Jewish numbers grow, but so do poverty, intermarriage
Sheri Shefa, Staff Reporter, Monday, October 6, 2014
The information in the Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA’s 2011 National Household Survey suggests that while Canada’s Jewish population is slowly growing, fewer Canadian Jews are identifying as ethnically Jewish, intermarriage and poverty rates are rising, and Jewish seniors outnumber Jewish young adults.
Canada’s Jewish population grew by 4.7 per cent to 391,665 in 2011, from 374,060 in 2001, accounting for 1.2 per cent of the Canadian population.
About 58 per cent of Canada’s Jews live in Ontario, 23.9 per cent are in Quebec, 8.9 per cent are in British Columbia, 4 per cent in Alberta, 3.7 per cent in Manitoba, and 1.6 per cent of Canadian Jews reside in Atlantic Canada, Saskatchewan and the territories.
Linda Kislowicz, president and CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA, said she’s pleasantly surprised that Jewish populations in smaller cities aren’t declining.
“We’re not seeing decline in those areas to the extent that we thought we would. There is some stability, there is even some small growth in some places, like Vancouver… There has been growth in some of our communities for sure. There is some in Toronto, there is a little bit of decline in Montreal, but there is growth in other places,” Kislowicz said. “There’s a small, but not inconsiderable reverse trend of people who want to live in smaller places. I don’t think we’re seeing growth, but we were expecting to see more decline.”
Although Canada’s Jewish population is growing, fewer Jews are identifying as ethnically Jewish.
According to the survey, in 1991, 369,600 people identified as ethnically Jewish, and 318,185 identified as religiously Jewish. But in 2011, 309,650 identified as ethnically Jewish, and religious identification increased to 329,500.
“There are so many factors, including how people fill out forms and what their country of origin was that can influence [the numbers]. For example, for Jews from the former Soviet Union, there are many variables there,” Kislowicz said.
The report also shed light on the issue of intermarriage in Canada, and while the Canadian rate of 25 per cent is far behind the U.S. rate of 58 per cent, as reported in a Pew Research Centre survey conducted last year, Kislowicz warned that Canadian Jews should not be complacent.
“It’s true that our numbers are not at the same level as the Americans, and that’s great, but they’re at a level that we need to take seriously and look at in two ways. One, from the perspective of how we build inclusive communities and make families feel comfortable, and two, from the perspective of how we develop strong Jewish identity,” she said. “The Jewish identity part is really the part we have to undertake in the most creative and strong, committed way possible… If you’re engaged in something, you will treat it with value. A Jewish educated and engaged person is more likely to want to continue to connect and participate.”
The survey said the intermarriage rate for couples under 30 years of age is 43 per cent. More than 72,000 Jews live in intermarried households in Canada, including 15,490 children, more than half of whom are being raised without any religious affiliation.
“I think the [intermarriage rate] is a number we really have to keep an eye on, particularly segmenting out [those] under 30, and that is where we will learn whether it is growing or not. That is an analysis that remains to be done. We are not there yet. But we can’t be complacent,” Kislowicz said.
When it comes to the community’s aging population, Kislowicz said the Jewish community, like the general population, is seeing the effects of the baby boomer phenomenon. The survey found 109,515 Jews in the 45 to 65 age group, and 92,200 Jews age 25 to 44. There are 66,280 Jews who are 65 or older, while those in the 15- to 24-year-old age group number 52,390.
Speaking about the implications of a Jewish community that has a larger aging population than its young adult population, she said, “I think there is a community planning challenge with respect to engaging young people, educating them, engaging them, connecting with them communally, philanthropically, etc., so that they can take over the reins of leading our communities.
“We know that developmentally, there is typically a period of less engagement before there is more engagement again, as young people are finding their mates and their careers and settling down and that kind of stuff, so we have to ensure that we are on their radar and they understand and take on their communal obligations, or even see them as obligations.”
The survey also identified poverty as a key issue. There are 57,195 Jews living below the poverty line, which translates to 14.6 per cent of Canada’s Jews, compared to 14.8 per cent among the wider Canadian population. Since 2001, the Jewish poverty rate has increased from 13.6 per cent.
“The poverty rates for the Jewish population in Canada is 14.6 per cent, and there is quite a range from coast to coast, with Montreal being the highest [at 20 per cent]. That speaks to the elderly population – they have a high concentration of elderly and poor,” Kislowicz explained.
“I was the Jewish Family Services’ director in Montreal from 1993 to 2002, and in those years, the poverty rate was about 18 to 19 per cent, so it’s been high for a long time.”
Ottawa has the lowest rate of Jewish poverty of Canada’s major cities, at 8.9 per cent. Vancouver sits at 16.1 per cent, Toronto at 12.9, and Calgary at 10.8. Those most likely to live in poverty are people on welfare or disability benefits, children living with single mothers, Holocaust survivors – especially if they’re disabled and/or live alone – and recent immigrants.