewish day schools, yeshivot, and Hebrew schools also declined. Based on the demographic findings of the present study, however, it is likely that the community will have more children of school age in the coming decade. Nearly 40% of Jewish children in the community today are ages 0-5, and although adults ages 18-29 constitute nearly 20% of the total Jewish population, few of these young adults are parents. As they begin to start families, it is likely that the number of children in the community will grow. It is critical for the community to continue to invest in high-quality Jewish educational programs and be prepared for likely increases in enrollment in the next few years.
Pittsburgh’s schools and education system were identified as one if its strengths by 51 respondents.
JCC is the bedrock. JCC and Community Day School are the two most important organizations for the future of the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Community Day School is a tremendous asset that provides a top-quality education for families of all Jewish backgrounds regardless of ability to pay and fosters academic success and a love of Israel and Judaism.
Although 51 respondents highlighted the schools and educational offerings, 53 indicated educational options that they felt were missing from the community. In particular, most of the 53 respondents mentioned the need for adult education, especially for the non-Orthodox and less affiliated.
There is almost a total absence of adult education, especially free adult education, outside of the Orthodox institutions.
I really miss the Agency for Jewish Learning! They were a central location for excellent classes. I also miss the weekly morning Torah study that one of the Reform rabbis used to hold at a local coffee shop. It was a great way to study and discuss in an informal setting and still get to work on time.
Outreach to Intermarried Families
Few intermarried families in Great Pittsburgh feel very much a part of the local Jewish community, but these families have over one-third of all children in Jewish households in the area. Of these children, one-third (33%) are being raised exclusively Jewish, and another 11% are being raised in both Judaism and another religion. About half of the children of intermarried parents are being raised either in no religion, or their parents have not yet decided how to raise them. As these children grow into adolescence and adulthood, it is likely they will wish to explore their heritage.
It is noteworthy that, for intermarried families who are raising their children Jewish in some way, nearly as many are sending their children to Jewish preschool as are inmarried families. Ensuring that there are high-quality Jewish educational programs available for them is likely key to developing their Jewish identities. If the community can increase its outreach to intermarried families to make them feel more a part of the community, and if the community can offer them programs that stimulate their interests and meet their needs, there may be a significant opportunity to increase their Jewish engagement and encourage their children to develop their Jewish identities.
Interfaith couples and families felt that there were gaps in programs that met their needs (14) and felt that the community could do more to make them feel welcome (35).
Understand and embrace interfaith relationships—or young-adult children of interfaith relationships as a wholly important future of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community.
Interfaith outreach that has Jewish content beyond food and happy hours.
Be more welcoming of those of us who are patrilineal Jews. Even with conversion and being ethnically Jewish, I’m still not welcomed in some areas of the Pittsburgh Jewish Community.
We have a mix of religions in our home, though in practice we only practice Judaism. We found that we were not always welcomed or respected at [our area] congregations. Even Reform ones.
Focus on Young Adults
Jewish young adults in Greater Pittsburgh defy the stereotype of unengaged, disinterested young Jews. The vast majority of Jewish young adults ages 18-34 have some level of engagement with Jewish institutions and activities, and their rates of organizational membership and ritual observance typically match or exceed those of older adults in the community. Overall, Jewish young adults in the community are pleased with the options available to them to engage in Jewish life, but they would like local organizations that provide young adult programming to work more collaboratively and less competitively.
Young adults (57) described the types of programs that would be more appealing to them.
Cohesive young adult Jewish programming (there are a lot of separate groups that can be cliquey and plan over top of one another).
A range of social opportunities for 20 to 30-year-olds to meet each other in cultural, non-religious settings and programs that appeal to them.
Articulate a welcoming, spiritual, and socially aware vision of Judaism divorced from the guilt-ridden, intermarriage- is-evil, ‘Judaism must exist for its own sake’ that most Jewish organizations currently use to try to appeal to young adults/millennials. Come to where I am and meet my spiritual/religious needs, don’t assume I fit the stereotype from decades ago.
Diversity of Ages and Family Structure
Certain subgroups of the community, however, indicated that their needs were not fully met. One possible unmet need is in providing services for those with health issues. Eight percent of Jewish households in Greater Pittsburgh include someone whose health issues constrained their participation in Jewish life over the past year. Mobility issues, emotional challenges, and chronic illnesses were the most common obstacles. One-quarter of Jewish households in the community include at least one person who is limited in the amount of work, school, or housework he or she can do as a result of an impairment, disability, or chronic physical or mental health condition.
