Bay Area Jewish population growing in Solano County, shrinking in San Francisco, new study finds
The Vallejo Times-Herald
by Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
The highest concentration of Jews in the Bay Area can be found in the East Bay, including Solano County, according to a first-of-its-kind study released last week.
The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma counties-commissioned report, shows that about 122,000, or 35 percent, of Bay Area Jewish households live in the East Bay — including Solano, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties. This is followed closely by the Peninsula and South Bay, (118,000 or 34 percent); San Francisco County (61,000 or 17 percent) and the North Bay, which includes Napa, Marin and Sonoma counties (47,000 or 13 percent).
The new study, A Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities, is the first to look at all 10 Bay Area counties, (including Santa Cruz,) “and to be able to draw these geographical conclusions,” the authors said.
“It is new that there are more Jewish people in the East Bay and Marin than San Francisco,” they said. “This is shifting probably because of cost of living in the city.”
The study found that fully two-thirds of the region’s Jewish population is concentrated in the East and South Bay/Peninsula areas. It found that of the individual counties, Santa Clara’s 73,000 is the region’s largest Jewish population. It also found that nearly two out of five survey respondents moved into their current residence in the last five years.
The study’s authors say the total number of Jews in the San Francisco and East Bay region — about 250,000 — has likely remained fairly steady for at least the last decade, based on a San Francisco study done in 2004 and one done in 2011 of the East Bay. This implies that rather than an influx of new Jews to the East Bay, Jewish families already living in the Bay Area have relocated here.
“The Bay Area is home to the fourth largest Jewish population in the U.S., with 350,000 Jews and 123,000 non-Jews living in 148,000 Jewish households,” the study finds. “While the total Jewish population in the Bay Area has likely been stable over recent years, it is growing in the East Bay and shrinking in San Francisco.”
It can’t be known for sure, but it was predicted that this might happen when Touro University — a New York-based, osteopathic medical school — moved to Mare Island in 1999. The school, which is based on Jewish social principals, was named for Isaac Touro and his sons Judah and Abraham, who were prominent citizens in colonial America.
“We anticipate a large growth in the Jewish presence in Solano County with Touro coming here,” Bruce Silverman, a lay leader at Vallejo’s Congregation B’nai Israel synagogue at the time, said then. “There have already been a number of inquiries about where to get kosher food in this area. We’re very excited about it.”
Also new in the past half dozen years was the advent in 2009 of the Chabad House in Vacaville, in Northern Solano County, which may help account for the change.
Chabad of Solano County Rabbi Chaim Zaklos said he’s not surprised by these findings.
“This is not a reward, it’s a responsibility,” he said. “When we moved here, we were told there weren’t many Jews in the area, and people actually wondered why we were moving here and even tried to discourage us. But our move was worth it in our eyes, to be there for even one family. Hearing this news, it’s really exciting, since to us, every Jew is family, so it’s like getting news that more of your family is going to be living near you. I believe this is all by Devine providence.”
The study sought “to answer a variety of questions about the Bay Are Jewish population,” the authors said. “A major and unprecedented population study of Jews in the Bay Area, (it) offers a comprehensive assessment of demographics, community needs, and key aspects of Jewish life,” a statement says. “As Dr. Cohen explains, the Bay Area in certain ways reflects a distinctly Western U.S. Jewish life and in other ways reflects national trends in Jewish life.”
Cohen is Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who, along with Jacob B. Ukeles, comprised the study’s research team — which has completed more than 25 studies of local Jewish communities in the United States.
The online survey interviewed more than 3,000 respondents from 10 counties, the announcement says, and they “have contributed to a much better understanding of the Jewish people and Jewish communities of the Bay Area. This understanding will be used to guide decisions and actions to improve the quality of Jewish life in the Bay Area.”
In decades past, the Solano County Jewish community has often fallen outside the orbit of Jewish social institutions, and the results of this study may change that.
“These pioneering research results will inform and shape the work of the Jewish institutions, philanthropists, innovators, and activists,” Federation CEO Danny Grossman said. “The study represents an essential step for the Bay Area Jewish community to chart a path forward in its communal policy and planning. We welcome a robust conversation to think corroboratively about the many opportunities and challenges the study highlights. The Portrait is ground-breaking in its findings about the population’s youthfulness and diversity, how the cost of living affects Jewish engagement, and how the population is shifting geographically. These and other findings are provocative and rich in detail, and we are eager to get to work.”
Federation Board of Directors Chairman Richard Fiedotin agreed, adding, “With the Portrait, we now have a better understanding of our community, enabling us to identify and quantify our needs and to amplify our strengths. Using this data, we can, as a community, develop approaches to the challenges we face and better determine where we want to dedicate our precious resources.”
The study can be found at www.jewishfed.org/communitystudy.
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