stained glass window of a Star of David in a synagogue
Credit: Simon Cataudo

The Contours of Our Jewish Community: Snapshots from the 2018 Population Study

Editor’s Note: Each week, the Jewish News will offer insights into the findings of the 2018 Detroit Jewish Population Study with the intent of stimulating discussion about its potential meaning and impact.

Historically, one measure of a strong Jewish community is synagogue membership. Synagogues have been the spiritual, educational and emotional epicenter for Jewish continuity — where lifecycle events are celebrated, children are educated, adults are engaged in lifelong learning, community rallies are held, where funds are raised for worthy causes and Israel bonds sold.

In recent decades, demographic and technological trends nationally and in Detroit have impacted the role of synagogues and traditional models of membership. Growing assimilation and intermarriage rates, geographic dispersion and new models of online learning that require no membership dues or bricks-and-mortar facilities are among the challenges.

The 2018 Detroit Jewish Population Study found that 39.2 percent of our 31,500 Jewish households are synagogue members. Though about average when compared to 45 other American Jewish community studies, the 2005 Detroit Jewish Population study revealed that 50 percent of our community’s 30,000 Jewish households reported synagogue membership (a decline of about 22 percent).

Among households with children, the 2018 study reveals that 52 percent have synagogue membership. This compares with 71 percent in 2005 (a decline of about 27 percent). And while 39 percent of Detroit households under the age of 35 report synagogue membership in 2018 — above average compared to other communities similarly studied — 57 percent of this age group reported synagogue membership in 2005 (a decline of about 32 percent).

                                                           2018            2005          

Reform:

Temple Israel                           3,314               3,500

Temple Beth El                        1,059               1,295

Shir Shalom                                980                  975

Temple Emanu-el                       355                  575

Kol Ami                                      290                  380

Shir Tikvah                                 290                  346

Conservative:

Shaarey Zedek                         1,100                1,861

Adat Shalom                              988                1,045

B’nai Moshe                                400                  468

Beth Ahm                                   367                  315

Isaac Agree/Downtown              275                    50

Beth Shalom                               241                  531
B’nai Israel                                    115                         0

Orthodox:

Young Israel – Oak Park            200                   204

The Shul – Chabad                    200                   128

Chabad – Commerce                  150                    50

Young Israel- Southfield             135                  125

Woodward Avenue Shul            100                      0

Chabad – West Bloomfield        100                  120

Agudas Yisroel/Magen Abraham    115                    82

Dovid Ben Nuchim                      105                    15

Kollel/B’nai Jacob                       100                     75

Questions:

  • Many synagogues were constructed to accommodate larger numbers of member families. Can some congregations better serve existing members and attract new ones without their current physical facilities? Even if it means closing, moving or merging with other congregations?

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