Twenty-eight percent of Pittsburgh’s Jewish adults are ages 65 and older, and 93 respondents indicated that more services were needed for seniors. The most requested service was housing.
A senior life care community located within greater Pittsburgh.
For those who foresee the need to eventually move from our homes or apartments there is no facility in our area to move without going to a retirement community sponsored by Christian organizations.
I wish the Jewish community offered more senior residences that are of good quality and not so very expensive.
Among Pittsburgh’s Jewish households, 28% include a person living alone. One-third (33%) of single Jewish adults living alone are ages 65 or older, 41% ages 50-64, and 26% under the age of 50. Respondents (50) pointed out the needs for programs geared to singles of all ages, as well as adults without children. A common theme was that programs were too focused on younger singles, and on people with traditional family structures.
There are no programs for Jewish singles after the age of 30.
Services for mature singles (such as divorced people). Congregations do not reach out to this group either, which is why I stopped membership to the congregation I had belonged to for many years.
Not everyone has a family. I am single and have no relatives in the area. It often seems as though so much is geared towards families and family life.
Don’t assume everyone is heterosexual, looking for a partner, and child-oriented.
Again….I can’t stress this enough….everything is geared toward the assumption that everyone is always part of a family…..I am not. I would like to be recognized as a valuable, life-long, contributing member of the Jewish community as an individual and not be overlooked or ignored or made to feel that my life experience and perspective is irrelevant because I am not part of a family!!!
Promoting Ties to Israel
Nearly three-fifths of Jewish adults in Greater Pittsburgh have visited Israel at least once. Seven percent of Jewish adults say they have lived in Israel at some point, including about 3% who are Israeli citizens. Pittsburgh-area Jewish young adults have participated in Birthright Israel at high rates, and many members of the community have visited on other educational or volunteer tours or on a mission sponsored by Federation or another Jewish organization. Overall, nearly two-thirds of Jewish adults in the community feel somewhat or very connected to Israel, half seek news about Israel at least once per week, and half say they have close friends or family living in Israel.
Despite these close ties to Israel, only about one-quarter of Jewish adults in the community can correctly identify Karmiel-Misgav as Pittsburgh’s partnership region in Israel. Another quarter say they are aware that there is a partnership region but cannot identify it. Clearly, there is substantial interest in Israel, and there is likely much that can be done to promote engagement by members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community with their counterparts in Karmiel-Misgav.
Support for Families in Need
Collectively, the Jewish community of Greater Pittsburgh is mostly middle class, but nearly one- quarter of the community describes itself as just getting along, nearly poor, or poor. Sixteen percent of households receive at least one public benefit that may be a measure of economic insecurity. Four percent have felt constrained from participating in Jewish life due to financial issues, particularly as a result of high program costs or fees or the cost of synagogue dues or High Holy Day tickets. The proportion of Jewish households with significant economic pressures is particularly high in the outlying areas farther from the geographic center of the community, where the Jewish community has the most resources available to offer assistance. To best serve Jewish families in need in the community, it may be necessary to raise the community’s awareness of available resources, particularly for those who live outside of Squirrel Hill and the city of Pittsburgh, and to raise additional resources to subsidize costs of participation or membership for less affluent households.
The community’s finances were seen as a strength by 62 respondents, who remarked on the charitable and generous nature of community members.
A group of people who have the financial capability to support those in the community who need the resources the community provides.
Thirty-two respondents said that affordability was a problem at schools, camps, and the JCC, and 32 said that scholarships and reduced costs would help them to participate in the community, in particular with synagogue and JCC memberships.
I do feel that there is a big price tag to any organized Jewish community either through synagogue membership or JCC membership. That’s unfortunate for unaffiliated Jews.
The membership dues of the JCC are extremely high. There are arrangements for those who cannot afford the dues, and the ones who can do not have a problem. Those people who fall into the middle category are most affected.
I think that there could be more community-based religious services that help make everyone feel welcome, and not just people who are able to contribute financially.
The Jewish population of Greater Pittsburgh has increased, and the community shows signs of likely growth in the future. Although many members of the community appreciate its size, religious diversity, and strong institutions, the data suggest many opportunities to strengthen Jewish engagement and reach diverse populations. We hope that this portrait of the community will stimulate a discussion about how to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Jewish community’s many strengths.