“It’s electrifying!” That’s how Dr. Jon Klein described the recently released results of the 2021-22 Community Study of Jewish Louisville. In his lifetime, of the many studies that he has read, he said that this one is in the top three. From Dr. Klein’s perspective, “the data presented convinced me that the future could be very bright for the Louisville Jewish community.”
One of the most enlightening findings of the study, conducted by Brandeis University, is that Louisville’s Jewish community is larger than expected, over 60% larger. Previous studies, which only included Jewish Louisvillians who belonged to religious congregations and organizations, estimated the city’s Jewish population at about 8,500. It has been over 15 years since the last study. For the first time, the Louisville Jewish community reportedly includes 7,100 households comprised of 18,300 adults and children, of whom 14,200 are Jewish.
The current study included the unaffiliated Jewish population in the entire Louisville and Southern Indiana area, boosting the numbers significantly.
The Jewish Heritage Fund (JHF), together with the Jewish Federation of Louisville, commissioned the Community Study. “We’re eager to see the community dive into the results and consider how to use the data to make Jewish Louisville one of the most inclusive and welcoming communities in the country,” Jeff Polson, President & CEO of the Jewish Heritage Fund, said. “The findings point to a number of exciting opportunities to engage a wide and diverse cross-section of the Jewish community in Greater Louisville.”
Lead researcher Matt A. Brookner came to Louisville in early September to explain the results of the survey in a series of meetings with community leaders and two public town halls. Participants were given a chance to digest the information and then ask questions.
“My impression is that the methodology and the techniques used by Brandeis, which are the foremost experts in the study of contemporary Jewish life, paints a highly credible and extremely accurate portrait of our community,” Dr. Klein said. “It’s very important to understand that the research extends beyond individuals in the community who are connected with our formal Jewish institutions and takes into account all local people who identify as Jews regardless of their participation in organized Jewish life. The people who are unaffiliated with Louisville Jewish institutions play an incredibly important role in the story that the Brandeis study tells us about our community.”
Another highlight of the study showed that among those who feel they have some sense of belonging to the Jewish people (93% of those surveyed), many are not satisfied with their current level of participation in the local Jewish community.
“What the study tells me is that the Jews of Louisville want to be Jewish,” said David Kaplan, Board Chair of the Jewish Community of Louisville. “The only question is how. Our job is to provide pathways, whether cultural or spiritual; whether through education, tikkun olam, or worship.” Kaplan further explained that the “JCL will work alongside all of our community partners, including our five synagogues, religious schools, JFCS, NCJW, Hadassah, KITE, Chabad, Kol Israel, and more. “It will take leadership from all of us to develop transformative initiatives.”
The Community Study looked at a variety of needs, desires and elements of Louisville’s Jewish Community including age, inter-marriage, racial diversity and sexual orientation, geography, financial well-being, health needs and levels of engagement – including desired levels of engagement. JHF and the Jewish Federation will continue the conversation about the study in coming months, inviting all members of the community to join in additional conversations and discussions to use the data in planning for the future of Jewish Louisville.
“We have learned from other communities and will use the months ahead to explore the details and what we might learn from a deeper dive,” shared Sara Klein Wagner, President & CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville. “There will many more opportunities for community members to participate after initial reflection.”