Survey of San Diego’s Growing Jewish Community Paints Optimistic Portrait But Reveals Challenges

(The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS) — A majority of Jewish households in San Diego County have concerns about antisemitism both nationwide and abroad, and roughly 13 percent said they had personally experienced antisemitism in the last year, according to a recently published report about the local Jewish community.

And that level of concern has only risen since Israel declared war against Hamas, a group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., according to local Jewish leaders.

Titled “A Blueprint for Our Future,” the 131-page study published earlier this month by Brandeis University and the University of Chicago paints an optimistic portrait of the community’s future, while also highlighting the stark challenges facing Jewish San Diegans.

The study, organized by five local Jewish community organizations, is the first of its kind in 20 years and provides a comprehensive report detailing how their congregations and fellow community members are feeling and what they’re experiencing, officials said.

The report consists of survey responses from 2,104 local Jewish adults given from June to September of last year. According to the findings, the local Jewish community has grown to over 100,700 individuals — a 13 percent increase over the last two decades — with over half of Jewish adults attending at least one religious service in the previous year.

And while 27 percent of the local Jewish population is over the age of 65, in comparison to 23 percent of all U.S. Jews, the population of Jewish individuals ages 18 to 34 in San Diego County is higher than the national average.

Approximately half of Jewish adults volunteered with at least one nonprofit organization — Jewish or non-Jewish — and 70 percent feel some sense of belonging to the Jewish community.

Some trends revealed by the survey were worrisome to Gantwerk and her colleagues, including the level of antisemitism experienced.

“We still have 400 local Holocaust survivors living in San Diego who are a constant reminder of why we need to be vigilant in addressing all forms of hate against Jews and others,” said Carole Yellen, senior director for Jewish care at the Jewish Family Service of San Diego. “Because, unfortunately, when we normalize it, it can have devastating consequences.”

Anti-Defamation League director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt reported a 388 percent increase in antisemitic attacks nationwide earlier this month, largely driven by the Israel-Hamas war.

“It’s a huge worry for our Jewish community, especially in this moment,” Yellen said. “But if we focus on only identifying our Jewish community as ‘victims of antisemitism’, we miss celebrating the beauty of this tradition.”

The study also reported that roughly 1 in 5 local Jewish households is considered low-income in San Diego County, and 6 percent of all Jewish households said they were unable to pay in full an unexpected $400 emergency expense.

One-quarter of the 17,770 K-12 children in San Diego Jewish households participated in some form of Jewish schooling during the 2021-22 school year, according to the report.

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