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Seattle’s Jewish Community Grew 70 Percent in Last 15 Years

Study finds population surge, likely tied to industry and job growth

Stephanie Butnick
February 05, 2015

JTA reports on the recently released Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study, which recorded a whopping 70 percent increase in the city’s Jewish population since 2001. (The 2000-2001 estimate was 37,180 Jewish people; this year’s survey recorded 63,400.)

It’s not the only recent jump in Jewish population growth in the Pacific Northwest—in 2011, a Jewish Federation census reported a Jewish population of Portland, Ore. nearly double the size of what community members had been estimating (47,500 as opposed to an oft-cited, and apparently well outdated, 25,000 figure).

According to the Seattle study, which you can read in full here, “The population estimate consists of 49,600 Jewish adults, including 32,700 who identify as Jewish by religion and 16,900 who identify as Jewish by some means other than religion.”

It’s a highly educated crowd, with 55 percent of respondents holding an advanced degree, and a tech-savvy one too: 54 percent of both synagogue members and non-members indicated a preference for receiving information about the Jewish community ‘electronically.’ That’s likely due to the city’s surge in popularity among start-up companies and entrepreneurs as well as the area’s longtime status as a technology hub. That the median age of Jews in Seattle is 39, and the median age of adults is 48, also suggests that industry is likely driving many of the city’s new residents.

According to the study, 41 percent of Jewish adults are unaffiliated, echoing the findings of last year’s panic-inducing Pew study. Of those who are affiliated, the largest percent identify with the Reform denomination (28 percent), then Conservative (14 percent), then Orthodox (7 percent). Further reflecting the Pew trends, 56 percent of Seattle’s Jews are intermarried. (Cue the Jewish continuity hysteria. Or don’t.)

Though the growth shown in the study is impressive, Seattle’s dynamic Jewish community is hardly news. Last year Emily K. Alhadeff reported on the Seattle senior citizens (12 percent of the city’s Jewish population) behind an ambitious revival of the Ladino language. It’s working: 150 people showed up at the University of Washington for a presentation about the language by a prominent Ladino scholar at Hebrew University (“Not even in Jerusalem could you get 150 people out [for a lecture] on Ladino,” he told Alhadeff), and another 300 attended the university’s inaugural International Ladino Day.

Clearly, even given its massive growth, the community isn’t giving up its roots.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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