Federation commissions population study
Greater MetroWest says data will assist planning and fund-raising goals
The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is undertaking a modified population survey to assist in its planning, allocations, and fund-raising efforts.
The survey will be the first major survey since 1998, and the first since two federations, “Central” and “MetroWest,” merged to raise and allocate funds for Jewish programming in an area that includes Essex, Morris, Union, and Sussex counties.
The study will be directed by Ira Sheskin, a professor of geography at the University of Miami in Florida and director of the university’s Jewish Demography Project.
“Now that the merger is in effect, we are doing the strategic planning and demographic study to ensure our federation continues to address the needs and priorities of our community, locally and abroad,” said Debbie Rosenwein, director of planning and allocations at the Greater MetroWest federation.
The survey will identify distinctive Jewish names in order to determine the region’s Jewish population, and where Jewish populations are declining or growing.
“We are going to get a rough ballpark estimate of where the Jews are,” Sheskin said in a Jan. 24 phone interview. “The federation can use the information in a significant way.” Federations “need to know something about the people they are spending money on, what they need, and what their demands are.”
Max Kleinman, executive vice president of the federation, and Gary Wingens, a Livingston resident who chairs the federation’s strategic planning committee and unified allocations council, both support the project.
In a 2008 memo to leaders of the former MetroWest federation, Sheskin was critical of the 1998 study, saying it over-counted the number of Jews living in the area. In that memo, Sheskin wrote that “a good estimate of the current  number of Jews is 91,000.”
A census covering the region of the former Central NJ federation estimated the area’s Jewish population at between 35,000 and 40,000.
For the latest survey, lists of distinctive Jewish names will be supplied through Select Phone Data, a product of InfoUSA, a supplier of marketing databases.
Although “typically Jewish” last names are not a perfect indicator of Jewish households, “it doesn’t matter,” said Sheskin. Such samples offer a statistically significant indicator. “We are not doing a census. We are not trying to count everybody.”
Beyond counting, the survey will also gauge participation in Jewish agencies, day schools, and youth groups, as well as the federation’s UJA Campaign and the federation itself.
“We need to go beyond synagogues and see who else is there we might not be connecting with, and learn what we need to do to bring these people in,” said Rosenwein. “We are not going to get the fund-raising dollars if people are not happy with our approach and can measure an impact from their giving.”
Following the completed study, the St. Louis-based Collaborative Strategies will conduct individual interviews, focus groups, and surveys studying older and younger generations, “as well as those who are involved and those who are uninvolved,” said Rosenwein.
Federation leaders expect to complete the project by the end of the fiscal year next June.