One of the most common questions out-of-towners ask the AJT is some variation of “How many Jews live in Atlanta?”
For a long time, we haven’t been able to offer a definitive answer.
All anyone can say is that when the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta conducted a community survey 10 years ago, it found 120,000 Jews (living in households with 150,000 people — a rarely mentioned reflection of the high rate of interfaith marriage). If the local Jewish population has grown at the same rate as the overall population, we total perhaps 135,000 Jews now.
The exact number doesn’t mean much. In terms of what we can do as a community, there’s no practical difference between 125,000 and 145,000. The number of synagogues is the same. The money raised by Federation is the same. The educational opportunities afforded by day schools and the summer experiences offered by the overnight camps in the North Georgia mountains are the same.
There’s no difference in the community’s national position. The growth discovered in 2006 gave Atlanta the ninth-largest Jewish metro population in the United States and the 10th-largest in North America (thanks, Toronto).
We like being in the Top 10, but we’re in no danger of being anywhere else. The No. 8 Jewish metro area, the San Francisco Bay region, has almost 100,000 more Jews than Atlanta, while No. 10 San Diego hasn’t reached the 90,000 mark yet. (All of these numbers are just estimates.)
That brings us to Federation’s forthcoming community survey. Rather than repeat the methodology of a decade ago to produce a comparable population number and enable us to answer that persistent question about the size of our community, Federation has opted for quality over quantity.
The goal is to learn the character of the community: who we are, where we are, how we’re involved with Judaism and Jewish institutions, what services we use, and what services we need but can’t find (either because they don’t exist or because people don’t know about them).
The numbers aren’t irrelevant, of course. If 40,000 people are members of synagogues, it’s worth knowing whether our shuls are connecting with a third of the Jews or a quarter. The answer might lead to different approaches by communal organizations to reach people.
An individual synagogue’s building and clerical capacities don’t change based on how many people aren’t members, however; whether that synagogue has its fill of members reflects how well it meets the needs of its immediate community. If this survey is successful, our synagogues, as well as communal organizations from Federation to the Marcus Jewish Community Center to Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta, will know whether they are meeting the needs and how they must adjust to do a better job.
That’s where we all come in. If you care about optimizing our Jewish community, now and in the future, set aside 20 minutes between June 6 and 30 to take the online survey at www.IamJewishATL.com. Get the rest of your family to take it. Nudge and nag your friends to take it.
The findings that come out will be only as good as the data going in, and the more, the merrier. By the fall, we might not be sure how many of us are here, but we’ll have a good idea of who we are.