Shining a Light on the Bay Area's Jewish Community | Congregation Beth Am

Shining a Light on the Bay Area's Jewish Community

by Rabbi Sarah Weissman

This February, the Jewish Federation published a new demographic study of the Bay Area Jewish community, the first-ever study of the entire Bay Area (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma Counties). The purpose of the study was “to advance the work of Bay Area Jewish institutions, philanthropists, innovators and activists in creating vibrant, diverse and inclusive Jewish communities [and] to stimulate discussion on implications for policy, planning and practice leading toward a thriving Jewish community.” (You can read the highlights of the study and get more details.) Here are some notable findings:

  1. The Bay Area Jewish community is younger than the American Jewish community as a whole, with the largest cohort aged 18-34 (37%). 
  2. Bay Area Jewish households are diverse: 25% of all Jewish households include a person who is Hispanic, Asian-American, African-American or of mixed or other ethnic or racial background; 10% include an LGBTQ person (20% are LGBTQ in San Francisco).
  3. Bay Area Jews are more educated than Jews in the rest of the country: 42% of Bay Area Jews have a graduate degree (compared to 28% nationally).
  4. Bay Area Jews are less engaged in Jewish life. We have lower rates of synagogue affiliation, participation in Jewish rituals like attending a Passover Seder or fasting on Yom Kippur, and weaker connections to Israel. Only 26% of respondents said that being Jewish is “very important,” compared to 48% of Jews surveyed across the country. Very few respondents reported wanting to increase their Jewish connections.

This last point is disheartening to anyone who cares about the future of the Jewish community in the Bay Area, but it also highlights for me how much we have to be grateful for here at Beth Am. We are among the 26% who say that being Jewish is important. Whether we come once a year or once a week, we believe that belonging to a community that cares for one another is important, that continuing to learn and grow on our Jewish journeys is important, that passing on this 3,000-year-old heritage to the next generation is important. 

Bay Area leaders and institutions will have to come up with creative ways to engage the next generation of Jews, and Beth Am is certainly participating in that endeavor. In the meantime, I would like to suggest that those of us who care about the survival of the Jewish People think of ourselves as not only an or lagoyim, a light unto the nations, but also as an or laY’hudim, a light unto the Jews. If you love being Jewish, tell your friends and family why. If you find meaning in being part of a synagogue or in participating in Jewish activities, invite your friends and family along. We shouldn’t be pushy or judgmental of our less connected brothers and sisters, but we also shouldn’t be afraid to share our love and commitment to this tradition. 

In the Book of Esther, the Jews are saved because she and her cousin Mordechai aren’t afraid to publicly declare their devotion to the Jewish faith and community. And because of this devotion, we read “The Jews had light and gladness, happiness and honor” [Esther 8:16]. Let us be a source of that light, to the Jewish People and to the world.

Congregation Beth Am
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We strive to live as a holy community whose study and practice of Judaism inspires and challenges us to "do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8).