After three decades of Miami-Dade’s Jewish population declining, the community is growing again and is now the most diverse in the country, according to a demographic survey released Monday.
The “2014 Great Miami Jewish Federation Population Study: A Portrait of the Miami Jewish Community” will give the federation guidelines to better address the growing needs of the Jewish community, which ranks as the 11th largest Jewish population in the country.
“The real value is not just in the knowledge. It’s in the application,” said Amy Berger Chafetz, chairwoman of the survey. “I have tremendous confidence that we’re going to use this info to make important decisions for the community.”
The survey is based on 1,800 respondents to a six-week phone survey of Jewish households that started in January.
Among the key findings:
▪ Miami-Dade’s Jewish population increased by 9 percent after a steady decline from 1975 to 2004.
▪ The largest regional population increase was in North Dade, at 19 percent. Miami Beach stayed the same, and South Dade decreased by 7 percent.
▪ A new young adult Jewish population of about 7,000 emerged in the downtown Miami area.
▪ The largest age-group growth was for those under age 35, which increased by 17 percent.
▪ The number of Hispanic Jewish adults increased by 57 percent, with most coming from Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia and Peru.
▪ The number of people living in an Orthodox Jewish household increased by 41 percent.
These numbers are compared to data from past surveys, which University of Miami demographer Ira Sheskin has conducted for the federation every decade since the 1980s.
He said the overall size increase from the 2004 study can be attributed to the influx of Hispanic and Orthodox Jews, who typically have larger families. This is demonstrated in the survey, which showed that the number of Jewish households increased by only about 1 percent, but the total number of Jews grew about 9 percent.
Many of those Hispanic and Orthodox Jews have flocked to the North Dade area because of the Jewish infrastructure there. Numerous synagogues are scattered throughout the area, many of them with Spanish-speaking rabbis. There are also a large number of Jewish day schools and kosher-friendly establishments, including a Winn Dixie in Aventura with a kosher deli.
“Jews attract other Jews,” Sheskin said. “Once you have a reasonably large population up there, others are going to follow.”
The larger household sizes account for the increase in younger Jews as well, because Hispanic and Orthodox families typically have more children, said Jacob Solomon, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
Jewish organizations have also been practicing more youth outreach.
The federation has a group for Jews younger than 40, and another organization called The Tribe provides an outlet for young Jewish South Floridians to meet and network.
The increase in young people is promising for Dade’s Jewish population, as compared to the rest of the country, Sheskin said.
“Miami is not like the national data,” he said. “This a very strong Jewish community with a good future.”
This contrast appears in other parts of the study as well. Three quarters of respondents said that “being Jewish is very important” to them, as compared to 46 percent in the U.S., according to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey. And 16 percent of Miami-Dade Jews are intermarried, as compared to 61 percent in the Pew study.
Solomon said these factors indicate that community members feel a sense of loyalty to the religion and a sense of unity with each other, despite the separate geographical regions and changing age groups.
“We’re a dynamic, growing, highly connected, diverse Jewish community which is deeply attached to each other, to Israel and to the religion,” he said.
Even so, there’s work to be done for the federation moving forward, said Michelle Labgold, chief planning officer of the federation. About a third of respondents reported they were struggling financially and are in need of community support. Over the next decade, Labgold said the federation will work to address that need.
“We recognize that while the Jewish community has strong Jewish connections and relatively high participation in Jewish life, cost can be a factor,” she said. “We see this as knowing there are opportunities to improve.”
Herald staff writer Carli Teproff contributed to this report.